Monthly Archives: May 2018

Into Himself

(Author’s note: For the record, I have nothing against pot and I like hippies. This story happens to be true however, and the person in question was a bit pretentious which I found funny.)
I once knew a pot-head hippie who lived in a tent on two acres of pine forest just outside of Austin, Texas. He had a pile of wood on the property which he claimed he was going to use to build a music studio, but I think he was more interested in cultivating his garden of marijuana plants instead. He had a nasty scar between the eyes which I tried not to stare at or ask any questions about.
He was the musical director of a play I was in, and after rehearsal one night he asked me for a ride home because his car was in the garage for repairs. When we arrived he invited me to walk through his woods to the tent for a glass of rotgut whiskey on the rocks. As he was pouring the cheap liquor he said he always gave something to anyone who did him a favor so they couldn’t accuse him of being ungrateful later. We discussed the possibility of writing an opera based on a play of mine which ended with my father snoring. He swore a snore was in the key of G flat. I swore I would never let myself get so bored that I would have this type of discussion with a pot-head hippie again.
“I guess you wonder where I got this scar,” he finally said.
Admitting my curiosity, I expected a story of a fight with a bunch of bikers. He wasn’t a biker himself. He was kind of puny but had a real sarcastic mouth on him. Most people smart enough to belong to Mensa usually do, which can provoke bikers to want to beat them up. But no, he responded, it happened right there on his happy two acres of wilderness.
“If you notice,” he said, pointing with his full glass of whiskey, “I have my phone attached to that tree over there. It didn’t used to be so close. Originally I had it on a tree by the road. I thought the longer it took for me to answer the phone the more likely unwanted callers would just hang up.”
I nodded. I had learned not to argue with a man who had an outdoor john, showered with a garden hose and bought a bag of ice every night to keep his bacon and eggs fresh. It was easier that way.
“Anyway, one night I heard the phone ring and I jumped out of bed and ran to answer it. I sleep naked so there I was at one with nature, the moon shining, the crickets chirping and me just as God made me. I felt at one with nature, running just like a wild animal through the trees. The only thing was, I forgot there was a low hanging limb between the phone and me. I hadn’t cut it because I figured anyone who really wanted to see me should have to go to the trouble of lifting the branch as he came down the path. It caught me right between the eyes. I couldn’t afford stitches so I just let it heal on its own.”
I guess he also forgot he was a whole lot taller than the average wild animal running through the woods at midnight. Actually, the average wild animal would have had enough sense to let the phone ring.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Thirty-Three

Previously in the novel: 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. David and Wallis officially meet at Thelma’s party.
Finally the Prince of Wales stood to excuse himself from the parlor filled with card players to retire to his bedroom. Wallis noticed he took particular effort to avoid eye contact. She also noticed that Thelma was aghast her hunting weekend party had just had a deathly pall descend upon it. Wallis shrugged. She couldn’t help herself. Then she watched General Trotter stand and go to the prince’s side to whisper. He turned to guide Edward to her.
“What a wonderful evening,” Trotter announced in a strong baritone that could be heard across the room. He leaned in for the ears of the prince and Wallis alone. “The three of us must have breakfast on the terrace.”
“We must?” The prince wrinkled his handsome brow.
“That won’t be necessary,” Wallis demurred.
“Yes, it will.” Trotter’s tone was tinged with an iron will developed through years of ordering soldiers into battle. “Wallis, meet your new companion in espionage, code name David. “
David and Wallis stood at attention.
In the morning General Trotter insisted they take breakfast on the terrace even though the temperature was brisk. The surrounding garden was filled with plants, birds and squirrels. All three were seated wearing appropriately heavy sweaters and scarves. The only purpose, Wallis decided, was to ensure they would be alone in their discussions.
Wallis and David sipped their coffee and began to cut triangles off their toast as General Trotter spoke in a soft, authoritative voice.
“You must have realized by now that MI6 had selected you to marry each other within five years. Last night was your first official meeting, surely to be recorded in the society pages of newspapers around the world.”
“It didn’t exactly go well, did it?” Wallis paused to puff on her cigarette.
“Which couldn’t have been better.” Trotter smiled with a smugness developed through years of well thought-out military strategy. “Your next encounter will be equally awkward. Wallis, you and your husband will be presented at court.”
“Ugh.” David choked on his toast. “Will that be necessary?”
Wallis looked at him askance. “I will not miss an opportunity to wear a pretty dress.” She smirked. “And Ernest won’t miss a chance to wear a pretty uniform.”
“Sometimes even a pretty dress cannot rescue a disaster in the making.” David lit a cigarette and blew smoke in Wallis’ direction.
Her hard eyes looked him up and down. “You’re skinnier than I thought. Frankly you look like a fourteen-year-old boy who’s lost his way.”
David sat erect. “Fourteen year old, perhaps; lost his way? Hardly. You’d be surprised what I did at ten.”
“Nothing about you would surprise me.”
“And that would be your downfall.”
“You wouldn’t have a chance against me in a fight.”
He leaned back. “Perhaps, but you had better kill me because if I survive, I will track you down in the middle of the night slit your throat, dissect your body and bury the parts in my garden at Fort Belvedere.”
Wallis blew smoke through her nostrils. “Kinky. I think I could fall in love with you after all.”
Trotter coughed. “So glad you resolved your differences. In the meantime, David must tour South America with Prince George.”
“Does he know yet?” David asked.
“No, that’s your job,” the general replied. “Officially the trip is to cut the opening ribbon at the British Empire Trade Exposition in Buenos Aires.”
“And unofficially?” David tapped out his cigarette in his poached egg.
“George is on heroin and cocaine again,” Trotter explained. It’s up to you to sweat it out of him.”
“So why do I have to know about this?” Wallis flicked her cigarette into a nearby potted plant and lit another.
“You travel in much the same circles as George,” Trotter explained. “If you hear certain things from certain people, you need to tell us.”
“What people?” she asked.
“Kiki Preston,” Trotter replied.
“Kiki!” Wallis guffawed. “I thought George had better taste than that! Isn’t she the socialite known as the girl with the silver syringe? Silver? How tacky! Please tell me he’s bedded someone better than Kiki.”
“Jessie Matthews.”
“Loved her shows.” Wallis smiled.
“So did George.” David crossed his legs and looked away.
“This is getting fascinating.” She picked up her coffee. “Tell me more.”
“Noel Coward and Barbara Cartland.”
Wallis spewed coffee across the table. “My God, sounds like a smorgasbord.”
General Trotter stood. “Kiki is our main concern, but also listen for gossip about this American James Donohue.
Both David and Wallis leaned forward, their brows furrowed and their moods subdued.
“He’s the one who spirited George away last night,” David said.
“He’s the one with the ugly wife and diamonds.” Wallis put her cigarette aside in an ash tray and folded her hands under her chin.
“You both bungled that one,” Trotter announced with a hint of judgement in his voice. “We think Donohue and his wife were behind the Crown Jewel heist. That’s why we want to keep him away from George.”
“That’s a big order.” Wallis lowered her hands. “Keeping anyone away from George.”
“I don’t know. I always thought the most dangerous person who might influence George was—“David began in hesitation.
“I know what you mean,” Wallis interrupted. “The man who tried to steal the jewels from me on the Tanganyika Express was a German. He said something about Von Ribbentrop being surprised that I was involved.”
Trotter frowned. “Von Ribbentrop knows you?”
“Yes.” Wallis picked up her cigarette. “He gave me a white carnation one time.”
“So what are you saying?” The general was becoming impatient.
“Don’t laugh at our suspicion,” David said.
“Our suspicion?” Wallis was a bit incredulous.
“I had the same idea.” David shrugged. “Of course, unless you were thinking of someone else.”
Now Wallis was irritated. “I think it was Adolph Hitler. He would do anything to make England look bad thereby increasing his chances of becoming German chancellor.”
“I agree. Adolph German.” He glanced at the general. “That’s why I asked you not to laugh. It’s rather ludicrous, isn’t it?”
Trotter was stoic. “I would never laugh about Adolph Hitler.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Fifty-Seven

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. He goes to see her at the hospital in Maryland.
Entering the small hospital room next to Anderson Cottage, Duff was taken aback by how small Alethia looked in the bed, how fragile, with gauze wrapping the side of her head. She appeared asleep, but when he closed the door, she opened her eyes and smiled, her cheeks moist with perspiration.
“How’s Tad? Was he upset he couldn’t see me?”
“First words out of his mouth were about you. He’s calm. He told me to say he loved you.”
“He’s such a dear boy.” Her head relaxed on the damp pillow. “Even though he knows I’m not his mother, he loves me.”
“He says I’ve a fat butt, but that’s all right.”
“Don’t make me laugh. I’ve this frightful headache.” She closed her eyes. “Is Mr. Forbes all right? They haven’t told me anything since he wrecked the carriage. I overheard someone say the bolts had been loosened on the driver’s seat.” She sighed. “Someone’s trying to kill you, Father.”
“Can I get you anything?” Duff sat on the edge of the bed and patted her hand.
“Send Mrs. Keckley up here tomorrow. I hate to take the nurses away from the men. I know she won’t mind waiting on me.” Alethia paused. “She’s so kind. I think she knows who I am—or rather, who I’m not—but she doesn’t care.”
“I thought you might like to read this,” he said, pulling from his pocket Rose Greenhow’s book and handing it to her. “My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolitionist Rule at Washington.”
“Rose wrote a book!” Her eyes widened. “I didn’t know she was out of prison.”
“The book says she was released last fall to the Confederates. She went to London, found a publisher, and wrote her memoirs.”
“I knew she could talk her way out of anything.” Alethia opened the front page and squinted at the dedication. “To Alethia Haliday, our unknown hero who disappeared in Old Capitol Prison while in service to the Confederacy.” Her mouth flew open. “There’s my name!”
“Shush. Don’t tell anyone.” Duff smiled as he squeezed her hand.
“At least I know Rose is alive and well.” Alethia smiled and squeezed his hand back, lifting it to her lips to kiss.
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
“I’m sure.” She paused. “Does Robert know?”
“I sent him a wire.”
Touching her head, Alethia moaned.
“Let me get the doctor.”
“No, not yet. I’m enjoying your company.”
“Then I won’t return to Washington tonight.”
“With the nation celebrating a victory? You have to be there for the candlelight parade.”
“You would’ve have been a wonderful politician’s wife.”
“Besides, Tom Pen wouldn’t get to light the oval room window as you stand waving to the crowd. He’d be so disappointed.” Her smile faded as she moaned again.
“I must get the doctor.” Duff left the room and grabbed the first doctor he saw to have him attend to Alethia’s head wound.
Back at Anderson Cottage, Tad waited, sitting on the floor, meticulously unraveling the rug, strand by strand. When he saw Duff, he jumped up and opened the screen door.
“Is she all right? Does she still have a fever?”
“Yes, the fever’s returned, but it’ll pass. She asked about you.”
“She did? I’m glad.”
“Do you want to go back to town with me? There’s going to be a candlelight parade tonight.”
“With bonfires?”
“I suppose.”
“And Tom Pen’s going to light the window with candles, and you and me can stand there waving to all the people?”
“Of course.”
“Gee, I ain’t stood in the lighted window with Papa—I mean, with—I ain’t stood in the window since last July Fourth. There ain’t been no big battles won since—in a long time.”
“Yes, it’s been a long time.”
“She still ain’t feeling good, is she?” Tad looked off at the long white barracks where Alethia lay, wracked with aches and fever.
“No, she isn’t.”
“It’d make her feel good if I stayed here and sat with her tonight, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes, it would.”
“There’ll be other candlelight parades.” He narrowed his eyes in deep thought and sighed. “The lady needs me right now.”
“You’re a good boy, Tad.” Duff hugged him and bent down to whisper in his ear, “I’d be proud to have you as my own son.”
“You better go now.” Tad stepped back and rubbed his nose across his arm. “The people need you.”

Story From a Friend–Shimmers of Memories

Note: The author of this story is my new friend, Clyde J. Hady of Brooksville, Florida. His business Facebook is Hometown Electric. Check out his latest invention on You Tube.

Debbie and I had discussed this possibility many times, but never really understood it. I’m not sure that it can be understood, prior to the experience itself. Perhaps because there are too many variables, perhaps because we are mere humans.

For us it began on a hot humid afternoon. My first vivid memory is of Debbie standing in her mother’s kitchen, among a multitude of boxes, arguing with her mother about which boxes would go along. Debbie looked at me as if to suggest that I should help to convince her mother about the logical thing to do. I was never good at suggesting logic to people concerned about feelings. I started carrying boxes to the car.

Debbie looked at me as though to suggest that I had just undermined all of her authority. Mom looked at Debbie as though to suggest that she could still demand the respect she deserved, even if Debbie didn’t want to give it to her. I carried boxes.

As I neared the end of the boxes Dad entered the room and began mulling around as though he expected to find something. Dad was in his late 70’s and looked every bit the part. He seldom noticed his untied shoes, his unbuttoned shirt, or his matted hair. His slack personal hygiene had not diminished his energy, and he was usually into something that Mother would scold him about. Mother was also in her late 70’s and although she looked tired and worn, there was a stateliness about her that suggested she had aged before her time.

“Now what are you looking for?” Mother snapped. Debbie, ever watchful of her father, gently pulled his arm back and proceeded to button his shirt.

“I already did that once!” retorted Mother. “He just doesn’t care.”

“I can do it again, Mother,” Debbie replied. Those were the last words that I heard spoken in Mom and Dad’s house. This was the day they would move in with us.

As we left Mom refused to look at the house; Dad wouldn’t have noticed anything if he had looked. Debbie watched the house even when it was no longer in sight, hoping that somehow watching would reverse the situation, hoping that watching would turn the memories of yesterday into the wishes of today, hoping that somehow watching would reverse the ravages of time.

As we all settled into the new situation, most of the boxes, which caused so much discussion, remained untouched. They were mostly trinkets and somehow seemed inconsequential. No one seemed to miss them; Dad didn’t miss anything, and Mom had not yet finished hurting.

My biggest job when I was home was to try to keep Dad busy, which to my surprise was easier than I would have imagined. We chanced to find out one evening that Dad became mesmerized by the same programs I enjoyed watching. I admit I am a learning channel nut. I find the programs fascinating and so does Dad.

It was about three weeks into the change that Dad sat down with me to watch another of our discovery programs about mountain sheep. Dad said, “We had them once.” That was the extent of the conversation that evening. It wouldn’t be hard to recall the revelation. There were so few that they were easy to remember.

About four days later upon seeing chickens running free in some third world country Dad said, “We had them too.”

It struck me immediately that he had some conception that I would automatically remember the start of the conversation four days prior. So it seemed only natural to ask, “How many did you have?” But I received no answer.

I had been listening to Dad’s revelations for about three months when it so happened that Mom ended up watching with us. She had watched with us before but this was the first time Dad spoke when she was there. It was a program about pigs in China, again Dad decided that he had raised them before.

“You did not!” retorted Mother. “They looked nothing like that!” With that she stormed out of the room.

To my surprise she returned with an old coffee can. She promptly sat next to Dad and opened the can. After a couple of minutes searching, she took a picture and said, “These are the kind we raised.”

Dad smiled and took the picture. “I liked them.” he said.

They spent the better part of two hours remembering the better times. Dad’s conversation was no more coherent than before, but his smile was. Mom didn’t even notice that he wasn’t always with her, she was too busy remembering when he was. For that small measure of time, life was as happy as it had ever been.

We’ve unpacked the glimmers, so that we might enjoy the shine. For Mom, Dad and all of us privy to the stories of a rich full life, time has allowed special moments to be remembered again. And a life once packed away, now shines for the world to see. Glimmers of memories brought into focus through Love, Patience, and the chance of a word.

Burly Chapter Twenty

(Previously in the book: For his birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life. As Herman grew up, life was happy–but mama died one night. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives. Brother Tad tore up the burlap bear Mama had made for him. When World War II began, Tad enlisted.)
Herman did as Tad asked him; he wrote to Callie and gave her Tad’s address when he received it. The exchanging of letters between the three seemed to draw them closer together than they ever had been living in the same house. Callie and Herman exchanged bits of information that Tad would put in one letter but not in the other. And Herman would pass on news to Tad that Callie forgot to write him.
Every now and again Herman would offer to let papa read one of Tad’s letters, and, to his surprise, papa said yes. Herman watched his father read the letter and noticed how his brow would knit in concern. Another thing he saw, something he had never noticed before, was that his father moved his lips as he read and he read painfully slow. It seemed odd to Herman who read very fast.
“Your father doesn’t read very much,” Burly explained when Herman mentioned this trait to him, “and if you don’t do something very often you don’t do it well.”
Reading was something that Herman did very well. Ever since Callie left, Herman retreated to the loft and to conversations with Burly and reading every book in the school library. He would tell Burly about the stories in the books in his own words and Burly bounced up and down in excitement, for he didn’t know much of the world beyond the loft. Herman’s interest in reading grew as he wrote Callie about the books he was reading, and she suggested other books to him. Callie, it turned out, loved to read too, and their letters would be filled with debates over which books were better and which writers could bring people springing from the pages to live in their minds.
His letters to Tad were different, however. Herman wrote mostly about what was happening on the farm, how papa was and how his friends in town were. Prices were good for the crops and the last year they could afford to hire a young Mexican-American man named Manuel to be a farm hand. Papa was the same–hardworking and silent. Leonard was still in town, telling anyone who would listen that he wasn’t dumb enough to volunteer. Stevie joined the Marines, but no one knew where he was stationed.
Herman smiled a bit when he got Tad’s letter in return. Tad warned about trusting the farm hand. You know how “those” people were, he wrote. And he sounded a bit hurt that papa hadn’t written directly to him, but he was glad Herman was keeping him informed about the “old man.” Tad wasn’t surprised Leonard was still hanging around town. I wouldn’t be surprised if he found a way out of the draft, Tad joked. And he hoped Stevie didn’t get sent anywhere too dangerous. The Marines were the first to go into unsafe places, he told Herman.
“I hope nothing happens to Tad,” Herman said to Burly one night after reading one of his brother’s letters. “He’s changed a lot since he’s been in the army. He looked down at his little burlap friend and smiled. “Or am I the one who has changed?”
“You both have changed,” Burly replied. “You both are growing up.”
Yes, Herman told himself, the last couple of years had gone very fast. He was now a big fourteen-year-old and could work almost as long and as hard as his father. Papa no longer walked by and told him he had worked enough for the day while the sun was still high in the sky. When he told Herman to stop he was walking back to the house himself.
Mr. Cochran didn’t help out anymore, since they had hired Manuel. But every time Mr. Cochran saw them in town he would smile and wave. “You’ve got a good boy there, Horn,” he always said, winking at Herman.
And papa always said nothing.
“It doesn’t seem to bother you very much anymore that your father doesn’t brag about you, does it?” Burly asked.
Looking out the loft window, Herman replied, “What’s there to say?”
The next day Herman received two letters, one from Tad and one from Callie. Tad was all excited because his unit was ready to move out of England. He couldn’t say where they were going or exactly when but that it could mean the end of the war. By this time Tad had made sergeant, a fact which made papa very proud and caused him to call out the news to Mr. Cochran when he saw him in town. Callie’s letter was filled with anticipation of her senior year in high school. She just knew it would be the happiest year of her life. Herman could see from the pictures she had sent him Callie had become a beautiful fair-haired young woman, triggering Herman’s fading memories of his mother. She said Tad had written her that he might be home soon, that “we were going to win the war any time now.”
“I hope he’s right,” Herman said with a sigh.
“I hope so too,” Burly agreed.
Herman continued to read Callie’s letter. She said she had a special shelf in her room for Pearly Bear and had made her a pretty new dress. All of her girlfriends who spent the night with her thought Pearly was very cute.
Burly shuffled a bit. If he weren’t made of burlap he would cry. He missed his mother very much, but he was happy she was being treated well. Not like poor papa bear.
Callie asked in her letter if Herman had read in the newspaper about the big invasion of France in June. They called it D-Day and expected it to be the beginning of the end of the war. “At least I hope so. By the way, have you heard from Tad lately? I last got a letter from him sometime in May.”
Herman looked at the postmark on his letter from his brother. It was postmarked in early May. Oh well, he thought, mail always ran slow from servicemen.
The next day a telegram from the government arrived. From talk at school Herman knew what it was, and he froze.
“Well, open it, son” papa said.
Herman slowly opened the telegram and began to read the words, “We regret to inform you—“
Papa grabbed the telegram from Herman’s hands and stared at the words on the paper. His lips quivered as they moved along with his eyes. Finally he wadded it up and walked into the house without saying anything.
His son was dead.
Herman’s first impulse was to go to his father and put his arms around him and cry with him, but something inside told him to leave his father alone. Perhaps it was his memory of when his mother died and the men had to fight papa away from his wife’s side. At any rate, Herman let his father grieve by himself.
Burly didn’t have to be told. “Tad’s dead, isn’t he?”
Herman nodded as he crawled into his bed. “How did you know?” he asked softly.
“I heard your father slam his bedroom door and cry.” Burly nestled into Herman’s side. “I’m sorry, Herman.”
And then Herman cried.
There could be no funeral because Tad’s body was buried in France somewhere, but the Army was going to present a flag to papa at a memorial service. Herman went to Mr. Cochran’s house to call Callie in Houston.
“Hello?” Aunt Joyce answered.
“This is Herman,” he said soberly. “May I speak to Callie?”
“It’s Woody, isn’t it?” she asked.
“Oh no,” she gasped.
Herman heard muffled sounds as Aunt Joyce put her hand over the receiver to call Callie to the phone.
“Herman, Tad’s dead, isn’t he?” Callie asked.
“Yes.” Herman couldn’t say anymore because he was afraid he would cry again.
“I could tell by the way Aunt Joyce was acting. Are you all right?”
“I guess.”
“I’ll be home tomorrow.”
And Callie, accompanied by Uncle Calvin and Aunt Joyce, was back on the farm near Cumby the next day. She tried to hug her father but he pulled away. This time she didn’t look hurt, just sad.
There was no bear family reunion; Callie left Pearly in Houston. Burly was disappointed, but he didn’t say anything to Herman. He could tell his young master had other things on his mind.
The ceremony was held the next day at the local cemetery. A veterans group had bought a plot and placed a large tombstone with the names of the war dead from Cumby whose bodies would never return to Texas. A military color guard went through its paces, marching the flag to the monument. The flag was folded and presented to papa who received it without emotion. Callie held Herman’s hand tightly.


(Author’s note: In honor of the summer camping season for families, the long weekends, the smells of grilling, the setting suns, the whistling and the laughter. Ah, the memories.)
After a long day of camping I lay in my tent alone looking through the flap at the navy blue sky filtered through patterns of oak branches. The family had walked down to the campground store to buy candy for the kids.
Whiffing, I knew the next campsite over was roasting hot dogs. On the other side someone else was grilling hamburgers and across the way the aroma of toasted marshmallows floated my way. We had been lazy and stopped at a restaurant for dinner after a long day of hiking a mountain to see a waterfall.
My legs still ached, and I thought I was getting a blister on my big toe. I didn’t want to complain because my wife had twisted her ankle last night after she tripped on the way back to the tent from the campground toilet. She made the trip up and down the mountain limping so I couldn’t say much about a little blister.
Cricket song was deafening among the trills of the birds. Most of the campers around us were keeping their voices down, which was a good sign for later. A couple of nights ago, one guy drank a few too many beers and sang out loudly, “I’m going white-water rafting tomorrow and the damn Little Pigeon River!” My wife sent me to the office the next office to complain but the manager said he had refunded their money and told them to leave. I was glad I didn’t have to listen to them anymore but I resented the jerk got a free campsite for a night. Maybe on our last night I could scream obscenities and get a refund too. I dismissed the thought. It wasn’t worth losing the sleep.
I stared at the leaves against the sky. If I could draw, it would make a great abstract painting of shades of blues. Then the stars started twinkling adding to the composition. Wouldn’t that make a nice painting for your bedroom wall? You could just stare at it until you drifted off to sleep. But with my luck it would look like a mess and I’d stay awake wondering why I thought I could paint in the first place.
Rolling over on the air mattress I searched for the bag of candy from out visit to Aunt Mahalia’s Kitchen. I hoped there would be some fudge or chocolate covered cherries left. No fudge but plenty of cherries. Life is good. I bit into the chocolate mound and slurped up the cream, saving the actual cherry for last. The soothing, mellow milk chocolate made me forget about the blister, and the tart sweet cherry made me forget the chocolate, if that were possible.
I heard familiar laughter come up the path. The family was back. I hoped they bought more fudge. My son was whistling the music to Star Wars. Anytime he was happy he whistled the entire score of the movie. My daughter giggled and talked at the same time. I never knew how she could do that. My wife said, “Let’s hurry up and get back. My foot is killing me.”
I paused to take in everything and store it for future reference. This was one of the good times.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Thirty-Two

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.”
“Which one?”
“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.

Ireland and England with Jerry and Josh–The Castle and the Tower

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

Lincoln in the Basement, Chapter Fifty-Six

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.

Burly Chapter Nineteen

(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.”