Previously in the novel: Novice mercenary Leon fails in a kidnapping because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the spy world is socialite Wallis Spencer, who dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol, has an affair with German Joachin Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. Each are on the Tanganyika Express to get their hands on the stolen Crown Jewels.
After her adventure in Tanganyika, Wallis settled back into her usual busy schedule of shopping, lunching and gossiping. On this particular day she planned to paint her nails with an expensive polish called Midnight Lust. Then she was going to curl her hair so she would look her best at Ernest’s regimental dinner. It might be boring as hell but she was intent on being the most glamorous woman there. Besides, Ernest was such a good sport she liked to please him, unlike her first husband Win. Ugh. Wallis was about to finish her left pinky when the telephone range. It was Connie Thaw, wife of Ambassador Benjamin Thaw, one of Ernest’s more interesting friends.
“Wallis darling,” Connie gushed. “You and Ernest must save me this weekend. My sister Thelma, Lady Furness, is hosting a hunting party in honor of the Prince of Wales at her Melton Mowbray estate in Leicestershire. Benjamin’s mum has taken ill and we have to rush to Paris to tend to her. Could you and Ernest take our places at Mowbray?”
Wallis almost dribbled her bottle of Midnight Lust. “Well, we won’t know anyone there. I don’t even know Thelma that personally.”
“I wouldn’t have bothered you but Benjamin’s friend Gerry Greene of the home office recommended you. He said he met you once in Paris.”
Wallis paused to recall her first meeting with MI6 agent Gerry Greene. He was the one who introduced her to this new life of espionage. This weekend must have had something to do with her next assignment. She had no desire to meet the Prince of Wales. His pictures in the papers made him look like such a namby-pamby.
“Well, I suppose it would be a laugh to meet the prince. Of course I’ll have to check with Ernest.”
Ernest was thrilled, as Wallis knew he would be. The weekend was all he could talk about at his regimental dinner.
“I’ve always wanted to meet him,” Ernest declared, almost spilling his champagne. “His pictures in the newspapers make him look like such fun.”
Wallis found comfort in the fact she now had a reason for a quick round of shopping before Saturday. It was, after all, October of 1930, and she had absolutely nothing to wear.
Both packed heavily for the trip and tipped the porters double for taking extra care with their luggage. Once on the train they tried to concentrate on the countryside whizzing by, but the fog was too thick to see anything. Wallis developed a terrible case of the sniffles.
The drive from Mowbray station to Thelma’s place Burrough Court was just as appalling. Wallis decided the low, long brick house was dreary, only partially brightened by the surrounding garden. Once inside the house, Thelma informed them the prince and his entourage were delayed by the fog and suggested they refresh themselves with cocktails in the drawing room, already inhabited by people dressed in beautiful attire, dutifully awaiting the arrival of the royals. Wallis expected to see Gerry Greene in attendance, but he wasn’t there.
Ernest made a valiant attempt to carry on a conversation with the strangers, but Wallis preferred to slouch back in an upholstered chair by the fireplace. She held her cocktail glass to her temple nursing a growing headache. When the hall clock chimed seven, Wallis decided if the prince had not arrived by eight, she would take a hot bath and go to bed.
At seven thirty an automobile engine broke the outside silence as it came to a stop in the front driveway. Everyone stood in attention. Coming through the door was Brig. Gen. Gerald Trotter, Edward, Prince of Wales, and his youngest brother Prince George.
“It’s about bloody damn time,” Wallis muttered to Ernest who elbowed her.
Thelma walked her distinguished guests around the room introducing them. Most of the women curtsied with style and grace but a few embarrassed themselves with awkward genuflections. Wallis was confident. She had practiced her bow on the train until the sniffles set in. She noticed Prince Edward used his left hand to shake hands with the men. She found the affectation wearisome. General Trotter lingered with one older couple while Prince Edward and Prince George made their way to Wallis and Ernest. Finally she found herself face to face, eye to eye, with the Prince of Wales.
My God. He’s shorter than I am.
“Mrs. Simpson, I’ve heard so much about you. I am please we have finally met,” Edward murmured.
She nodded at Prince Edward then turned to Prince George and smiled. “And I can see why the press calls you the handsome brother.”
“He is rather pretty, isn’t he?” Edward agreed.
Wallis noticed George’s eyes sparkled.
“Mrs. Simpson, may I say you are one of the most attractive women I have ever met in my life.” Rapture filled Prince George’s baritone. “There’s something about you that is not like any other woman I have met.”
Ernest laughed from his belly which caused his shoulders to bounce. He grabbed his wife around the waist with a force that was a bit gruffer than his usual nature, Wallis observed.
“Two princes are interested in my wife.” He beamed. “That makes me rather important, doesn’t it?”
My God, I think the silly ass means it! Wallis coughed, turning away from her husband as though to cover her mouth.
“I get confused.” Her brow wrinkled. “Which one becomes king when the old man dies?”
“I do,” George piped up. “If my three older brothers somehow die before me.” He lifted his thumb to his lower lip and licked it. “What do you say? Do you want to take a chance on me and possibly become queen of English and hope for total disaster to wipe out the rest of the house of Windsor?”
“You forget she already has a husband,” the Prince of Wales added without amusement.
“He looks like a sporting chap. I’m sure we could come up with some sort of arrangement.” George winked.
Ernest laughed again. “I am half-American, you know, and we Americans love to strike a good deal.”
“Ernest, this conversation has become quite dreary. I can forgive Prince George because he has been taught he has a right to be naughty, but you would know better.”
Prince Edward took a minor step forward. “How about me? Do you forgive me?”
“There’s nothing to forgive.” Wallis was in full rage and nothing could still her sharp tongue now. “You’ve done nothing but stand around like a bump on a log. You have failed to live up to your legend as a bon vivant, sir.”
He only smiled with royal patience.
“Oh dear,” Ernest said in mock concern. “Is there anything I can do to win back your good graces?”
“Go to our room immediately and draw me a hot bath so I can soak before supper. And in due time I may forgive you.”
Wallis turned to find Thelma so she could tell her to send a servant to her door to announce supper ready. After conferring with Thelma, Wallis chatted with each lady in the room. By the time she climbed the stairs, she found Ernest had drawn her bath and laid out her evening attire.
Slowly her headache eased off as she daydreamed that her eventual husband and spy partner would turn out to be Prince George. His reputation as an international playboy would fit a life of espionage. He could be found in any region of the world at any given time and all he had to say was that he was on holiday.
She dressed, checked her image in the floor length mirror and joined Ernest in the sitting room where he looked lost in pleasant thoughts. The clock on the mantle struck nine p.m. Looking up he smiled.
“Wallis, you are beautiful.” He pecked her cheek. “I hope your headache is better.”
She smiled. “Darling, I feel much better. I hope I have been placed next to the prince.”
“George, of course.”
As they entered the dining room, she looked around. Prince George was not to be seen. Thelma approached her and took her elbow. “A fellow named Jim something—I think American—hustled his Highness out the door in just a twinkle of an eye.” She nudged Wallis. “It’s no big deal. I had planned on seating you next to the Prince of Wales anyway.”
Wallis felt her headache return.
They were well into their salad course when Edward cleared his throat. “Mrs. Spencer, as an American living in England, do you miss central heating?”
The question caught her in mid-gulp of what was actually a very fine wine. She swallowed hard and put down her glass to stare at him.
“I’m sorry, sir, but you have disappointed me.”
“In what way?” A bemused smile crossed his lips.
“Every American woman who comes to your country is always asked the same question. I had hoped for something more original from the Prince of Wales.”
The rest of the meal went unusually silent. She thought he would have had more pluck than to leave her harsh observation go unchallenged. After dessert, the group adjourned to the drawing salon where the prince chose to play bridge, leaving Wallis with the poker players. When she realized they were betting real amounts of money, she giggled nervously for the remainder of the evening.
Nope, these pictures weren’t taken at the royal wedding. About a month and a half earlier. As it happens sometimes on group tours, choices are offered. You can either go to Windsor Castle or you can go to the Tower of London, but not both. Josh got the castle; I got the tower. Since I wasn’t there, Josh will supply the news about Windsor:
After the London tour, we split up into our respective groups: Dad went to the Tower (no pun intended) and I joined our lovely and talented long-term guide Fiona for our trip to Windsor Castle. The drive was an hour or so and once there we were led on a brief mini-tour of the outer courtyard. Like all castles in Ireland, Wales and England, the original purpose of the castle was as a military installation and position. However, both me and my kneecaps were grateful for the evenly cut stone steps. The guide mentioned that the moat area, as was with all medieval castles, were often filled with tar, sewage and god-knows-what other disgusting substances to impede the progress of an invading army. I can’t remember if it was Stuart or the temporary guide we had at Windsor, but it was mentioned that Windsor Castle in particular held a fond place in the Queen’s heart due to her growing up there. The guide mentioned that the Queen usually spent the work week at Buckingham Palace in London and came to Windsor to rest and recover. I couldn’t fault her choice in residence: the area around Windsor is absolutely stunning. Probably one of the most stunning facts was that the Queen was the only person in Windsor and England as a whole who did not have to drive with a driver’s license. The Windsor guide mentioned that this was because all driver’s license in the country were issued in the Queen’s name and authority. On one hand, it made sense not to issue a license to the one person whose name and authority were used for issuing purposes. On the other hand, I made a mental note to look out for elderly women in the driver’s seat whenever I was in England.
After the outside tour, my group, which consisted of several high school students, got in line for the main tour of the interior. All of the attendants dressed in the blue and red uniforms of House Windsor (for a heartbeat, I confused them with the local police) were walking up and down the line making sure no one took pictures. For the record, I did manage to take one picture of the interior but later deleted it from my cell phone. Let it never be said that a son of the Cowling family disrespected the house rules of royalty. Like the outside of the castle, the stairs were evenly cut and spaced. One of the first rooms we visited was the one where that horrible fire in the ‘90s started. I’m glad that the English really take care of their national treasures and monuments. While passing through, I couldn’t help but wonder how the heck was a thief going to fence all of the priceless art, tapestries, and fine china without causing a stock market crash, let alone get out of the castle alive with the goods. The tour took roughly an hour and when we exited we were right at the souvenir shop. Dad was writing a novel so I took the liberty of buying two or three books regarding the Royal Family and Windsor Castle. While waiting outside for the rest of the group, I was sitting with two or three teenage girls from are group and I saw a water-bottle machine that took 2 1-pound coins. I scrounged my pockets but only had one, so I asked my traveling companions if they had a spare coin. They started rummaging through their purses and I think it was the only blonde in the group who had a coin. I thanked her profusely and got up to get something to drink. When I got back, we started talking about the tour and trip in general when I realized how much the redheaded girl in our group looked like Sophie Turner AKA Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones. I asked her if she had been watching the series and she said only up to season three. I then asked if any one told her that she looked just like Sansa Stark because she certainly did. She thanked me generously and said no one had mentioned it before. I would have loved to go walking around the rest of the town but we finally had to depart for our final night in London itself. That was probably my favorite day of the trip because I was not only one of the group chaperones but also a surrogate older brother to the young ladies of the group. Heather, please sit up and take notes: THIS is how brothers and sisters should get along. Anyway, Back to you, Dad.
I went on the tour of the Tower of London with our teacher guide and her sister. As soon as we entered both of them said they felt like they had been there before. But not in the same way they said they felt like they had come home when we were in Ireland. As we walked around the grounds we found a water fountain memorial to everyone who had been beheaded on that spot. In the center was a lovely pillow carved from a clear quartz. It reminded me of the pillow used in fairy tales to hold a crown or a princess’s slipper. Then I remembered what landed on the pillow: a head. As the sisters went around the fountain both of them felt a bit queasy. They realized why the place seemed familiar, in a very uncomfortable way.
Inside we went through the line of historical exhibits on our way to see the crown jewels. The nice feature was the moving sidewalk on each side of the cases of crowns and scepters. Everyone got a nice close-up view without having to wait for someone to gaze upon the artifacts as though they were the only ones in the building. (We’ve all run into those types at museums before.)
Anyhow, here it is a month and a half later and my seventy-year-old body is still recovering. But I wouldn’t have missed this trip for anything
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns captive under guard in the White House basement. Stanton selects Duff, an AWOL convict,to impersonate Lincoln. Duff learns how to conduct cabinet meetings. Alethia, the woman playing Mrs. Lincoln, has had a carriage accident.
His pounding heart drowned out the horses’ hooves as Duff’s carriage bumped and clanged along the rocky path into the Maryland foothills to the Soldiers’ Home. He sensed a cool breeze in his face, yet not cool enough to relieve the burning on the back of his neck. Alethia’s gentle voice, the touch of her loving fingers, and her soft bosom on which he had laid his head and cried himself to sleep—they all were important to him now. The clopping slowed, and his eyes focused on Scott Dormitory, a large building filled with wounded and ill soldiers, and Anderson Cottage on the right. A smile flickered across Duff’s broad, thick lips when he saw Tad waiting for him on Anderson Cottage’s large, covered porch, outlined in white gingerbread trim.
“Is she going to be all right?” Tad whispered.
“I haven’t seen her yet.”
“I want her to be all right.” He hugged Duff tightly around his waist. “I like her very much.” His hands slid down Duff’s backside. “Your butt’s fatter than Papa’s.” Tad’s eyes softened. “But it’s a nice butt.”
“Thank you, Tad.”
“You better check up on her. Tell her I love her.” Tad lowered his eyes and backed away.
Duff walked through Scott Dormitory’s front door into a long ward of cots along each wall. Wide, tall open windows allowed cool foothill air to waft in. Within seconds, soldiers struggled from their cots to stand or at least sit up to applaud. Duff ducked his head, trying to hide his cheeks flushed with embarrassment. A doctor rushed to him.
“Don’t worry, Mr. President,” he said pumping Duff’s hand. “There have been complications, but I felt the wording of the telegraph was overly dramatic.”
“Where is she?”
“In that small room.” He pointed to a door at the end of the ward.
“Thank you.” Duff stopped to talk to the men, patting their thin backs as he walked to the rear. One particular man with an arm missing lowered his head when Duff approached.
“I know I ain’t the best lookin’ man in the world,” said Duff, “but it can’t hurt your eyes too much to look at me.”
“It ain’t that, Mr. President. I’m ashamed.”
“Ashamed of what? That you gave only one arm for your country?”
“We ran away.” He rolled over.
“What?” Duff walked to the other side. “I didn’t catch what you said.”
“We ran. All of us. Like scared rabbits.”
“Hmm.” Duff thought of his own experience, and then touched the soldier’s shuddering shoulder. “That reminds me of a story I heard back in New Salem. This boy and his girl were caught in an embarrassing situation by her father, who took umbrage—and a gun—to the boy. Well, he lit out down the road. As luck would have it, a rabbit was runnin’ down the road. ‘Git out of the road, old hare,’ the boy says, ‘and let somebody run that knows how.’”
Others laughed, and the soldier smiled and wiped tears from his eyes.
“We all run faster than the rabbit at one time or another,” Duff said.
He rose and was about to enter the small room, when another soldier, older and more grizzled, intercepted him.
“I hope the missus is all right, Mr. President.”
“The doc says she’s on the mend.”
“Don’t take no offense, Mr. Lincoln, but if this accident had happened a year ago, no one would’ve much cared. But she’s changed in her ways, and we noticed it. I mean no offense…”
“No offense taken,” Duff said, trying to hide his pleasure that they cared more for the woman he loved than the woman she pretended to be. “You know, Mrs. Lincoln led a sheltered life before she married me. It took her awhile to get used to my backwoods ways.”
“I knew you’d understand.” He flashed a grin interrupted by large gaps between the brown teeth. “You’re one of us. We’re all praying for her.”
“Thank you, sir.” Duff liked talking with honest, rough men who were what he wished he had been.
(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school and his brother Tad was nicer. But mama died one night. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives. Tad tore up the burlap bear Mama had made for him.)
The next morning was Sunday, and all three of the Horn men—as Herman was considering himself quite a grown up little man by now—were out in the barn attending various chores. Since mama died they had not been able to make it to church. Papa always said he believed in God, but he didn’t believe in those holier-than-thou folks down at the church. At least that’s what he said to Tad in their evening discussions. Tad would reply by saying something silly like going to church was for sissies. That was when Herman would stop his eavesdropping and go to sleep.
As for Herman, he was very troubled. He wanted to believe there was a God, but he couldn’t believe in the same God the folks in the church down the road believed in. They believed in a God that hated anyone who wasn’t like them. Their God liked to hear hymns sung to him on Sunday but seemed to turn a deaf ear to pleas for help during the week.
“Horn! Horn!” their neighbor Mr. Cochran screamed as he drove up in his pickup. “Have you heard the news?”
Papa stopped what he was doing and stepped out of the barn door. Tad and Herman were right behind him. “What are you yelling about, Cochran?”
“It’s the Japs! They’ve bombed Hawaii! Someplace called Pearl Harbor!”
“I told you those Japs were going to pull something,” Tad said, spitting on the ground.
“Hush, Tad,” papa ordered, walking toward the pickup. “How bad is it?”
“Sunk several of our ships,” Cochran replied, more calm now, but very grim. “Lost a lot of our boys. The president’s on the radio right now. It’s war.”
The pit of Herman’s stomach turned hot and sour. He couldn’t believe anyone would stage a sneak attack like that. He hated to think that Tad, who never had a good word about anybody it seemed, was right about the Japanese. Most of all, it scared him about how this was going to change life again, which he thought had changed enough in the last few years.
“Herman, you finish up the chores,” papa said. “Tad and I are going into town with Cochran to get the latest on this thing.”
Once again Herman was left on the outside but he was used to it. He finished feeding the chickens and slopping the hogs. He moved the bales of hay around as much as he could, but he wasn’t as strong as papa whose job that usually was. He fixed lunch but ate by himself as papa and Tad didn’t return. Herman spent the afternoon talking to Burly about the Japanese and what would happen next. Finally he dozed off in the late afternoon and didn’t wake up until Tad and papa came through the door. Herman looked over the edge of the loft. Papa sat in his chair and Tad took his place across from him at the dining table.
“Son, are you sure you want to do this?”
Before he answered Tad looked up at the loft. “You might as well come down, Herman,” he said a little bit disdainfully. “This is going to concern you too. You might as well be in on it since you’re snooping around anyway.”
Herman felt embarrassed that Tad thought he was snooping but he didn’t say anything to deny it after he climbed down the ladder and stood rather shamefully between his father and brother.
“I’ve got to enlist, papa,” Tad announced. “First thing tomorrow morning.”
“I need you to help around the farm,” papa insisted.
“You got Herman.”
Papa looked at his younger son and then at Tad. “But I need a man.”
Herman tightened his lips and looked down. He tried to tell himself that papa didn’t mean that to hurt him. It was a fact that Tad was now more of a grown up than he was. But he still felt tears beginning to cloud his eyes.
“We can’t let those Japs get away with this,” Tad replied.
Papa sighed. “I guess there’s nothing I can say to make you change your mind.”
Tad didn’t even bother to answer but got up to walk to the kitchen. “Got anything for us to eat, Herman?”
Herman lurched toward the kitchen, bumping into the dining table. He was trying to talk without bursting into tears. “Um, I can warm up what I fixed for lunch.”
The meal went without talking, as most of their meals for the last few years had gone, but this silence was more frightening, more serious than any silence Herman had ever endured before. That night he didn’t even bother to talk to Burly but just let the pent-up tears flow. The attack on Pearl Harbor was all the children and the teachers were talking about the next day at school. The men teachers immediately left to join the army. Most of the boys said their older brothers were enlisting. In that, at least, Herman could speak with pride. His brother was the first in line that morning. In a few days papa and Herman took Tad down to the bus depot in their pickup and waited with him until It was time to go. Ages seem to pass between comments.
“Mr. Cochran said he would help around the farm as much as he could, to fill in what Herman can’t do,” Tad told papa.
“I can really do a lot,” Herman offered.
Papa ignored his younger son’s remark. “I don’t think he can spare that much time.” He paused. “But I appreciate the offer.”
Tad lightly touched Herman’s shoulder. “Be sure to write Callie that I’m going into the Army. And when I can get an address you can write me at, be sure to give it to Callie, okay?”
Herman frowned. “I didn’t think you liked Callie,” he blurted out without thinking. Immediately he winced because he knew Tad would light into him for being so stupid.
Instead, Tad looked off with a sad face. “I know it seemed that way to you lots of times, but I love her because she’s my sister.” He turned to Herman. “And Herman—“
“The bus is here,” papa announced.
Herman was glad Tad didn’t finish his sentence, because he knew he would have cried, and he didn’t want to do that in the bus station with all the young men going off to war watching them. Tad jumped up and grabbed his bag and lurched toward the bus. Papa and Herman followed close behind. Just as he was about to step up into the bus he turned and hugged papa.
“I love you,” he whispered.
Papa’s shoulders heaved with pain. “I love you too,” he choked out, then began crying.
Tad climbed aboard and sat by an open window. He leaned out and yelled, “I’m sorry, Herman, about—about everything.”
And then the engine started, and the bus was gone. Herman wondered if Tad was apologizing for tearing up Burly Senior, or for the way he had treated Herman all these years or for not actually saying he loved him. At this point, Herman decided, it didn’t make any difference. At least Tad said he was sorry. Herman was happy for that.
From then on there was even less talk at home. Papa kept his words down to instructions on the farm work and saying pass the salt. Slowly, sadly Herman came to care less whether they said anything at all to each other. One day in the spring Mr. Cochran helped with the planting. He hadn’t been needed much because Herman was trying extra hard to do his chores and Tad’s too.
“You’re a hard worker, Herman,” Mr. Cochran said. “We’ve been planting since dawn and you haven’t let up once.”
Herman smiled. “Thank you, sir.” He looked at his father to see if he noticed what Mr. Cochran had said.
“Yes sir, Horn,” Mr. Cochran continued. “We’re going to finish a lot sooner than I thought.”
Papa only grunted and continued planting.
“Have you heard anything from Tad?” the neighbor asked.
Papa stood erect and smiled. “You bet. He’s already made corporal. Always knew the boy was a born leader.”
“Does he know where he’s being dispatched?” he continued his questions.
“No sir, but if he had his choice he’d rather fight the Japs than the Krauts,” papa replied. “But wherever he goes, he’ll do his best. He always has.”
That night after Herman cleaned up the supper dishes he climbed into the loft without saying good night to his father. He had gotten tired of not hearing “good night” in return. Herman picked up Burly and looked him in his button eyes.
“Why does papa brag on Tad and not on me?”
Burly shrugged. Do you really want an answer? I think you already know why.”
Herman sighed. “I guess I do. Tad needs bragging on more right now than I do.”
“The bragging isn’t for Tad,” Burly corrected him. “It’s for your papa. He’s doing it to make himself feel better, and I’m afraid he’s going to need all the feeling better that he can get.”
On our last morning to roam London, we got the best tour guide ever to give running commentary on the sights passing by the bus windows. If my memory serves me correctly—which it rarely does anymore–his name was Stuart. He matched from head to toe in shades of green, blue and gray. Even his shoes. I was hoping he would break into song and tap dance down the center aisle of the bus. But he was a proper gentlemen, and they don’t exhibit their choreography on public transport.
At one of our first stops he let us hop off the bus to examine the massive statue of Prince Albert. It was in a beautifully manicured park across the street from Royal Albert Hall. Unlike most people preserved for posterity in the many parks, squares and circles about London, Albert received full Olympus treatment. U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower was honored with a life-sized replica; others were remembered with a head and shoulders bust, and most were in bas relief plaques explaining who they were and why they were honored. But Albert, the royal consort to Queen Victoria and father to so many children I cannot begin to remember all their names, sits high, broad and proud. I do not know if the statue is gold or bronze, but it shone for all to see. This is magnificent memorial of a woman’s love for her husband.
Back on the bus, our elegant guide directed the bus driver past the monument to Lord Wellington. “Does anyone know what Wellington did?”
Josh piped up, “He beat the crap out of Napoleon.”
Stuart appraised my son a moment looked at our long-term guide and said, “I think I like him.”
A little while later we drove by a monument to King Henry VIII, who, Stuart pointed out, “had six wives. Do you know what else he had?”
“Syphilis,” I replied. Now I honestly was not trying to be a smart-ass and ruin the man’s monologue which was filled with wit and wisdom. But Henry did have syphilis and that was why the last years of his reign were so unfortunate for his subjects.
This time Stuart did not miss a beat and went on to explain that King Henry had a difficulty with forming long and loyal relationships. But surely in his mind Stuart must have thought that we two clowns were related. Yes, we are connected genetically and were born without proper filters.
Coming up on the right, he told us, was one of the many lion statues on the banks of the Thames River erected during the reign of Queen Victoria. Upon inspecting it, Victoria realized this lion was quite obviously a male, so she ordered its gender identifying appendage removed for propriety’s sake. When one looked at the face of the lion in question, one could surmise he did not agree with Her Majesty. His eyeballs are perpetually bulging in surprise and discomfort.
At one point we left the tour bus and followed our elegantly dressed Stuart on a saunter through Green Park, a serene space stretching out in front of Buckingham Palace. Ducks and geese glided across the serene surface of its lake. Locals jogged along its backs and lay on the grass, soaking up blessedly warm rays from a late-March sun.
Stuart had our stroll perfectly timed to end at the entrance of Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard. As a mere former colonist, I thought the changing of the guard consisted of a hand full of soldiers in their bright red jackets and giant black fur helmets; but no, it was a full-fledged parade with horses, drums and rifles.
Stuart was careful to point out these were not just young men and women who were chosen for their proficiency for formal procedures. These were soldiers who had served their country in Afghanistan and where they might serve again in the near future.
When the last soldier had moved on, we broke up into separate groups to explore more bits of English historic lore. This was when had to wave a fond adieu to Stuart. I wish he could have stayed with us, but I am sure he had to address another bus filled with impertinent American tourists.
I really wanted to know who his tailor was, although I was quite sure I could not afford his wardrobe.
Previously in the novel: Novice mercenary Leon fails in a kidnapping because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the spy world is socialite Wallis Spencer, who dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol, has an affair with German Joachin Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. Each are on the Tanganyika Express to get their hands on the stolen Crown Jewels.Leon kills an agent to save Wallis.
Leon was a bit miffed. When he stabbed the German on the Tanganyika Express, the blood spurted all over his white linen suit. Leon took a detour through Cairo to buy a new one. He remembered Mrs. Ribbentrop years ago commenting on the high quality of Egyptian fabric. Even though he was quite pleased with the purchase, Leon mourned the passing of his first white linen suit.
Back home on Eleuthura, he ran down the dusty road to his hacienda. Jessamine bolted out of the gate and threw her arms around him. She did not comment on his new clothes which bothered him. If she truly loved him, he reasoned, she should have noticed and complimented him. Leon dismissed the thought as six-year-old Sidney raced to him and leapt into his arms.
“Papa! I’m so happy to see you! Let’s play!”
Leon swung him around and Sidney’s legs flew straight out. The boy giggled. Before Leon could toss the boy in the air, Jessamine grabbed her husband’s arm.
“Did everything go all right?” Her brow furrowed. “Pooka said something would go wrong.”
“Pooka always says something will go wrong.” Leon carried Sidney past her to their door.
She scurried behind him. “But something went wrong, didn’t it?”
“I didn’t get paid, if that’s what you mean.”
They entered through the garden to the front door. Leon looked down to see his mother Dorothy on her knees pruning the vegetables.
“Mama, get up.” He kept walking into the house.
“I like your new suit,” Dorothy called out as she struggled to her feet.
The next morning Leon arose early, put on an old ragged shirt and shorts and ate breakfast with Sidney, Jessamine and his mother Dorothy.
“You are a big boy now.” He tousled his son’s hair.
“Yes, I am.”
“When I was your age, my father took me out on his fishing boat. Do you think you would like to go out on a fishing boat?”
“No, you will not!” Jessamine snapped.
“The boy needs to learn how to earn a living, dear.”
“We are wealthy,” she retorted. “He will not need to fish for a living.”
“Life is unfair.” Leon kept his eyes down as he bit into a scone. “Life is uncertain. What we have today can be gone tomorrow.”
Jessamine looked at Dorothy. “You can’t agree with Leon! Your own husband died on a fishing boat!”
The old woman put her fork down, pushed away her plate and turned to stare at her daughter-in-law.
“My husband was a good, honorable man. He lived for his family. He died for his family.”
“Well,” Jessamine huffed, “Sidney is too young. Leon was much older than six when he first went out on the boat.”
“No,” Dorothy was firm. “Jedidiah was a good man. He would have never let the child do anything that would hurt him, but a man must learn, build his body to provide for his family. Leon knows what he is doing. “
Jessamine pouted. “I shall have to talk to Pooka about his.”
Leon slammed his hand on the table. “You will tell Pooka nothing about our lives! That old witch knows too much about us as it is!” He stood, took Sidney’s hand and marched out the door.
Walking down the path to the Eleuthura dock, Leon waved to a fisherman on his boat. After he tossed the fellow a few coins, he lifted his son into the boat, jumped in and set sail.
“I like the water.” Sidney lifted his head and sniffed the breeze. “I think Mama’s trying to scare me.”
“But you’re not going to let her do that, are you?” Leon tugged on the line.
“Do you want to help me cast the net to catch fish?” He smiled at his son.
After hauling in a load of fish, Leon patted Sidney’s head. “Then you won’t mind working for the man who owns this boat, will you?”
Sidney’s eyes lit. “You mean, Jinglepockets?”
“His name is Nicholas.” Puzzled Leon asked, “Why do you call him Jinglepockets?”
“He’s always jingling coins in his pockets.”
Leon laughed. “That’s good. It’s always good to have coins to jingle in your pockets.” He paused. “Tomorrow you will start going out on Jinglepockets’ boat to learn to be a fisherman. The money you make, give to grandma. She’ll know what to do with it.”
“Does Mama know about this?”
Looking out to the horizon, he shrugged. “No, but don’t worry about it. I’ll tell her.”
“Oh, I’m not worried.”
They cast the net a couple more times and headed back to the dock.
“You know how grandpa died, don’t you?” Leon asked.
“A shark ate him.”
“Does that scare you?”
“Like you said, you do what you have to do to fill your family’s bellies. And everyone has to die. If you die for your family, all is good.”
Leon tossed the rope to Jinglepockets who tied the boat to the dock. The three of them unloaded the fish. Leon and Sidney began to walk away, but the boy stopped.
“What about the fish?”
“They belong to Jinglepockets.”
“Why?” Sidney wrinkled his brow. “We caught them.”
“But he owns the boat.”
“I saw you pay him, so the fish belong to us. Jinglepockets owes us money.”
“You’re a smart little boy, Sidney.” Leon put his arm around his son’s shoulders and guided him home. “Jinglepockets reminds me of Old Joe who taught me many things. He will be your Old Joe.”
The next day, as Leon and Sidney ate breakfast, Jessamine muttered her disapproval the entire time she tossed apples, cheese and bread into the tote bag for their lunch. They walked down to the dock. Leon lifted his son into the boat where Jinglepockets waited for them. When the fisherman cast off, Leon jumped into the boat with them. Sidney looked surprised.
“I thought I was working for Jinglepockets.”
“You are.” His father smiled. “I didn’t say I wasn’t coming along with you.”
They cast their nets as the sun rose in the sky. At noon, they paused to eat their lunch.
“Nicholas, do you know what the boys in town call you?” Leon asked.
“Jinglepockets,” he called out from across the boat. “Everyone calls me Jinglepockets but you.”
Leon leaned into his son. “Do the other boys pick on you?”
“No. One of the older ones wagged his finger in my face one time and called me a name. I grabbed his finger, bent it back and broke it. Nobody bothers me now.”
“Good for you.”
“You taught me that.” Sidney spoke around a chunk of cheese in his mouth. “Strike fast. Hurt them as much as you can.”
“Enough lunch!” Jinglepockets yelled. “Time to fish!”
When they docked that afternoon fish filled the boat. The three of them unloaded the fish from the boat onto the dock. Jinglepockets tossed a coin to Sidney. Leon took his hand and they walked down the road.
“Do you think you could kill a man?” Leon’s voice was soft and somber.
“You kill people, don’t you?”
“Not people. Just men.”
“Why not women? Don’t some women deserve to die?”
Sidney was quiet a moment. “I think I could kill a woman, if she was bad.”
“It doesn’t have anything to do with being good or bad. Sometimes people will pay you a lot of money to kill men. Or steal jewels. Or kidnap old men.”
“That’s how come we have a nice big house, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is.” Leon considered his thoughts. “Does it bother you?”
“No.” Sidney paused. “There’s a couple of boys I’d like to kill for free. Will you teach me the best places on the body to hit people to make them die fast?”
Leon glanced at the flower pot by the gate. Nothing was askew. “There will be time for that.”
“Papa.” Sidney stopped walking. “If I find something else I’d like to do to feed my family, it would be all right, wouldn’t it?”
“Of course, son. Family is most important.” Leon sighed. “I remember when I came home, you said, ‘Let’s play.’ I don’t think I’ve given you enough time to play.”
Sidney giggled. “Papa, anytime I spend with you is play.”
The movie fan in me had a great time in London. It was like being on the set of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
Josh and I saw Royal Albert Hall, which like Big Ben, had scaffolding over half of it. Of course that means London is taking care of its architectural wonders so they’ll be around for years to come for American tourists to photograph. Royal Albert Hall was one of the big stars in the Hitchcock 1950s movie The Man Who Knew Too Much. The man in question was James Stewart, and he didn’t know too much. The bad guys just thought he knew too much. The big climactic scene was in the performance hall. When the man clashed his cymbals, a prime minister was to be shot and killed. I don’t want to give away too much in case anyone hasn’t seen the suspense classic, but Doris Day foils the bad guys when she doesn’t keep her mouth shut.
The next landmark featured in a Hitchcock movie was a tall church with an unusual red and white brick pattern to it. I instinctively recognized it but could not remember where. Josh, who was our official photographer of record, quickly took the picture but then went on to his next subject without helping me think of the movie title. It was only after we came home and were watching Foreign Correspondent one night did we make the connection. The foreign correspondent played by Joel McCrea was about to break a big story about German spies in a pre-World War II peace group when an assassin tried to push him off the church tower. The assassin went on to play Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street. Now that’s what I call avoiding being type cast.
The third landmark from a movie actually goes back to a famous stage play. I rested in Covent Garden in the shadow of the portico with massive pillars featured in the opening scene of My Fair Lady. If my theatrical trivia serves me right, the same façade is used in the stage versions of My Fair Lady and the George Bernard Shaw play on which the musicals were based, Pygmalion. In the movie and the plays, the building was supposed to be a concert hall, but in actuality it is part of the front of a church.
Now it is the scene of street performers. The entertainer I saw was very talented but he needed some lessons of audience appreciation. First he laid out a red rope at the perimeter of his performance area on the church steps and the cobblestone street in front of it. Woe be unto anyone who walked across the rope once the act began. One woman walked across it three times, and each time the acrobat with the wooden pins and sharp knives became more vituperative (it’s a British word; look it up) when she broke the rules.
“She’s so rude,” he announced to us, “that she doesn’t even know she’s rude.”
And I don’t think she did either. I know I was so scared by this point I didn’t dare scratch my nose. After his big finale I thought we spectators were safe from his acid tongue but I was wrong.
“I’m forty-eight years old and got a family to support here, so you can let go of some change,” he yelled. “Hey you! You mean you’re going to watch my show and walk away? You didn’t even applaud! The least you can do is toss a few coins in my hat!”
I took a fist of coins –I don’t know how much they were worth—put them in his hat and quickly exited stage right.
If Eliza Doolittle had been that aggressive in selling her flowers she wouldn’t have had to take those elocution lessons.
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns captive under guard in the White House basement. Stanton selects Duff, an AWOL convict,to impersonate Lincoln. Duff forms his own opinions about cabinet members, including Navy Secretary Gideon Welles.
Duff paused to look at the executive office second-story window and found Stanton gone. That meant the secretary of war was waiting. He feared what Stanton wanted to tell him. He climbed the service stairs, trying to compose his thoughts. When he entered the second-floor hallway and passed through the etched glass panel into the office, Duff heard Stanton instructing Hay.
“You may have your dinner hour now.”
“But I’ve a couple of questions about my notes,” Hay replied.
“I’ve a private appointment with the president which may last hours.”
“Would you like for me to stay to take notes?”
“I said I want you to leave the building. I’ve been quite clear.”
Duff detected a pause.
“Oh. Yes, sir.”
Entering the office with all the casualness as he could feign, Duff smiled at them. “Ah, Mr. Stanton, you remembered my order to stay for a couple of hours.” Taking pleasure from Stanton’s pinched Cupid’s bow lips, Duff winked at Hay and laughed. “I shouldn’t be too hard on the old man.”
Stanton’s cheeks burned bright red, and Duff flung one of his long, gangling arms around Hay’s shoulders. “I hope Secretary Stanton didn’t try to boss you into forgoing your dinner to take notes on our strategy session.”
“That’s good. I’ve noticed Mr. Stanton oversteps his authority by ordering around my personal staff.” Duff laughed again. “You know, he reminds me of the barnyard cock who strutted around the hens, thinking his crowing made the sun rise.”
As Hay chuckled, Duff pushed him out the door, firmly shutting it behind him.
“That,” Stanton said in an angry whisper, “was totally uncalled for.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Duff replied. “I thought it sounded like something Mr. Lincoln would say.” He sat behind the large oaken desk, hoping to hide his shaking leg.
“Yes, and you know where his arrogance got him.”
“Mr. Stanton, a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about Lincoln in the basement.” He looked grave. “What do you want?”
“You know very well.” Stanton walked to the desk, planting both fists on it. “What did Mr. Welles say to you?”
“That bewigged, doddering old fool? Merely gossip.”
“Gossip? What kind of gossip?”
“The campaign in Vicksburg will end successfully, possibly today.”
“He wants Grant to replace Meade.”
“Why replace the victor of Gettysburg?”
“Circumstances change quickly. Our record of changing generals suggests that trend will continue.”
“You see-it’s futile to keep a secret from me.” Stanton cocked his head to eye Duff. “You’ve another secret.”
“Nothing serious.” Duff stalled Stanton, thinking of some crumb to toss him, something to appease him, something somewhat related to the war—but not connected to Alethia.
“It’s foolish to defy me. Spit it out.”
“It’s something Mr. Hay said. Don’t blame him. He thought he was reporting it to the proper authority.”
“He came to my bedroom several months ago…”
“You waited to tell me?”
“I had my reasons. One being concern for your personal life.”
Stanton took a step back.
“As I was saying, he visits me often late at night to share stories he’s heard at some party. I didn’t know social gossip interested you. Besides, it involves someone you know.”
“Jean H. Davenport Lander.”
“Don’t believe gossip.” He shuffled his feet. “I was between marriages when Jean and I—enjoyed each other’s company. This was before she married Colonel Lander.”
Duff gained confidence; for once, he held the upper hand. Smiling at Stanton, Duff was certain he saw beads of perspiration across his brow.
“Mr. Hay, it seems, talked to her at this party.”
“She seemed concerned, he said, about a young Virginian she had met who boasted of a great, daredevil thing.”
“A daredevil thing?”
“What if he were planning an assassination?”
“That’s highly unlikely.”
“I thought, how ironic if I were killed instead of Mr. Lincoln.”
“Did she mention his name?”
“I don’t know.”
“If Mr. Hay mentions it again, tell me.”
Before Duff responded, office messenger Tom Cross rapped softly at the door and opened it. He timidly stepped in, his eyes wide with apprehension.
“Yes, Tom. What is it?” Duff asked.
“We just received a message from the Soldiers’ Home.” He paused to swallow hard. “They want you to come immediately. Mrs. Lincoln’s condition, it’s worse. She’s got a fever and is in and out of consciousness.”
(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school and his brother Tad was nicer. But mama died one night. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives. Tad tore up the burlap bear Mama had made for him.)
In the ensuing, hard depression years, Herman and Tad never talked about what happened to Burly Senior. And, curiously enough, neither did Herman and Burly. From time to time one or the other would wonder what Callie and Pearly Bear were doing, but they never mentioned Papa Bear.
Herman found he liked school very much; in fact, he was very good, always making the best grades in his class. He was very proud of this and bragged to Burly all the time, but he never mentioned it around Tad, for his grades, while not bad, were not the best. Papa never commented on any of his sons’ grades, just writing his name on the cards and sending them back to the school.
“Sometimes I wish papa would brag about me some,” Herman said with a sigh one day after he had taken his report card home. “It would make me feel good.”
“But that isn’t your father’s way, is it?” Burly asked. “So why wish for something that your head tells you will never happen?”
“I suppose you’re right,” Herman replied. “It’s just that the grades make me feel so good. I know I’d feel even better if papa was proud of them.”
Burly was strangely quiet. Finally Herman noticed the silence and looked down at Burly. “Is anything wrong?”
“I think you’re putting too much importance on that report card.”
“What do you mean? Isn’t doing well in school important?”
“Of course,” Burly said. “But have you noticed you only seem to like yourself a lot after you get your report card?”
Herman frowned. “I like myself all the time.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well, maybe I like myself better after report card time,” Herman admitted. “After all, there it is, in black and white. Herman Horn is smart and he behaves well in school.”
“But one of these days you won’t have it in writing every six weeks how good you are,” Burly debated. “And it will be up to you to like yourself without any help.”
Herman thought a moment and then laughed. “Burly, you’re funny.” Then he forgot about the whole thing.
But Burly didn’t forget it. He knew that Herman was in for some hard time, and he didn’t know how to help him see it. Burly didn’t know how he knew it; after all, he was only a stuffed burlap bear, but he knew it as surely as he knew his papa had disappeared and he might never see his mama again.
Christmases didn’t come to Herman’s house anymore after Callie left for Houston. He didn’t bother to make a card for papa and he didn’t even mention the holidays to Tad. He did talk about it to Burly late at night, and on Christmas Eve he and Burly sang carols softly to themselves. Herman laid back and imagined how Christmas would be one day when he was the papa and he had children of his own.
“No matter what happens,” he whispered to Burly, “I’ll always make Christmas special for my children.”
“I know you will,” Burly replied, cuddling close to him, fantasizing how nice Christmas would be with Herman and his new family, naturally fantasizing that he would be a part of it.
Another numbing year passed, and Christmas was coming upon Herman and Burly again. The now twelve-year-old boy had come upon some red material on the side of the road and was figuring out how to make a hat or coat out of it for Burly. Maybe a muffler, he thought. He was playing with the piece of cloth one Saturday night in the loft as papa and Tad sat downstairs looking at the newspaper. In the last couple of years they had grown closer together as Herman and Burly had grown closer. Herman looked over the edge of the loft at them discussing the world and felt no twinges of jealousy or sadness. He just accepted the fact that papa had found comfort in his nineteen-year-old son.
“The Japs are in Washington talking to the government,” Tad said.
“I don’t trust them,” Tad added.
“I’d like to kill all of them.”
Herman put the cloth aside, deciding it would best make a muffler and plopped into his bed, gazing out of the window at the cold black sky and the twinkling stars.
“You always eavesdrop on their conversation until one of them says something bad about someone or something else you don’t like,” Burly observed.
“Is that what I’m doing?” Herman frowned. “Eavesdropping? I just thought I was watching my family.”
“Think real hard about it.”
“I guess I am,” Herman confessed with a sigh. “But what’s so bad about that?”
“Nothing, as long as you know that’s what you’re doing.”
If you are going to one of the most exciting, eclectic cities in the world, go ahead and jump out of the bus into the heart of crazy London town and go for it.
The tour bus dropped us in Piccadilly Circus, and the guides told us to try to keep up. I knew immediately this was going to be difficult because how can you follow two typical English people in a crowd of a hundred thousand typical English people.
For the first thing, I was distracted by this building that had four gorgeous bronze statues of young nubile naked women diving into the center of Piccadilly Circus. Perpetually with their arms extended, up on their tippy toes, backs straight, tummies tucked in and chests proudly puffed out. I may be 70 years old but I’m not dead. By the time I realized I was supposed to be following the group, they were already across the street.
This presented me with my second problem. By nature I am always the one to step back with a smile and allow the cross pedestrian traffic to proceed. I have been known to hold open a door so long, people thought I worked for the store. If I did that in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, I would lose sight of my group and never see the Spanish moss draped live oak trees in downtown Brooksville, Florida, again. Then I remembered the grumpy old Irish woman with her walker in Dublin. I put a scowl on my face, hunched my shoulders and bulled my way forward. Before I knew it I was back with my group and I don’t think they had realized I had gone away.
This was very important to me. I’m old enough to be the grandfather of the young people on this student tour. The last thing I wanted was to have them interrupt their good time to see if the old man was lost, gasping for air, or fallen over with a heart attack. I didn’t want anyone to say, “Somebody call 9-1-1 and get the old geezer off our backs.” (Okay, they were all nice polite young American citizens and they would have never said that—thought it maybe. It’s a joke.)
Speaking of jokes, on the other side of Piccadilly was a street performer who looked just like Mr. Bean and for a modest price you could have your picture taken with him, hug him or pinch his bum. Twenty years and fifty pounds ago I was told I looked Mr. Bean. If I had moved to Piccadilly back then, think of the money and I could have made, and the bruises. Never mind.
Finally we arrived on Carnaby Street where the tour guides told group members to be back in two hours to eat at an authentic English restaurant featuring Indian cuisine. First Josh and I walked down the street to the largest toy store in London. The entire basement was filled with Star Wars stuff. My son Josh, by the way, goes to Star Wars convention everywhere, so he was in hog heaven (an old Texas expression). I, on the other hand, had reached the end of my tether and decided to go back to Carnaby Street while he explored the other three floors of toy heaven.
For the first time that day I felt entirely in my element. I ordered a nice lemonade, sat on the café patio and watched beautiful people go by as though they were on a runway. Unattractive people were beautiful in their high fashion clothes and perfect hairstyles. Even the boys. I wanted to see Twiggy walk by. Beatle tunes lingered in my brain. Everything was the same as when I was a teen-ager in Texas, except nothing was the same. I was old. And all the fashionable folk had smart phones stuck in their ears.
After dinner, the tour guides took us on one last marathon hike through Wellington Circle, past the National Museum and an establishment called Sherlock Holmes Pub. The tour guide said he used to work there. Finally we arrived at the Millennium footbridge over the Thames River where you could see the Eye (big Ferris wheel whose lights were down for the night) and Big Ben (which was covered in scaffolding and couldn’t be seen even if the lights were on.)
Don’t get me wrong. I had a great time. Who gets to walk the streets of glamorous London at night and not get lost? I didn’t have a heart attack. For someone my age that’s a great confidence booster.