Monthly Archives: January 2018

Burly Chapter Five

(Previously in the book: Herman anticipated fifth birthday on the plains of Texas during the Depression. He was overjoyed to receive a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. Before Christmas, Burly told Herman he wanted a family too.)
Herman and Burly went out to the barn after putting on their coats, for the East Texas wind made the winter cold even colder than it was. Herman’s coat was made of denim, and Burly’s was actually a piece of old flannel with a hole in the middle. Papa called it a poncho. Moving bales of hay, papa had his denim coat off and his sleeves rolled halfway up his arms. Ever since he hugged his father for giving him Burly, Herman wasn’t afraid of those worms.
“Papa? May I talk to you a minute?” Herman spoke right up.
His father looked around, his face all twisted up from working so hard, but when he saw Herman he smiled very big. “Yes, son. What do you want?”
“I was thinking, it would be nice if Callie and Tad could have burlap bears like Burly for Christmas. Mother said she would make them if you had the burlap bags to spare.”
“That’s a good idea, son. I have a whole stack of empty ones over in the corner. You pick out two for your mother to make the bears.” He patted his son. “I was worried I wouldn’t have anything to give them this Christmas. Yep, you had a really good idea.”
Herman smiled broadly because both his mother and father had told him he was good for thinking of the bears for his sister and brother. He was beginning to understand what they meant when they said in church that it was more blessed to give than receive. All of a sudden, though, his happy thoughts turned to worry. In order for the new bears to be real parents to Burly Bear, they would have to be able to talk, just like Burly. And that would mean they would have to come from the same magical kind of burlap that Burly came from. What did Burly say about how he made his burlap bag move under father’s hand to make him think of making the stuffed bear? Oh, Herman wished father wasn’t standing so close so he could talk to Burly and get his advice.
Herman slowly touched all the empty burlap bags, but they all felt the same to him. He went through the stack again.
“Haven’t you picked out two bags yet?” his father yelled at him.
“No,” Herman replied. Maybe it was his father who had the magic touch to pick out the exactly right burlap to make the magical bears. “Would you pick the bags for me?”
His father walked over laughing. “You’re a good boy, Herman, but sometimes you do act silly.”
Herman was afraid his father wouldn’t take time to pick the right ones because at first he just grabbed the two on top.
“These will do,” he said, but then he stopped and looked at the bags. “Oh no. That won’t do at all. They got big holes in them. Let me look again.”
Herman smiled to himself. Father would make the right selection this time.
“Here, take these.” He tossed two bags at Herman.
It wasn’t long until Christmas came to the little farm house near Cumby. Father found a cedar tree, cut it down and dragged it into the house, filling the air with sweet evergreen aromas. Mother popped corn, and Callie and Tad strung the kernels together and hung them on the tree. Father bought a sack of cranberries which were strung on the tree too. All three children cut and colored paper ornament until the tree became pretty enough for the holidays.
Christmas Eve the family gathered around the tree after a meal of chili and cornbread. Father cleared his throat which was a sign for everyone to become still and silent.
“Times have been hard this year, and your mother and I can’t afford to give you anything except what we’ve always given you—our love. So I want each of you to come to your mother and me, and we’ll give you our present, a hug and kiss.”
Callie led the way and gave father and mother the biggest hug she had. Tad looked down and shuffled his feet like he was sad he wasn’t getting anything else, but he was able to give his parents a warm hug. Herman skipped over and got his hug and kiss, barely holding back a giggle, since he knew that wasn’t all some of them were getting.
After the children sat down again, father said, “Now two of you are getting something extra.”
“Yeah, and I can guess which two it’s going to be,” Tad grumbled.
“No, I bet you can’t guess,” his father said.
Mother pulled out the two bears wrapped in old newspaper. “These are for you and Callie.”
“Oh my goodness! Thank you! “ Callie yelled as she grabbed her package and tore it open.
“For me!” Tad squealed, his eyes dancing. He tore into his gift.
Each held up their burlap bears and hugged them, and then ran to their parents.
“They’re wonderful!” Callie exclaimed.
“Yes! Oh thank you!” Tad appeared younger and happier to Herman.
“You should tank your brother Herman,” their mother said. “He’s the one who suggested I make them for you.”
Callie hugged Herman and kissed him on the cheek. “Oh Herman, you’re so sweet!”
And so, Herman got his second Christmas present, the wonderful feeling of giving to someone else. Unfortunately, Tad broke the Christmas spell by throwing his bear to the floor.
“I don’t want the old thing!” he growled. “Herman just did it so he could get people to say he was wonderful. And—and he knew I wouldn’t want a silly old bear so he’d end up having two bears, the little pig!”
Callie turned red and stepped toward Tad. “Oh Tad!” She stopped abruptly, looked at her parents and sat down. For a nine-year-old girl, she was learning to mind her own business, Herman decided.
“Tad, that’s not a nice thing to say to your brother,” his mother said softly.
“Well, that’s what he is, a little pig!” Tad kicked the bear across the room.
“That’s enough of that, young man.” His father stood. “We’re going out behind the barn.”

Actually…

When we moved to Florida about 20 years ago, my family and I exposed ourselves to family dinner conversation dominated by my wife’s Uncle Sydney.
My mother-in-law retired to Florida a couple of years earlier to be near her relatives and suffered a heart attack, which is why we transplanted our children and ourselves here to be closer for the next medical emergency. This meant when we all gathered to sup together, for whatever reason, we had to brace for Uncle Sydney’s “Actually…”
This happened when one of us made a statement, any innocuous statement, and Uncle Sydney would correct us with “Actually, that isn’t so.” And off he went uninterrupted because my mother-in-law thought it was impolite to interrupt her brother’s exercises of enlightenment. At one meal, someone mentioned how much they enjoyed a certain current song.
“Actually,” Uncle Sydney began, “no good music has been written since the 1940s.”
I believed Uncle Sydney was full of gas, but had the good sense not to say so in front of the family. Both my mother-in-law and Uncle Sydney have long since passed on, but recently I learned something from the internet that might actually explain why there hasn’t been any good music since he was a young man.
Several websites have been discussing recently the theory that all musical instruments, as dictated by the British Standards Institute, changed the official tuning pitch of music from 432Hz to 440Hz at the request of the corporate entity of the American Rockefeller family and—grab your hats, folks—Adolph Hitler.
The great classical composers wrote in 432, and Stradivarius developed his violin to resonate at 432. Tones of 432 are beautiful, warm and relaxing. Tones of 440 create anxiety, anger and aggression. One supposes a capitalist institution could more easily convince a disgruntled buying public into adopting new spending patterns. One could also see how Hitler’s inflammatory oratory could incite an already dissatisfied public to support a war against its own citizenry as well as the world in general.
After the war, the British Standards Institute continued its support for 440Hz by voting to keep it, the last vote coming as late as the 1970s. This could explain why the generation which grew up listening to music to the 432Hz frequency found the new rock ‘n’ roll sound attuned to 440Hz to be awful noise. Come to think of it, hasn’t the general public been generally ticked off the last 60 years? Don’t political movements begin because, as the man said in the 1976 movie “Network”, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore?”
Granted, all this can sound a bit paranoid, and there are no conclusive scientific studies to confirm the connection between the dissonance of music’s 440Hz and the general malaise that hangs over the world. Dr. Leonard Horowitz wrote in his investigation of this phenomenon that the effect of 440Hz goes beyond mere mood but to harming physical and mental health to the point of subduing spirituality and creativity.
To be fair, the British Standards Institute cannot legally dictate what frequency is used to tune musical instruments. If you own a violin or piano, you can tune it to anything you want. You can calibrate your tuning fork anyway you want. But in general the music establishment around the world uses 440Hz.
A good measure of how the general public has reacted to this bit of information can be found in the comments section following the internet article. One person wrote, “These articles are too superficial to be taken seriously.” Another writer wrote than from his own experimentation with 432Hz, he found it to be more soothing and harmonious, urging people to contact radio stations to go back to the original frequency.
Am I personally ready to jump on a 432Hz bandwagon? Do I want to believe there’s an international conspiracy to manipulate our emotions? Am I willing to accept the fact that Uncle Sydney wasn’t just full of gas?
Actually…

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Sixteen


Shenanigans at the Plaza
Previously in the novel: Leon, a novice mercenary, is foiled in kidnapping the Archbishop of Canterbury by a mysterious man in black. The man in black turns out to be David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Soon to join the world of espionage is Wallis Spencer, an up-and-coming Baltimore socialite. David kills an ambassador in Shanghai.
David was miffed. He was not in London long enough to have an intimate evening with Lady Elvira Chatsworth or even Freda Ward before Tommy Lascelles informed him that the Foreign Ministry had recommended to the King that it would be a good idea to send the Prince of Wales to New York City to participate in the U.S. celebration of Labor Day.
“Labor Day?” David raised an eyebrow. “What? No Tory Day?”
“It’s not that kind of labor. It’s to acknowledge the American working class.”
“Tommy, I was making a joke.”
“I know. I was ignoring it.”
On his first evening out from Portsmouth, David found the selection of ladies rather depressingly sparse at dinner, so he took a walk along the deck which was shrouded in a particularly dense fog. As he was about to flick his cigarette overboard an old woman, who was dressed more as a street peddler than as an ocean liner passenger, walked up in a fit of giggles.
“Pardon, yer majersty,” she gurgled in a hardly understandable Cockney, “but could I please have yer butt? As a souvenir of meeting your worshipful holiness.”
“Excuse me. What did you say?”
The current group of strollers harrumphed and hurried away. David leaned in to the old woman and cupped his ear.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t quite catch your comment. Will you please repeat?”
“Yer butt,” she said loudly, which caused the next couple to rush along. “You know, yer fag butt.”
David’s brow over his sagging eye arched. “I must say, my dear lady—“
“Oh, get over yerself, David,” she rasped. “Steam room. Seven in the morning.” The old woman grabbed the burnt-out cigarette and tossed it into the ocean before she fumed into the fog.
The next morning David awoke early, went for a light run around the deck and entered the steam room. Wrapping a towel around his middle, he sat, waiting alone for details for his next mission from MI6. Exactly at seven, a pudgy old man entered from the locker room and sat next to him.
“Begging your pardon, David,” he whispered in a familiar Cockney. “Me old lady can be rough around the edges. You know we’ve been doing this since the old queen died.”
“Think nothing of it. Now what is this important business in New York?” He wiped sweat from his brow.
“They want you to steal an American socialite’s jewelry and then mail them back to her a month later. No return address, of course.”
David sat up. “What? That’s the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Don’t jump down my throat.” The old man looked away and sniffed. “I don’t make this stuff up. I just pass messages along.”
Leaning back, David smiled. “You’re much too sensitive for this line of work, you know.”
“Come close to getting killed too, you know. Me old lady pulled me chestnuts out of the fire, many a time.”
“Very well. What else?”
“You heard of Woolworth’s Five and Dime? It’s his daughter. Jessie Donohue. They’re one of the richest families in America, but because their money comes from selling cheap stuff to poor people, other rich folks give them the cold shoulder. That’s why she buys so much jewelry. It’s worth $600,000.”
David was already becoming bored, but he dared not make any more brash remarks before the old man was finished.
“The problem is her husband. He spends all his time gambling and romancing both men and women around the world. Scuttlebutt has it the husband had contracted the organization to steal his wife’s jewels to pay off a blackmailer who knows he’s just broken off an affair with a black male dancer. And I know you’re thinking what does this have to do with the national security of the British Empire. Your own brother George is a well-known philanderer visiting both sides of the street.”
“Well,” David interjected in a sardonic tone, “he is considered to be the handsome brother in the family.”
“If darker forces realize they can hire the organization—the biggest, most successful crime syndicate in the history of civilization—to blackmail a rich American family, what is to stop them from extorting the royal Windsors?”
“I thought I had been so outrageous that anything the rest of the family did would be too dreary for the public to notice.”
“Mixing the races and not mixing the sexes is quite a different matter. Now don’t get me wrong. Personally I don’t care about what goes on behind closed doors but the rest of the world is not as advanced as me.”
David sighed and slid down on the bench. “Oh well, at least I’ll be in New York. It’s a fine town. Maybe I can make it out to Coney Island for a hot dog.”
“You’re kidding me! That’s why me old lady and I took this job. Love those hot dogs. And Coney Island is like Brighton Beach, but less hoity toity.”
Another man entered the steam room, and David’s companion made a quick exit. When a suitable amount of time elapsed, he also left. After bathing, and changing into his new plaid slacks and a powder blue shirt complemented by a purple ascot, David sauntered into the breakfast lounge. Once being seated, he ordered black coffee, a bagel and half a grapefruit. As he awaited his meal, David lit a cigarette and considered how he would have to join diplomatic officials for pictures with the New York mayor and attend the Labor Day Parade—he presumed there would be a parade. Americans loved to march. When the server brought his food, David asked that the latest editions of all the New York City newspapers be delivered to his suite. His enjoyment of his grapefruit was ruined when a photographer suddenly appeared in the door with his camera and flash holder. Damned nuisance.
Over the next couple of days David read about the Donohues in the society pages. They traveled in circles of actors, athletes, nouveau riche, oilmen and exiled foreign royalty whose company could be purchased for the price of a roof terrace hotel suite. How could anyone be so desperate to be bought by classless Americans, he asked himself.
Currently the Donohues resided at the Plaza while their house on East 80th Street was being modernized. They had two sons, Woolworth, twelve, and James, ten. A nanny tended the children every night as the parents went to glittering nightclubs. That gave David a window of opportunity to break into their apartment. Labor Day. After the parade. After decent people were at home asleep in their beds.
The day arrived, and David appeared at the mayor’s office with his diplomatic entourage, posed for photographs and sat in a reviewing stand on the city hall steps to watch the parade. He ate with a group of energetic American capitalists, then excused himself to his hotel suite since the last few days had been so fatiguing, with the ocean crossing and all.
After midnight, he dressed in his black turtleneck and trousers with the mask in his back pocket. Slipping into the basement of the Plaza Hotel, he slinked up the backstairs until he reached the Donohue suite. Once inside he made his way to what his research showed to be their bedroom. Just as he was about to turn the handle, he heard a child’s voice.
“”Hello, I’m very pleased to meet you. My name is Jimmy Donohue. And who are you?”
David turned to see a ten-year-old boy with brown hair and remarkably clear blue eyes staring at him.
“I’m nobody.”
“Oh, so you don’t have any money. That’s all right. I have enough money for everybody. Of course you have to do anything I want if you want me to give you any.”
“Um. Excuse me, young man. I’m rather preoccupied at the moment.”
“You sound English.”
“I’m in a frightful hurry.”
“No need to be. Mother and father will be out until dawn. They’re nightclubbing with this woman from Baltimore. She’s supposed to be important but I don’t know why. She’s not rich. My parents are paying for everything. People say she’s supposed to be beautiful but I think she has the face of a horse. I can’t remember her name but it’s a man’s name. Isn’t that odd?”
“You like to talk, don’t you, young man?”
“Of course, I do. I’m fascinating.” Jimmy looked at David’s hand on the doorknob. “You want to steal something from my parents’ bedroom.”
“What makes you think that?”
“You’re wearing a mask, and your hand is on the knob.”
“Very observant.”
“What do you want? My mother’s jewelry? I know where it is. I can get it for you.”
“Why would you do that? Do you hate your mother?”
“No. I love my mother. If you stole her jewels then she could have the fun of buying new ones.”
“I hate my mother and father.” David did not understand why he said that. The boy must have cast a spell on him.
“You need to see a psychiatrist,” Jimmy advised.
“So show me where the jewels are.”
Jimmy opened the door, and David followed. The boy went straight to a large, ornately carved wooden box and lifted the lid. Nothing was there. He looked up at David.
“Someone beat you to it.”

Here’s to Those Who Smile

Here’s to the people who smile.
To those who are genetically predisposed to cancer, whose mindless, ravenous cells might already be multiplying through the people’s bodies causing discomfort and feelings that there is something not quite right but they don’t know what it is. Instead of complaining of not feeling good, they put on a smile and make someone else’s day brighter.
To those with clinical depression for whom each day is a battle against negative thoughts and bad memories from years ago which pop up for no particularly reason except to ruin a day. Instead of dwelling on the heavy malaise in their minds, they put on a smile and make everyone else’s day lighter.
To those who find themselves in an economic hole they didn’t dig them but nevertheless must climb out of by themselves. Instead of bemoaning their lack of money, they put on a smile because they have plenty of the joys of life that money cannot buy.
I have a Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep disorder which means I never go into the deepest levels of restorative sleep. Yes, I take pills for that, but even they cannot handle an overload of fatigue. In the last few months I was blessed with lots of activities which made me happy but also depleted my reserve of energy to the point my nightmares became more frightening and more exhausting.
Last night I was locked in a mortal confrontation with a nameless, faceless intruder who, I assumed, wanted to kill me. I caught hold of his hairy forearm and believed that as long as I held on to it he could not harm me. Luckily I awoke and found no assailant. I had my hands around my five-pound, 15-year-old Chihuahua who suffers from advanced arthritis.
At first I was afraid I had hurt her in some way. She went to the edge of the bed and wanted down to do her business on a doggy pad. When she was finished she came back, I picked her up and she snuggled next to me and went back to sleep. I had not hurt her. I had not scared her. I had not done myself any good with the nightmare, but when morning came I dragged myself out of bed.
I was still alive and had things to do. I had not killed my dog for which I am grateful. And when I run my errands later today I shall smile. Tonight I will probably have to endure another bad dream. If I am careful to rest properly the dreams will abate and I will have the energy to do happy things again soon.
So when you see someone smiling for no apparent reason, don’t think them a simpleton who doesn’t know what a cockeyed world we live. They know. Don’t judge them insincere and dismiss the smile as fake. A fake smile is worth a thousand sincere scowls.
You don’t know what they struggle with every day to survive and still manage a smile because they know that’s what the world needs to see.
So here’s to the people who smile. We need more of them right now.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Forty


Old city canal
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton holds President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. Janitor Gabby Zook by accident must stay in the basement too. Guard Adam Christy reports on his condition each evening to his sister Cordie and fellow hospital volunteer Jessie Home.
Cordie and Jessie both laughed as they stepped out the front door of the hospital onto the Mall and into the rancid smell of the old city canal, broken into little cesspools of urine, rotting animal carcasses, and scum-covered water. Discreetly, they both pulled out handkerchiefs to cover their noses. Cordie tried to maintain her composure as they walked past the neatly landscaped grounds of the Smithsonian. Soon her eyes were searching the shadowy corners of the large, red, castle-like building. The many bushes around its walls provided perfect hiding places after dark for the roving gangs of thieves which preyed upon passersby foolish enough to come near.
“Are you sure we’ll be safe?” Cordie whispered.
“Of course, me darlin’,” Jessie replied with a laugh. “If anyone dared to jump from the dark to grab me, they’d better be ready for a swift kick and jab of me elbow. Scottish lasses are strong, and loud. I’d scream like a banshee and more help than we could imagine would appear in the twinklin’ of an eye!”
“Are you sure?”
“As sure as I am of me red hair and Scottish brogue.” Jessie put her arm around Cordie and firmly squeezed. “Ye worry too much, me love.”
All the same, they increased their pace as they mounted the steps of the iron bridge over the stagnant canal, putting them out of harm’s way from the Smithsonian gangs. Cordie tried to compose her thoughts and control her heavy breathing.
“I’ve never been one of the smart ones,” she began slowly and humbly.
“Why, what a thing to say! You’re sharp as a tack, ye are!” Jessie gently slapped at her shoulder.
“No, I’m not really that bright when it gets beyond cleaning a floor or washing clothes or sewing.” Cordie shook her head. “Believe it or not, Gabby was the smart one. You wouldn’t know it now. When we were young, he was so bright and smart. I pinned my hopes on him. I always saw myself taking care of Gabby’s clothes and house, and he’d take care of me, always provide a roof over my head.” She paused to laugh ruefully. “I knew I wasn’t going to find a husband, the way I look.”
“What’s wrong with the way ye look?”
“Bless your sweet heart.” Cordie patted Jessie’s back. “You’re so pretty and attract men so easily, you don’t really understand how hard it is for plain women to find a husband.”
“I’m not that pretty.”
They stepped off the bridge and walked briskly up Thirteenth Street to escape the canal’s stench. Turning west on F Street, they slowed their pace as the air cleared, and they put away their handkerchiefs.
“Now Gabby was a handsome boy, smart and handsome,” Cordie continued. “Put him in a lieutenant’s uniform, and I knew he’s be irresistible to the young ladies. But I hoped he’d find one who wouldn’t mind having his old-maid sister live with them as their maid and nanny to their children.” She breathed deeply. “It was a good life I imagined. But it all ended when he went to West Point.” Cordie paused, halfway expecting a question from Jessie, and was relieved when it did not come. Turning north on Fifteenth Street, she mustered the strength to finish her story. “When he came home,” she said, “his mind was gone. I realized I would have to support him, to be the smart one.”
She stopped talking to keep from crying. Looking ahead at the corner, Cordie saw Adam standing under the streetlight in Lafayette Square, his shoulders slumped and his head down. She noticed a change in him over the last two months—not as dramatic as the change in Gabby, but a change nonetheless—that scared her. Cordie did not want to witness another young man wasted by the insatiable needs of the war machine.
“There’s me private,” Jessie said with a chirp, quickening her step to reach the park.
Cordie practically had to run to keep up with her, but she did not mind. Watching young love bloom brightened her life and relieved her of the constant worry about Gabby and why he must stay in the Executive Mansion.

Letters


Black Swan Hotel
Denver, Colorado
July 8, 1895
123 Main St.
Enid, Oklahoma

My Dear Wife,
I miss you terribly and hope the company will soon recognize my talents and promote me to vice president in charge of sales so I may enjoy your company more often. With luck, I shall return to you by the middle of August. The weather in Colorado is pleasant enough but I would sacrifice my comfort to be under the torrid Oklahoma sun with you and the children. Tell the children I shall take them on a great camping adventure before school starts. How is Edward Junior recuperating from his bout of chicken pox? I must be off to my next appointment soon in a small town called Golden. It reminds me of your lovely locks.
With love,
Your Husband

Black Swan Hotel
Denver, Colorado

July 8, 1895

321 Main St.
Waxahachie, Texas

My Dear Wife,
I miss you terribly and hope the company will soon recognize my talents and promote me to vice president in charge of sales so I may enjoy your company more often. With luck, I shall return to you by the first of August. The weather in Colorado is pleasant enough but I would sacrifice my comfort to be under the torrid Texas sun with you and the children. Tell the children I shall take them on a great camping adventure before school starts. How is Edwina recuperating from her bout of measles? I must be off to my next appointment in a nearby town called Red Bud. It reminds me of your lovely locks.
With Love,
Your Husband

321 Main St.
Waxahachie, Texas

July 18, 1895
Black Swan Hotel
Denver, Colorado

My Dear Husband,
I am quite confused. We live in Texas, not Oklahoma and we have a daughter Edwina, not a son Edward Junior. I have red hair, not blonde. Edwina is terribly afraid of the outdoors and the little creatures that inhabit it so she would not enjoy a camping trip. She had chicken pox, not measles. I reread your letter several times thinking I must have misunderstood it. As you have pointed out to me several times I do have a tendency to misunderstand the simplest of statements. I will continue my sessions with Dr. Fitzmorgan in Dallas. I’m sure he will straighten this out for me.
With Love,
Your Wife

123 Main St.
Enid, Oklahoma

Aug. 4, 1895

Black Swan Hotel
Denver, Colorado

To My Soon-To-Be Former Husband,
Don’t bother to come home, you lying, cheating scoundrel. You should have realized you were not clever enough to have two wives at one time. To refresh your memory, I am the blonde-haired woman living in Oklahoma with our son Edward Junior, who by the way had measles not chicken pox. I exchanged several telegraphs with the lady residing in Waxahachie, Texas. She has canceled all her appointments with her doctor in Dallas and has engaged a lawyer. I have also hired a lawyer. Please expect a letter from the main office of your company stating you have been dismissed from your job because of a complete lack of morals. I must be off now to visit my mother and to apologize. She was right about you.
With absolutely no love,
Your Soon-To-Be Former Wife

Burly Chapter Four


Burlap or future teddy bears?
(Previously in the book: Herman anticipated fifth birthday on the plains of Texas during the Depression. He was overjoyed to receive a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him.)
Late one night, early in December when the first blue norther was just about ready to sweep down on the East Texas prairie from the Panhandle, Burly Bear nudged little Herman who was fast sleep.
“Huh?” Herman mumbled.
“Not so loud,” Burly whispered, holding his burlap paw to his lips. “I want to tell you something, but if Callie or Tad wake up I won’t be able to.”
“All right,” Herman said as he yawned and rubbed his eyes. “What is it?”
“Well,” Burly began slowly, looking down. “I’ve really enjoyed living with you and your family this year.”
Herman gave Burly a big hug. “And I love having you, too.”
“You love your mother and father very much, don’t you?” Burly asked softly.
Herman smiled broadly. “Oh yes. Mama is wonderful and papa isn’t half as scary as I thought. You helped me see that.”
“I can tell they love you too.” Burly paused for a long moment, then sighed deeply. “I want a family to love and to love me.”
“Why, Burly Bear,” Herman exclaimed. “I’m your family.”
“Shush,” Burly went.
Tad shuffled in his nearby bed. “Herman, shut up,” he mumbled, then rolled over and went back to sleep.
“I’m sorry,” Herman whispered.
“What I mean is, I want a family, a mama and a papa bear to love me and take care of me,” Burly finally blurted out.
Herman wrinkled his little forehead. “I don’t know how we can do that. Usually parents come first, then the children.”
“But stuffed bears don’t usually talk. So usually doesn’t count here.”
“I guess,” Herman said in a dreamy sort of way, staring out of the window. He turned back to Burly. “Christmas is coming soon. I could ask for two more bears.”
Burly shook his head. “That really wouldn’t be fair, would it? I mean, you already have me, and Callie and Tad don’t have any bears at all.”
Herman’s eyes twinkled. “Oh yes. Callie would love a mama bear very much. She’s always telling me how cute you are.”
“And Tad?”
Herman frowned again. “Oh, Tad. I don’t think he would like a stuffed toy. He’s almost grown.”
“Twelve years old is not as grown up as you think,” Burly said, adding wisely, “or as grown up as Tad thinks.”
“But Tad doesn’t like anything. I still don’t think he even likes me very much.”
Burly smiled. “I think he likes you more than you know. And he might like you better if he thought you liked him.”
“Oh, I like Tad,” Herman replied.
“But does he know that?” Burly asked. “What have you done to let him know?”
“I’m just six years old. What could I do to show Tad I like him?”
“You can do more than you think,” Burly replied. “Always remember that.”
“Okay.” Herman sighed. “What do I have to do?”
Burly whispered in Herman’s ear for several minutes, and then they both went to sleep, because they had busy days ahead of them before Christmas. After breakfast the next morning when the others left, Herman tugged on his mother’s apron as she washed the dishes.
“Mama, can I—can we give Callie and Tad something special for Christmas?”
His mother looked down at him with a sad look on her face. “I’m afraid none of us are going to get anything special this Christmas. You remember why, don’t you? I explained it all to you.”
Herman nodded seriously. “Yes. You called it the depressions.”
His mother laughed lightly and patted him on the head. “No, the Depression. Only one. Thank goodness.”
“But couldn’t you make Callie and Tad bears out of burlap, like you did Burly Bear?” Herman said quickly before all his courage went away.
“Why, yes, I suppose so.” She looked at Herman and looked proud of him. “I hadn’t thought of that. Yes, that would be a good idea. You’re smart, Herman. And sweet.”
She leaned over to kiss Herman on the cheek. One part of him wanted to pull away and pretend he didn’t like it. But another part liked it and wanted to hug his mother. That part won out, and Herman wrapped his arms around his mother’s waist. For a fleeting moment he noticed how terribly thin she was.
“If you want me to, I’ll go ask papa for the burlap,” Herman offered happily.
“You don’t mind doing that?”
“Oh no, papa and me, we’ve become big pals,” Herman bragged.
“Very well. He’s out in the barn, I think.”

Forever With Mama

Insect love.


Mama told me all the stories of the great blinding light and times of darkness and cold. She did not live through them herself, but she assured me it was not so long ago. Before the great glow, never-ending darkness and cold, there walked upon the earth terrible giants who kindly fed us and just as ruthlessly crushed us underfoot.
These stories were fading from my memory, and I was afraid. They gave me a reason for living and the determination to keep my legs moving in the eternal search for food. If I could only find Mama she would explain why food made life worth living. Or, rather, what worthwhile reason made eating so important.
The last time I remembered being with Mama we were in the midst of our kind. We clamored over each other trying to find food. At one point my legs gave way, and I felt a thousand little legs on my back. I sensed their fear and desperation. There were so many of us, and no one knew what to do but keep scampering around. If we kept moving maybe we would find a gooey mountain that once was one of the giants. The giants had become our food.
I knew that I was not smart. When I didn’t know what to do, I often did absolutely nothing and hoped absolutely nothing happened to me. This also gave me time to think about things Mama told me. We needed food to exist, but if we could not find food, we should look for water to drink. Drinking water would keep us alive until we found food.
If I found a pipe, she told me, crawl up it because pipes always carried water. I bumped into a long round thing which I thought was one of those pipes Mama talked about, and I climbed on it and began to scuttle upwards. One of my feet slipped into a crack so I decided to crawl inside. Mama said water was always inside the pipe.
It was dry. My legs weakened. I didn’t know how much longer I could walk. Within my body was a growing perception that I no longer cared to move. I tried to control the panic. Just ahead, I came upon a hole. Crawling through, I found myself in a great basin. My spirits lifted. This was one of the places where water existed.
In the distance I saw a great brown mound. It was one of us. As I came closer I knew who it was. I recognized the pattern of the shell. I smelled its essence. My antennae touched its antennae. It was Mama. I nudged her, hoping that she was just sleeping. But she was not sleeping. All that was left was her dry shell.
Momentarily I considered leaving to continue my search for food and water but changed my mind. My fatigue overwhelmed me. My legs could move no more. I was with Mama. And all was good.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Fifteen


The man in his white linen suit
Previously in the novel: Leon, a novice mercenary, is foiled in kidnapping the Archbishop of Canterbury by a mysterious man in black. The man in black turns out to be David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Soon to join the world of espionage is Wallis Spencer, an up-and-coming Baltimore socialite. David kills an ambassador in Shanghai.
Old Joe, the Eleuthera fisherman who had always given Leon a free ride back home, was dead. That was the word on the Freeport dock as Leon returned from the Far East. Yesterday morning someone dropped by his thatched roof bungalow and discovered him in his bed, clutching a couple of half crowns. Leon grimaced when he heard the news. Joe had been like a father to him in the last few years; however, when they last saw each other as Leon left for Shanghai, their friendship was strained. When Leon disembarked from the fishing boat at Freeport he handed Joe him two half-crown coins. Leon intended it as a gesture of appreciation. He could see in Joe’s eyes he had taken it as an insult, as though Leon was setting himself up to be the old man’s superior. Leon searched for the right words, but Joe gruffly pushed his boat away from the dock before Leon could explain. Now he would never be able to explain.
Perhaps it was just as well, Leon thought. When he went back through the Panama Canal after his mission, he took a quick tour of some of the shops in Panama City and bought himself a white linen suit, a wide brimmed hat and a new traveling bag. Leon conceded to himself that old Joe might have been right, because he did take considerable pleasure in hailing a boatman to take him back to Eleuthera. The man bowed deferentially as he loaded Leon’s new bag. The wind caught sail and impelled him homeward. Leon languidly leaned back, puffing on a cigarette of fine Egyptian tobacco.
When they landed, he placed a single half-crown in the man’s palm which made the boatman grin broadly and scurry to extend the plank to the dock and carry Leon’s bag ashore. At the last moment, Leon handed the man another coin to carry the bag down the dirt road to Leon’s house. He sauntered a few steps ahead of the carrier, lit another cigarette, tossing the match into a nearby sand dune. Soon he saw the high severe wall surrounding the Ribbentrop hacienda house. It still had the thick wood doors. Leon paused to take a long drag on his smoke, grabbed the bag from the boatman and dismissed him with a nod of the head. He removed a key from his pocket and unlocked the door.
The house was now his. The courtyard, once filled with exotic flowers, now overflowed with vegetables and fruit trees. He saw his mother Dorothy on her hands and knees between the rows pulling weeds.
“Mum!” Leon called out. “I told you to hire a village child to tend the garden.”
Looking up, she smiled. “I enjoy it. If I didn’t kneel down, soon I wouldn’t be able to.” She rose with great difficulty. “And then what good would I be?”
She walked to her son and kissed him. “My pretty little boy is home again safe at last.” Her wrinkled hand smoothed out the lapel of his linen suit. “I see you bought yourself a new fancy suit of clothes.” Her fingers ran down the sleeves. “Good for you.”
Behind him he heard a baby crying. He turned to see the pretty smiling face of his wife Jessamine. Though she was a mere slip of a woman, her slender arms ably held her child. Leon embraced both of them tenderly, showering their faces with little kisses. Though he did not even know the gender of the child, which had been born while he was half a world away trying to kill an old white Englishman, Leon already he loved this baby. He vowed he would be as good a father as his father had been to him. He would teach the same lessons of defeat, humility, defiance and brutality. As his father died to fill his belly with food, so would Leon die to feed his child.
“Say hello to your son Sidney,” Jessamine announced proudly.
“Is he strong?” Leon examined the tiny hands and feet. Sidney’s hand reached out to clutch Leon’s little finger. “Yes, very strong.”
“You are lucky you weren’t here. I screamed my head off, calling you all sorts of names.”
“How did the Freeport hospital treat you?” he asked.
”I didn’t go to the hospital. Pooka delivered him.”
“Pooka! That old witch! I gave you money to go to the hospital.” He stroked the baby’s cheek. “Only the best for my child.”
“Pooka is not a witch,” Jessamine corrected him. “She is the high priestess of Obeah.” She pulled a wad of bills from her dress pocket. “And I still have the money.”
Leon looked deeply into her eyes. “Obeah is one of many religions created by our people brought here from Africa in chains. We don’t need that. We can take care of ourselves now.”
One of Leon’s earliest memories of toddling down the beach was a plump, beautiful baby in the arms of a woman his mother called Auntie Millie. Millie, who was Dorothy’s best friend, kneeled down so little Leon could see little Jessamine better. Even then he knew he would spend the rest of his life with her. Jessamine grew into a slender woman who was not afraid of hard work. She always had a song on her lips even when times were tough. She was a passionate lover. But she was not as smart nor as skeptical as his mother. She let Pooka fill her with lies and fears. What of that, Leon told himself, because Jessamine was the sum of his reason to live. He took Sidney into his arms. No, he corrected himself, Jessamine and Sidney were his reasons to live.
“Besides,” Jessamine continued, “Pooka said things would not go well for you on your trip.”
Leon held Sidney up so the baby could see his white linen suit. “Does it look like it didn’t go well? I was paid handsomely. I won’t have to work again for a long time.”
“But it didn’t go the way you expected, did it?”
“No, it didn’t but I was paid more than I thought.” He rubbed noses with his son.
“See, Pooka was right.”
“I am home. I am holding my son. My wife is healthy. I have money. Even my mother is having fun playing in the dirt. Do we have to talk about Pooka?”
The next morning Leon awoke, dressed casually in shirt and shorts and took a long walk along the beach. By the time he returned home for breakfast, he noticed the plant pot outside his front gate was askew. Another assignment, he thought. So soon? He smiled as he took the message out. Good. More money the better.
“Tonight, Rialto.”
Rialto was the most popular casino in Nassau. Leon had to leave now to reach Nassau by evening. That night when he walked into the casino in his new linen suit, Leon looked around, certain someone would make a sign. One black jack table was empty. A tall blonde in a tailored tuxedo coat and silk blouse sat in the dealer’s chair. She stared at Leon.
He sat at her table. The woman immediately dealt him a hand. When he picked it up Leon noticed a note was tapped to the ace of diamonds. Discreetly detaching it he slipped it into his trousers’ pocket. Leon pushed the cards back at her.
“Fold.”
She scowled. “Finish the damn hand, jerk.”
“Only if you smile for me.”
Parting her red lips, she revealed even white teeth. Leon also noticed she was much younger than the way she was dressed and wore makeup. She could not have been more than fourteen or sixteen, he decided, the same age when he had to grow up too fast. Not only did he finish the hand he also played three more games, losing all three pots but at least she smiled at him.
Leon took the midnight ferry back to Eleuthera. Sitting in a deck chair he pulled the note from his pocket to read it.
“Lobby of Plaza. Labor day.”
Leon knew of only one Plaza Hotel, and it was in New York City. His stay at home was being cut short. Wadding up the note, Leon tossed it into the midnight waters of the Caribbean.

Petunias and Violets


(The petunia mentioned in this story was unavailable to pose for the picture so this other flower filled in.)
Petunias and violets in a flower bed,
Violets turn to petunias and said,
“Petunias, petunias, you’re crowding me here.”
“Violet, oh violet, so sorry my dear.
“My petals are big and need room to grow.”
“Petunia, oh Petunia, share the sun and let it show.”
“Violet, oh violet, this bed is not big enough.
“Either you must go or I will go nuts!”
Then someone walked up and went ooh and ah.
“The prettiest pot of flowers I’ve seen so far.
“Petunias and violets, pretty purple and pink.
“What a clever combination, whoever would think
“To plant them together in the very same way.
“Why seeing them side by side has made my day!”
Petunia looked at violet and turned an embarrassed red.
“It was mean of me to say you must leave this bed.
We must stay together; we must find a way!”
Violet thought just a moment to say,
“Let your petals lounge over the rim, giving them room
“To cascade down and show off your spectacular bloom.”
Petunia nodded happily and agreed, “And then
“That will leave the middle for you to grow, my friend!”
Petunias and violets thrive in their flower bed.
All it took was love and using their heads.