Monthly Archives: June 2018

Burly Chapter Twenty-Five

(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. Tad died during World War II. The years have passed, and Herman is now seventeen years old, and Burly is in the trunk.)
Marvin never visited Herman in the loft again. Burly never knew exactly what happened because Herman didn’t mention Marvin when he talked to himself, and Gerald never talked about Marvin when he visited.
“Gosh, Herman, I never thought one of my friends would be the senior class valedictorian,” Gerald laughed one afternoon.
“Well, it was real close,” Herman said. “You did well in the class standings, too.”
Burly smiled to himself. Evidently Herman was still paying attention to his late night advice.
“Have you decided whether or not to take your Uncle Calvin’s offer to stay with him and go to Rice Institute? That would be nice, being with your sister again.”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you? She got married last winter.”
Burly wondered if Pearly Bear still had a shelf of honor in Callie’s home or if she had been relegated to an old trunk.
“Anyway, I still want to go to the University of Texas. If I don’t get drafted, that is.”
“What does May Beth say about all this?”
Herman shifted uneasily on the bed. “What does she have to say about it?”
“Well, I thought you two, you know,” Gerald replied, a little nervous.
“We’ve dated a lot, that’s all.”
“Is that how she looks at it?”
“It doesn’t make any difference how she looks at it,” Herman said.
Again Burly felt worried about some of Herman’s attitudes. That night as Herman tossed and turn in his bed, Burly whispered, “Don’t toss away May Beth’s friendship, or love, so easily. Remember love is as important as school.”
In a few weeks graduation had come and gone. Herman was called for his draft induction physical and passed. That meant he would be leaving the old farmhouse for good soon. Burly was scared again. Another incident scared Burly. One night Herman came home and had trouble climbing the ladder. He was drunk. Pulling a small bottle of some kind of liquor from his pocket Herman took a long swig.
“And here’s to the bride, May Beth Webster,” he slurred. “And here’s to the groom, Marvin Berry, the bum.”
So he had not taken Burly’s advice about May Beth, and she had married his former friend. Burly’s heart broke for Herman. For the first time in more than a year Burly wished he was out of the trunk and in Herman’s arms so Herman could squeeze the bear hard to make his pain go away.
Herman mumbled other things in a drunken stupor, things Burly couldn’t quite make out, and then he passed out on the bed.
Burly worried all night about Herman’s beginning to drink. He whispered, ”Please don’t start drinking, Herman. Remember what happened to Tad’s friend, Leonard.” But he didn’t know if Herman ever heard him.
Within a few days Herman was gone to join the Army and the loft became deathly still. For the first time Burly looked around him to see what he shared the trunk with. There were some of Herman’s mother’s clothes, including her wedding dress. There was the American flag from Tad’s memorial service. Down at the bottom Burly found old baby clothes that belonged to Callie.
One night Burly heard steps coming up the ladder. His little heart leapt, hoping it was Herman. Instead, it was Mr. Horn, who walked across the loft to the trunk. When he opened it, Burly could tell he too was drunk. Woody Horn gently picked up the dress his wife wore on her wedding day and touched it to his cheek. Then he caressed the American flag given in memory of his fallen son. Finally he picked up Burly Bear.
“Well, little bear, I wondered what became of you,” Woody said with a slur. “So he tossed you aside too, like he did me.”
Burly considered trying to speak to him, but decided against it.
Woody sniffled. “I guess I can’t blame him. I didn’t do much to keep him.” He began to put Burly back in the trunk and then stopped. “If I can’t keep my son, then I’ll keep my son’s teddy bear.” And with that he took Burly downstairs to his bedroom where he laid the little bear beside his pillow. After he took his shirt and trousers off and climbed into bed, Woody picked up Burly again. “I guess you won’t mind if I start talking to you.”
Mind? Burly thought; I’d be thrilled. If I had stayed alone in that trunk, in that great nothingness of time and space, I would have surely lost my magic and become just another forgotten toy, ripe for decay and to be gnawed upon by visiting rats.
Woody held Burly closely. “I guess a part of me died when Opal passed on. And I shouldn’t have let that happen.”
But you couldn’t help it, Burly thought.
“I kept telling myself that I couldn’t help it but that’s not true. I could have bucked up and done the right thing.”
There’s still time to do the right thing, Burly thought.
“Maybe there’s still time,” Woody’s eyes became heavy with sleep. “I’ll write Herman and Callie letters. I’ve never written a letter before, but I’m not too old to learn. And maybe they’ll forgive me.”
Of course they will, Burly thought, knowing Woody was somehow catching his advice, just like Herman did.
Meet your new friend, Burly Bear.

How Dare You

Gloria became distracted slicing the roast beef when Dave put his arms around her waist.
“Gee, Honey, that smells great,” he murmured, nuzzling her neck.
She concentrated on the knife going through the meat as Dave kissed her on the cheek.
“You’re going to make me cut myself,” she said, trying not to be curt.
“In that case I’ll sit down and be a good boy,” David replied as he plopped in the kitchen chair closest to her.
Gloria brushed strands of gray hair from of her brown eyes as she finished carving the roast. Looking around the table she saw the vegetables were in place. They glistened in the candlelight. Candles lit by her husband of thirty-five years. She studied them carefully before turning her attention to Dave. His dark hair was still closely cropped. His cheeks were full as always, and his wrinkled face was as fair as it ever was, almost pink. But something was not the same.
“Please sit down, dear,” Dave said. “I can’t enjoy this delicious meal until you join me.” As he smiled, the dimples in his cheeks deepened.
She took a chair across the table from him and began to fill her plate.
“There were a lot of people at your brother’s funeral today,” Gloria said slowly.
“Yes, Ben had a lot of friends.”
“I noticed you didn’t cry.”
Dave kept his head down. “You know me. I don’t show my emotions much.”
“Unlike Ben. I never knew anyone who wore his feelings on his sleeve like he did. No wonder he committed suicide.”
“Yeah, kind of a pansy, wasn’t he?”
“So different, the two of you, to be identical twins.” Her voice was aloof and soft.
“But I got the good-looking wife, and he didn’t.” Dave laughed. “Gosh, this roast beef is great.”
“Thanks.” Gloria folded her hands in her lap. “Poor Ben. He never married.”
“Like I said, he was a pansy.”
“No, that wasn’t it. I don’t think I ever told you this, but Ben proposed to me the same night as you did. I told him no. I said I loved you instead. He told me I’d regret marrying you. He said you were a cold-hearted son of a bitch who would make my life miserable.”
“Who cares what that pansy thought?”
She stood, picked up the carving knife, walked around the table and quickly put the knife to Dave’s throat. “How did you do it?”
He dropped his fork and gasped. “Do what?”
“Kill Dave.”
“But I’m Dave.”
“No, you’re not. You’re Ben.”
“That’s—that’s foolishness,” he mumbled. “You’ve always been a foolish woman,” he added, finding his voice. “I don’t know how I’ve put up with you all these years.”
“Dave said that a lot.”
“Of course, I did—and I still say you’re a foolish woman.”
“Every time Dave said that I noticed you always clinched your jaw and turned a little red. You hated your brother.”
“He was my brother, I didn’t hate him. I didn’t hate Ben. How could anyone hate Ben?”
“That’s right. Nobody hated Ben.” Gloria pushed the blade into his soft, wrinkled skin. “Now tell me the truth, or I’ll slice your throat.”
“All right. All right. I killed the son of a bitch. I hated him for the way he treated you. I wrote my own suicide note and killed him. No need for an autopsy when you got a suicide note written in the hand of the man they think is dead.”
“And you thought you could fool me?”
“No, I thought you’d like having a good husband after all those years with that son of a bitch.”
“Well, he may have been a son of a bitch,” Gloria said as she plunged the knife straight down between his shoulder and collar bone, “but he was my son of a bitch.”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Thirty-Seven

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. David and Wallis are told to kill American millionaire James Donohue.
Jimmy Donohue was growing up fast. He had plunged into puberty and didn’t have to follow anyone’s rules or ask for anyone’s permission when he left the house. His older brother, sixteen-year-old Wooly, was still at an awkward age where he felt most comfortable sticking close to home so he’d be available if his mother needed him for anything.
Jimmy’s favorite adventure was to follow his father, James, when he went out to enjoy a night on the town. Jimmy was good at lurking in the shadows and slipping in and out of places where respectable young gentlemen were forbidden to enter. He thought he would make a great spy. Of course, Jimmy also wanted to be a Broadway dancer or an Army Air Corps pilot. Mother Jessie would have disapproved of all three, which made them even more tempting.
The Donohues had just returned to their home at 6 East 80th Street in New York after wintering at their Palm Beach estate Cielito Lindo. Jimmy was ready for the change of pace. At first he found sneaking into the casinos to watch his father lose millions of dollars at the poker table to be entertaining. However, he didn’t understand why his father became so nervous about losing the money. They had enough so dropping a million at the casino couldn’t be a problem.
Jimmy decided it was like Jesus getting upset over being crucified because he knew he was going to come back from the grave in three days anyway. Jimmy was bored with all forms of education except the catechism classes at the Roman Catholic Church. Despite all his many faults he loved the mother church. He particularly loved to shock the priests in the confessional booth. Jimmy briefly considered going into the priesthood but he found dressing in all that black depressing. Cardinals looked snappy in their red gowns, but Jimmy doubted he would last long enough to become a cardinal.
His father’s escapades became more exciting since their return to New York. Jimmy shadowed him into disreputable little dives where the band played jazz and men danced with other men. He followed his father there every night. One time Jimmy saw James dance with a British sailor. The man wore his bellbottoms and vee-neck shirt tight. Sweat glistened on the sailor’s black skin. He was not tall and his body was lean and compact. James let him lead.
Now this was exciting, Jimmy decided. By the end of the two weeks James and his sailor left the club early, with the boy trailing. They went to the Waldorf-Astoria. Jimmy followed them upstairs and watched his father give the sailor a gift wrapped in a Tiffany’s box as they stood in front of a door to a suite. The sailor accepted it, kissed James on the mouth and lingered in the embrace. Jimmy giggled. He wondered what was going to happen next.
Three nights later as he finished his dinner he heard the front door shut. “What was that?”
“Your father has left for his social obligations earlier than usual,” Jessie explained, cutting her filet mignon, medium rare. “He’s always working hard to build new contacts for Woolworth enterprises. Don’t worry about it.”
That was a lie. It was one of the things he loved most about his mother. She could lie with sincerity. Jimmy wanted to believe she was telling the truth. In honor of his mother, he decided to tell his own lie.
“I don’t feel good.” Jimmy frowned. “I think it’s my sinus again.”
Jessie daubed her napkin to her mouth, trying not to smudge her lipstick. “Then you must go immediately to bed. If you don’t have your health then you don’t have anything.”
“Of course, Mother.” Jimmy marched to the hall leading to the bedrooms. Instead of going through his door, he continued down the hall to the servant’s entrance.
Jimmy beat his father to the night club. As he walked down the alley to the back door, he saw the sailor, leaning against a large trash can smoking.
“Hello,” Jimmy said as he approached the man.
“My name is Jimmy Donohue. Who are you?”
“Everybody has a name.”
“If I told you my name I’d have to kill you.”
For once Jimmy was speechless.
“How old are you?” the sailor asked.
“Oh sure. You’re old enough to die for asking too many questions.” He blew smoke Jimmy’s way. “Now do you want to know my name?”
“Wise decision.”
This is ridiculous. Nobody’s going to scare me. I’m rich. Jimmy took another step forward and lifted his chin. “You’re from the Bahamas, aren’t you?”
“I thought so. We winter in Palm Beach. I recognized the accent.”
“Is that supposed to impress me?”
Jimmy didn’t know whether to like or hate this fellow. “Do you like my father?”
“That’s another one of those tricky questions that could get you killed.”
“My mother will pay a lot of money for you to go away.”
The sailor dropped his cigarette and ground it out. “How do you want to die? Bullet between the eyes? Slit throat? Or a quick, hard twist of the neck?”
Without another word Jimmy walked to the back door and opened it. He turned back. “I’m not afraid of you.”
“You’re lying.”
Jimmy stepped inside and began to close the door when he heard his father’s voice calling from down the alley.
“Jed! Here I am!”
The boy peeked out the door just in time to see his father hug the sailor and kiss him.
“Let’s skip the club tonight.” Excitement overwhelmed James’ voice. “I got us our usual suite at the Waldorf-Astoria—“
“Do you have my gift?” the sailor interrupted.
Jim fumbled with his pockets, pulling out a small black box. The man opened it and threw it on the dirty cobblestones.
“Diamond stick pin. How pathetic. I already have two.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m bored with you, Jim. Go home.”
James’ face crumpled into a pitiful contortion. “But I thought you loved me.”
“Loved you? You’re a drunk, a drug addict, a loser at gambling. You’re not even handsome anymore. You’re going bald. That belly makes me sick.”
“Why are you saying these things?”
The sailor turned away. “Someone paid me to humiliate you. Now who hates you enough to do that?”
James slid down to the street, his back against the trash can. “Jed! Jed!”
The sailor turned around and smirked. “By the way, you ought to see a doctor. You see, I have syphilis. I had forgotten to tell you that.”
Jimmy decided at that moment he hated his father. How could he be such a disgusting weakling? He didn’t care about his father having syphilis. He didn’t want his mother to catch it. That would be just plain rude! Jimmy swore to himself he would never let anyone humiliate him the way the sailor did to his father. He would always be in control of people. No one would control him. Except maybe his mother.
Eventually, James stood, wiped the tears from his eyes and staggered out of the alley. Jimmy waited a moment and then slipped from the club and went home. He couldn’t sleep all night. He kept thinking of all the ways he could get even with his father.
The next morning Jimmy asked his mother if they could have their breakfast on the terrace, just the two of them. It was April, after all, and the weather was becoming quite nice, for New York at least. After they had taken a few bits of their omelets, Jimmy cleared his throat.
“Mother, I think the time has come for you to divorce father.”
Jessie smiled sweetly at him as she sipped her coffee. “Now you shouldn’t concern yourself with such sordid matters. Anyway, whatever you think your father has done, he has done it many times before. Besides, divorce is such a messy business. All the headlines.”
Jimmy was undeterred. “Then let’s kill him.”
“My dear, don’t be silly. We’re just normal high society people. What do we know of murder? I just cannot begin to wrap my head around the details. For instance, you have to have a good alibi, even if you’re not the one doing the actual murder. It’s better if you can make them commit suicide. So you have to make it easy on them to get the pills. Then you have to come up with a reason that would push them over the edge. But don’t let it be officially ruled suicide because no matter how big an inconvenience someone has become, you don’t want them to be kept out of heaven.” She paused to smile. “You see I’m just not bright enough to plan anything so complicated as murder.”
Jimmy was not surprised that by sunset his mother had announced she was having another one of her infamous nervous breakdowns. James announced at dinner he suspected he had contracted a nasty case of syphilis. He bought an over-the-counter medication called mercury bichloride, and a full recovery was expected. Jessie admitted herself to Harbor Sanitarium on Madison Avenue.
As the family gathered around her bed, she instructed James to proceed with plans for their spring tour of Europe as scheduled. Wooly sniffled and his eyes turned red. Jimmy thought his brother acted like a girl about such things. James spent the next few days making ocean liner reservations and wiring their favorite hotels in London, Paris and Rome to be expecting the family. Jimmy suggested to his father that he had done such a good job he should reward himself with a day of poker with his friends at the house. James agreed. Milton Doyle and Gordon Sarre arrived for luncheon at noon the next day and then settled into a nice relaxing game of cards. Then Jimmy walked up and stood by his father.
“Mr. Doyle, Mr. Sarre, did father tell you he has syphilis?”
“Oh, Jimmy, don’t” Wooly whined.
“He got these blue pills from the drug store. You’re not supposed to swallow them. That would kill you. You’re supposed to grind them up and spread it on your—“
“Jimmy! Shut up!” Wooly tried to pull him away.
Gordon smiled but kept staring at his cards. “Don’t worry, Wooly. I doubt Jimmy could say anything to shock us.”
“That’s right. Isn’t it so, Jimmy?” Milton glanced at the boy and cocked his head. “Rather takes the fun out of it, doesn’t it?”
James stood. “Excuse me. I feel the need to go to the bathroom.”
As he walked away, Jimmy asked, “Who gave it to you? A dancer? Or was it one of those nasty sailors?”
“Jimmy, I swear I’m going to knock you on your ass,” Wooly hissed.
In a few minutes James emerged, his face was already flush and sweaty. Gordon stood.
“What have you taken?”
“I took seven of them. I can’t tell you why I did it. I’m a chump for doing such a thing.”
Milton ran for the bathroom and came out with the bichloride mercury bottle. ‘It says the antidote is eggs and milk.” He looked at Jimmy and Wooly. “Boys, are there milk and eggs in the kitchen?”
“No,” Jimmy blurted. “We have to buy some.”
“Go! Quick!” Gordon ordered. “We’ll call the ambulance!” He looked at his friend. “Gordon, help me make him comfortable.”
Gordon and Milton helped James to the sofa where they laid him down. They were out the door and down the elevator to the small grocery right next to the hotel. They grabbed the milk and eggs and rushed out without paying. The clerk, familiar with their hijinks just waved. They were back within a few minutes. Jimmy pushed Wooly towards the living room.
“Go check on father. I’ll mix this up.”
Wooly frowned but did as he was told. Jimmy disappeared into the kitchen and emerged with a glass filled with milk and eggs. Milton took it and gently held it to James’ lips.
“Jimmy,” Wooly asked, “why is the milk blue?”
“No it isn’t.”
The ambulance team knocked on the door. Jimmy grabbed the glass and ran to let them in. As they loaded James on the stretcher, Jimmy took the glass back to the kitchen, emptied it and washed it out. The ambulance took James to Harbor Sanitarium where Jessie was in the mental ward. Milton and Gordon drove Jimmy and Wooly to the hospital and ushered them through the emergency entrance.
When Jimmy and Wooly entered their father’s room they heard the doctors discuss the results of the blood typing test and how one of the orderlies said he had that type and volunteered for the transfusion. They watched them hook James up to a line which went to the orderly lying on a nearby table. Soon blood transfused from the man to James. Jimmy stopped a nurse and pointed at his father.
“Is that going to work?”
The nurse looked at him with sad, kind eyes. “Of course it will.”
“You do know he took bichloride mercury, don’t you?” His tone was solemn.
“Of course I do.”
“So how often does a blood transfusion work on bichloride mercury?”
She patted his shoulder. “You’re a smart boy, aren’t you?”
“Not really,” he replied. “I find school boring. But I am an expert observer of life and death.”
Just at that moment Jimmy heard his mother’s voice. He turned to see an attendant roll her wheelchair in the door. Both he and Wooly went to her and hugged her.
“Where’s my Jim?” she asked in a loud, shrill voice. “Please don’t tell me he’s dead. I couldn’t live without my Jim.”
Wooly kissed her forehead while staring at his brother. “Don’t worry, Mother. He’ll be all right.”
Jimmy kneeled so he could face her. “Yes, Mother. Father’s not dead.” He leaned in to whisper, “Not yet.”
(Author’s note: I thought this might be a good time to remind the readers this is alternative historical fiction. None of these historical figures did any of these awful things. As far as anyone knows.)

Going to the Store

Sometimes I catch myself trying to remember the way to the old neighborhood store to buy candy or a popsicle. First off, the street was paved, but not really. It was really just patches on top of patches surrounded by hot Texas summer dirt.
By July, the bottoms of my feet had toughed up so the hot asphalt didn’t bother me. I turned right, which was generally north—all of the streets made a lot of slight turns so nothing was due north, south, east or west. Our next door neighbor was a nice old man, Mr. McDaniel who always had some relative living with him. Across the street was a young couple with two little kids who lived in a renovated Army barracks left over from World War II. Eventually they moved out to a nicer house in a nicer neighborhood. They didn’t talk to us much after that. The wife’s mother lived next to them in a regular house. I was kinda scared of her. I don’t know why.
Next to Mr. McDaniels were two houses, and I don’t think I ever met anyone who lived there. At the end of the block was a rambling old farm house with a wrap-around front porch and it needed a coat of paint. The woman who lived there ran the washateria where we took our clothes after my mother died.
Down the intersecting dirt road were a bunch of ramshackle old houses. My parents strictly forbade me to walk down that road because that’s where the black people. Except they didn’t say black people. They didn’t even use the word colored. They said a word I won’t use here. I know what it was. You know what it was. We all know what it was. No need to repeat it here.
We could see the shacks on that road from our backdoor. One morning I watched a black hearse parked out front of one of the houses. A group of men in black suits carried a coffin down the stairs. The people in the yard cried. It struck me that if black people cried in sorrow the same way we did when someone died, why did we have to be afraid of them? And if we weren’t afraid of them, why could I not walk down the street where they lived?
But I was trying to remember the way to the store, where the people on the dirt road could not shop. Beyond the intersection was a big vacant spot with lots of trees. Sometimes there was a tall pile of sand there, but I wasn’t allowed to play in it.
At the next intersection was another patched-over paved road leading to the bridge over Pecan Creek. We went that way when we were going to church or visit my mother’s relatives. If we kept going up the street my house was on, we got to the high school and downtown. On the other side of that intersection was the store. I hardly remember ever going in the older building. It was like all the country stores you’ve ever seen pictures of. I don’t know if it had a cracker barrel or not.
The owner became sick, and his wife panicked, marking up all the prices to pay for the doctor bills. All that did was make the neighbors get in their cars and drive north into town to shop at the fancy new supermarkets. They went out of business even faster. Eventually, he died and the widow moved away.
Someone then bought the land, rented the old building to an upholsterer and build a long, wide building which had a laundromat (I don’t know why this one was called a laundromat and the other one in town was called a washateria). On the other end of the building was a grocery with gas pumps outside. We’d call it a convenience store today.
I remember the owner had a huge selection of plastic flowers for sale in the back. It also had the best selection of candy and ice cream I’d ever seen. Of course, I was just a little barefoot boy in a small Texas town so what did I know?
They also had a bunch of knickknacks which I bought from time to time as birthday and Christmas presents for my parents. In particular I remember saving my nickels and dimes to buy a ceramic vase for my mother’s birthday. She often commented on how cute she thought it was when she came in the store. The surprise was ruined when my mother confronted me because the change in my pocket didn’t match what it should be since it was left over from my lunch allowance. So I had to tell her I was holding back some to buy her a gift. She felt bad, but she pulled the same thing when my brother put aside money from his part-time job to buy her a nice coat from a local woman’s clothing store.
I liked going to the store because there was always time to chat and tell jokes. The ladies working there were like aunts, except they were nicer than my real aunts. By the time I became a teen-ager, they had closed the store and moved to a new convenience store across the Pecan Creek bridge. They didn’t treat me as nice then, but I suppose it’s easier to like little kids than teen-agers.
So, yes. I do remember the way to the store. All the old neighbors are gone. All the stores are empty or torn down. I don’t think I’d like to walk down that street now that I’m old. I’d rather remember the days when I scampered barefoot without a care but with a coin to buy candy.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty-One

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. Stanton brings news of Gettysburg to the basement. Janitor Gabby’s uncle Sammy was killed.

Her large, watery blue eyes followed the flight of stairs, so far up, so steep, so forbidding. A deep sigh made its way through Cordie’s pale, wrinkled lips. Too many dying boys, too much moaning, she fretted, as she took her first step to ascend the boardinghouse stairs. The day was not over yet, because Cordie had agreed to join Jessie and Adam at the candlelight parade.
Finally reaching the top floor, Cordie breathed deeply before opening her bedroom door. And those trousers, she thought to herself, they had to be mended. Adam brought her a pair from Gabby, and they had to be fixed so he would have something proper to wear. In the room, the bed beckoned to her, but Cordie resisted; her duty to Gabby came first, so she sat, turned on her kerosene lamp, and proceeded to stitch the crotch of her brother’s worn blue pants.
Downstairs the front door opened, and Cordie heard Mrs. Surratt’s strident voice pierce the silence. After a few harsh words with Mrs. Edwards, the landlady stomped up the stairs. Cordie steeled herself as the steps neared her door.
“I’m here for the rent. It’s past due.” Mrs. Surratt swung open the door after sharply knocking once. She stopped and glared at the trousers on Cordie’s lap. “Those pants. Who do they belong to?”
“Gabby? Who’s Gabby?”
“My brother. He lives with me.”
“He lives here?” Mrs. Surratt went to the armoire to open it to see a rack of men’s rough shirts, a jacket, and another pair of slacks. “You mean he’s been living here all this time, and you haven’t paid his rent?”
“He hasn’t been sleeping here for almost a year.”
“Well, does he live here or not?”
“I guess not. But I always think of him and me living together. We help each other get by.”
“Then where is he living?”
“I—I don’t think I’m allowed to say.” Her eyes fluttered.
“When it comes to cheating me out of rent money you have to tell.”
“As long as it doesn’t go any further…”
“Get on with it.”
“The White House,” she whispered. “He—he’s the janitor.”
“Those Republicans make him work day and night?”
“Yes.” Cordie’s eyes went down.
“Those Republicans make everyone’s life miserable.” Mrs. Surratt’s face softened as she sat on the edge of the bed by Cordie’s chair. “Where are you from, dear?”
“New York City.”
“Ah, the gallant Irish. You know, they’re rioting this very moment against the infamous draft.” She smiled. “Were your parents from Ireland?”
“No,” Cordie replied. “They were born here. My parents never talked about where their folks were from.” She looked at Mrs. Surratt with curiosity. “Is Zook an Irish name?”
“I really don’t know what kind of name Zook is. It could be Irish.”
“Why do you care if I was Irish or not?” Cordie did not know why Mrs. Surratt’s questions irritated her. Perhaps it was because climbing all those stairs wore her out.
“Oh, I don’t care, really. It’s just I like the Irish, that’s all.”
“Why?” Cordie told herself not be so impatient with the woman. After all, she was making an attempt to be friendly.
“I suppose it’s their religion,” Mrs. Surratt replied in a flat tone.
“We weren’t much of anything particular.”
“Oh. We in Maryland follow the true faith, Roman Catholic. As do the Irish. The Irish in New York don’t want to be forced to fight against the South. The Pope sees this as a holy war against the Roman Catholic Church. The Northerners have no respect for the Pope.”
“Papa was a lawyer. He defended all kinds of poor people, Irish Catholics, German Jews, Gypsies. He even defended a man who didn’t believe in God at all.”
“But your father did believe in God?”
“You’re confusing me. What side are you on?”
“We’re for the Union. Papa said slavery was wrong.”
“My uncle, Samuel Zook, is a Union general.”
“You know, my dear, this war isn’t about slavery, but states’ rights.”
“Papa said states don’t have rights; people have rights.”
“As I was saying, this war’s about freedom, about the right to worship as you please.”
“Catholics get to go to church like anybody else,” Cordie firmly said.
“It’s obvious you’ve led a sheltered life. Religious intolerance surrounds us. You’ve only to open your eyes to see it.” She looked away, noticing the half-finished Gabby quilt on the bed. “What’s this?”
“A Gabby quilt. I used to make pretty ones, wedding ring, starbursts…”
“I loved to make starburst quilts. They sold well at the inn.”
“Good quilts sell for good money. These old things don’t go for much. The boys living here buy them. They don’t know better.”
“When my husband died, I didn’t have time to make quilts anymore.”
“Old age caught up with me. Then I started making these out of any old material I had around. These swatches are the last of Mama’s dresses. Then you sew old socks into the squares and sew the squares together in no particular pattern. I call them Gabby quilts because Gabby likes them.”

Burly Chapter Twenty-Four

(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. Tad died during World War II. The years have passed, and Herman is now seventeen years old, and Burly is in the trunk.)
“No!” Burly shouted as the trunk lid came down on him, covering him in darkness, but it did no good. Herman didn’t open the lid and lift him out. “Please, Herman, please,” the little bear whispered through the night, but Herman didn’t answer him. Finally Burly sat back and began to think about it. Herman will get a good night’s sleep and feel better the next morning, Burly decided. Herman will take him into his arms and beg his forgiveness which, of course, he will give, Burly told himself. So there was nothing left to do but be patient and wait for morning. But when morning came, Herman got up, dressed and went to the kitchen to cook his father’s breakfast, ignoring Burly’s pleas to be let out of the trunk.
“Do you need me after school?” Herman asked his father as they ate the ham, eggs and toast.
Not looking up, his father mumbled, “Could use some help in the barn.”
Herman climbed into the loft to get his books. Burly saw this as his chance to talk him into letting him out.
“Please let me out. I don’t like it in here. It’s scary.”
But Herman acted as though he didn’t hear the little bear and left. Burly began to wonder if Herman could even hear him anymore. Maybe his magical powers went away. Maybe none of his life ever happened. Somewhere in the old rags that filled his head there was a special something that allowed him to pretend he had talked to Herman. Burly was very confused. He tried not to think much about what was happening until that night when Herman came home.
It was very late when Herman finally came to bed; after all, he had to help his father, and then cook, then do is homework. Burly tried to be considerate and not say anything until Herman had slipped in between the covers.
“Herman,” he whispered, “Please let me out.”
There was no reply.
“Herman, I know I can still help you. I just know I can.”
Again no reply. Burly slowly began to believe Herman could no longer hear him until the little bear heard a muffled cry.
“Oh, shut up, Burly. Leave me alone.” And then Herman began to sob.
That made Burly very unhappy. His only reason to be able to talk and think was to be Herman’s friend and to make him happy. This was the first time Burly had made Herman cry. “I’ll never do that again. I’ll listen to what Herman is doing, and whisper advice in the middle of the night. But, I’ll never upset him by asking to be let out again.”
And so the days and months passed with Burly listening in on Herman’s conversations with his friends. And with himself, because for the first time in his life Herman talked to himself. Mostly he said terrible things to himself, like calling himself a dummy because he only made a B in a certain class instead of an A.
“Don’t call yourself names like that,” Burly whispered late at night. “You can’t be perfect in everything. Don’t think bad of yourself or soon you will really believe it and you won’t even make Bs in school.”
Herman didn’t say anything, but Burly noticed Herman stopped calling himself names. The next report card was better. He got all As.
“Hey, genius,” Marvin said one day while visiting Herman in the loft. “With grades like that you ought to go to college.”
“I plan to,” Herman replied with confidence. “I want to be a lawyer.”
“It takes money to be a lawyer,” Marvin said. “Where are you going to get money to go to law school?”
Herman shrugged. “They have scholarships. I’ll get me one of those.”
“Do you think you’re smart enough?” Marvin kidded.
“Yes,” Herman replied, completely serious.
“Yeah, I know you are,” Marvin said in a dark tone. “But that doesn’t mean you’ll get the money.”
”Then I’ll work my way through, even if it takes extra years I’ll get through.”
“And what about the draft?”
“Well, there’s always the G.I. Bill.”
Marvin snickered. “You’ve got all the answers.”
Herman looked at him with wide eyes. “Yes, I do.”
That night Burly whispered, “I don’t want you to call yourself a dummy but don’t go too far the other way. You don’t want to lose your friends.”

They’re Needling Me

I am the worst person in the world about getting shots. My son is almost as bad as I am. We’d make terrible heroin addicts.
My wife and daughter are better. Why is it women are braver patients than men? Most women can give birth in the morning and plow the back forty in the afternoon. One woman in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood had a caesarean section by Saracen sword one day and stormed the castle the next. Of course, that was a movie.
My wife said she wasn’t good about getting shots when she was a child. One time the doctor came by the house to give her an injection, and she jumped around the bed to avoid the needle. He caught her mid-bounce in the buttocks. After that she calmed down. When my daughter got her first inoculation she looked at her arm and said, “Hmph, that hurt.”
My son, on the other hand, shuddered with tears welling in his eyes, pleading with the doctor not to stick him. And that was last week. He’s thirty-eight years old and a prison guard. Just kidding. He shuddered when he was eight. He takes it like a man now. He shudders on the inside, just like me.
Back in the 1950s, the schools gave polio shots regularly to elementary school students. You had no warning. There you were, sitting in the classroom just about ready to doze off, when the next thing you knew the teacher was herding you down the hall to your doom. The needles back then were huge and dull. I could swear that they had been using the same needles that they had used on soldiers in World War II, just to save money.
Of course, getting an inoculation is nothing like having blood drawn. From the time I first discovered the fact that doctors, on a regular basis, stuck dull needles in your veins to extract copious amount of blood, I lived in fear that one day I would have to undergo such torture. When it eventually happened, I had to be placed on a gurney and my mother hovered over my face as the nurse drew the blood. And I’ll never forget her kind words.
“You’re being a big baby over this and embarrassing me to death.”
Over the years I have not gotten much better. At least my wife never told me I was a big baby nor acted like she was embarrassed when I almost passed out on the clinic floor. By the way, women faint and men pass out; at least that’s what my brother told me. He was a Marine so he should know.
Doctors actually have a name for the condition, and it is not cowardice. It’s Latin so I can’t remember it. When your nervous system thinks it’s losing volumes of its life-giving fluid, your blood pressure drops dramatically so the blood won’t flow out so fast. Not surprisingly, mostly men have it.
A few years at the hospital a male nurse couldn’t find the vein. In another aside, I think women draw blood better than men. Call me a sexist. Anyway, by the time he had thumped both arms several times and finally stuck in the needle, I was light headed. They rushed me over to the emergency room because they thought I had a seizure. Nope. It was just manly nervous Nellie disease.
I have discovered if I keep babbling on about something inconsequential the attendant can draw the blood and get me out of the building before my blood pressure drops. Once I quoted “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
I’m memorizing the Gettysburg Address for next time.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Thirty-Six

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. David and his brother George go to Buenos Aires where George is seduced by sex, drugs and booze.
On Monday morning after the hunting weekend at Thelma Furnace’s estate in Mowbray, the Simpsons rode back to London in the back seat of their limousine. Ernest hopped about like a little boy.
“Imagine, we got to meet two princes at one time!” He nudged his wife. “I think they liked you.”
There were times when Wallis was on the verge of loving her husband. This was not one of those times. She blew smoke in his face.
“You think?” She didn’t disguise her disgust. “My God, Ernest, I thought you were going to sell me to the highest bidder.”
“Wallis, my love,” he protested. “Don’t be crass. I wouldn’t take money for you. All I was doing was expressing my depth of tolerance and discretion, two qualities not to be underestimated in these modern times.”
“You must explain the difference to my panties sometime.”
Ernest laughed. “Oh, you know I’m teasing. I’m all the time teasing.” He paused for a response that was not forthcoming. “Anyway, we’ll probably never hear from either one of them again.”
Wallis knew that was not true. David was going to be in their lives for a long time to come. But she had more important things to consider. The general ordered her to gossip. She loved to gossip, and when MI6 ordered her to gossip, she had to take it seriously. National security depended upon it.
After they unpacked at the Bryanston Court apartment, Ernest ran off to the nearest pub to regale his Grenadier Guard chums with tales about the Prince of Wales. Wallis, on the other hand, settled down at her desk to write her bread and butter note to Thelma. She wrote several drafts, wadding them up and throwing them into her trash basket decorated with tiny pink bows. She had to use precise words to express her sincere appreciation with the right touch of vivacity and insouciance. After all, if she were too nice, Thelma might think she was up to something nefarious, which she was. Wallis had been closer friends with Connie, Thelma’s sister, than she had with her. She still couldn’t decide if she really liked Thelma at all. But duty demanded it.
Her thank you note evidently worked because a week later she and Thelma sat in a sidewalk café in the Mayfair district sipping mint tea and nibbling almond biscuits.
“I must say, Prince George is the most handsome man I have ever met,” Wallis whispered, her eyes sparkling. “I was simply devastated when he dashed off before supper at the hunting weekend.”
Thelma raised a penciled eyebrow. “Blame James Donohue. I didn’t even invite him to the party, for good reason too.”
“Who’s he?” Wallis fluttered her eyes.
“He’s married to the Woolworth fortune. His own family cuts pigs up for a living.”
“You mean cheap jewelry and ice cream Woolworths?” The thought of running dead animals through a machine to turn them into goo was much too dreadful to discuss. She concentrated instead on the family who made billions of dollars selling trinkets. “What was he doing in London? Buying miniature Big Bens wholesale to sell in their stores?”
Thelma took time to sip her mint tea. “I’d rather not talk about Mr. Donohue. He’s exotic in more ways than a respectable woman should acknowledge.”
“I though Prince George was considered quite exotic himself.”
“George has problems. Mr. Donohue is a problem.”
Wallis could tell the conversation was making Thelma uncomfortable. Her normally pleasant smile pinched into a scowl. Her petite nose was curdling as though it smelled barnyard stench.
“Who else is a problem?”
Thelma’s expression did not change. “Kiki Preston.”
“Oh, I think I’ve heard of her,” Wallis quipped. “She’s the girl with the silver syringe, isn’t she?” When Thelma chose to stick an entire almond biscuit in her mouth rather than reply, Wallis decided to move on to another topic. “So. Tell me how you met the Prince of Wales.” She knew this was the right question because Thelma relaxed and slid back in her chair.
“My goodness. That was many years ago. Nineteen eighteen. We were at a county fair handing out rosettes to cows, I think. He took me to this ramshackle structure he called Fort Belvedere. He drove too fast.” She puffed on her cigarette. “David was quite adorable as he described how he was going to turn it into his country home.” She looked at Wallis. “You know his family and closest friends call him David, don’t you?”
She smiled. “I’ve heard rumors to that effect.”
“I decorated Belvedere for him and I acted as hostess for his weekend parties.” Thelma paused to light a fresh cigarette. “We frequently make love. But I’d never marry him.”
“Why not?”
“Like I said, he drives too fast. He disappears for weeks at a time and when he returns it’s like ‘hail the conquering hero’, you know. No explanation. Let’s have a party.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“It’s not like he’s interested in marriage. I’m sure you’ve heard of Freda Ward. She thinks she’s a movie star. She’s bedded David many times. Hosted at Belvedere too. And then, of course, there’s Princess Stephanie. Von Ribbentrop introduced them. You know all about Stephanie and Ribbentrop, don’t you?”
Wallis smiled. “I’ve met Joaquin but I haven’t the foggiest about Stephanie.”
“She’s some adventuress from Vienna. Stephanie claims the title of a princess because she married a member of the Austrian royal family for thirty minutes. She’s supposed to be a close friend of Adolph Hitler. And the servants at Belvedere tell me she spent a torrid two weeks with David but then disappeared.”
“Proving there is a God after all,” Wallis murmured before taking a last bite of her almond biscuit.
“I like you,” Thelma announced. “I like your style. We must go shopping.”
Over the next couple of months Wallis and Thelma went shopping several times, hosted each other in their homes and attended lavish events that Wallis had only read about in the newspapers. The only problem was that, try as she might, she could not pry any fresh gossip out of her new sophisticated friends about Prince George and the darker life he lead. She supposed they were practicing extreme discretion out of respect for the Royal Family. To hell with discretion!
Before long the newspapers were extolling the Brothers Royale for enduring their extended tour of South America. After the opening of the British Exposition in Buenos Aires, the brothers insisted on exploring the interior jungles of Argentina and Brazil. It was at this time Prince George came down with a lengthy list of loathsome diseases such as dengue fever, dysentery and infected insect bites.
Bullshit! He was going through drug detoxification. Wallis could not help but snort as she punctured her soft boiled egg one morning at Bryanston Court.
“Anything interesting in the paper?” Ernest‘s head leaned into the financial pages, though there was nothing for him to be worried about—the shipping industry was doing fabulously well.
“The boys are back in town.”
“The clown princes of Mayfair.”
“Very clever.” Ernest lowered the newspaper. “You wouldn’t say that to their faces, would you? It might hurt their feelings.”
“What if it did?” Wallis puffed on her cigarette. Ernest could be so tiresome.
“Well, it’s just that recently we’ve been having a gay time with a better circle of friends. I mean, I didn’t know Thelma’s other sister was the fabulous Gloria Vanderbilt.”
“Very well, just for you and little Gloria I shall behave.” Wallis didn’t realize she would be required to keep that promise so quickly. A messenger appeared at Bryanston Court by late afternoon with an invitation to be presented at St. James Court. Of course, that did require a bit of manipulation. Wallis had to offer to the royal staff her official divorce decree that she had been the injured party in her divorce from Win Warfield. In addition, she was not a British citizen. While Ernest’s dual citizenship was enough to gain admission for himself, it was not sufficient for Wallis. She had to find another British citizen to sponsor her. She wondered why she had to jump through so many hoops. After all, they invited her. Oh well, she decided, who can ever understand the ways of royalty.
Finally, she had to find something decent to wear. Ernest’s Grenadier Guard uniform would serve nicely for him, but Wallis had to scramble for a stunning gown. She borrowed Connie Thaw’s presentation gown, train, feathers and fan.
When the night came, Wallis and Ernest joined the other breathless socialites in a queue which weaved its way through four or five chambers of St. James’s palace before they reached the throne room. Wallis was bored, but Ernest made several new friends winding back and forth, nodding and chatting each time they passed.
The presentation itself only lasted thirty seconds; they backed out of the room and then explored other royal apartments, pausing only to bow and curtsy when the Prince of Wales and his retinue exited.
“Where is Prince George?” Ernest whispered.
“He had a bad case of the runs,” she muttered as she curtsied. She then heard the prince comment to General Trotter.
“Something ought to be done about the lights. They make all the women look ghastly.”
Wallis decided she had had enough pomp and pomposity. She told Ernest she was ready to go to Thelma’s townhouse for some hard liquor and hard laughs. They made a quick exit. She had just deposited her train and feathers with Thelma’s maid when the prince arrived.
He walked over to the Simpsons and extended his left hand to shake with Ernest. Wallis rolled her eyes. She had heard from friends David had this irritating habit of shaking with the wrong hand.
“So, I hope your brother, His Royal Highness Duke of Kent, is recovering sufficiently from his recent discomfort,” Ernest offered.
The prince’s eyes widened in alarm. “I beg your pardon?”
“Dysentery,” Wallis muttered. “It was in all the best newspapers.”
“Oh. Yes. Much. I had a touch of it myself. Damn Amazon. Never drink from it.” He smiled and appraised Wallis in her borrowed dress. “Mrs. Simpson, you looked exceptional in your gown.”
“But sir, I understand that you thought we all looked ghastly.”
“I had no idea my voice carried so far.”
He bowed and crossed the room to chat with a coterie around Thelma. No more than fifteen minutes had passed before the prince began to make his apologies and left.
“Oh my. Between the two of us, I’m afraid we have made the social blunder of the season,” Ernest quipped in a self-mocking tone.
“Shut up, Ernest,” Wallis snapped. “We’ve done no such thing. I’m starving. Get me a martini with two olives.”
After her second martini, Wallis handed the glass to her husband and ordered, “Get my wrap and let’s get the hell out of here. My feet are killing me.”
When they walked out of the building they were met by the Prince of Wales leaning against his long sleek black limousine. He smiled. “Need a ride?”
“How kind of you to wait.” Ernest’s face beamed.
The prince opened the door and Wallis slid in.
“Bryanston Court,” she said. Inside she was not surprised to see General Trotter. All she had to figure out was how to get rid of Ernest.
Ernest, by the way, continued to glow in surprise. “I know you. You’re General something.”
The general extended his hand. “Trotter. We met at Lady Thelma’s country house.”
“Have you been waiting out here the entire time?”
Wallis sighed. Ernest didn’t know when to keep his damn mouth shut.
“My dear General Trotter, you don’t have to explain anything to Ernest Simpson. He just owns a few little boats that carry beans and things across the Big Pond.”
Ernest laughed. “Isn’t she outrageously funny? I just adore her.” He turned to the prince. “Wallis and I would consider it an extreme honor if you and the general would pop up for a quick drink.”
Wallis rolled her eyes. “Ernest, please, don’t be so dreary.”
“No, no,” the prince interceded. “We’d be delighted. Wouldn’t we, general?”
“Of course, your highness.”
The four of them exited at Bryanston Court and the limo driver pulled to the side of the street to await the return of the prince and the general. Ernest carried on about how the fellows from his regiment would react upon hearing the Prince of Wales dropped by for a cocktail. Wallis continued to fret to herself about how they would go about conducting business with Ernest dancing around playing host.
“How about martinis for everybody?” Ernest asked as he opened the liquor cabinet.
The general went to him. “Please, don’t go to that much bother. Why don’t I just pour out a bottle of wine?”
Ernest plopped on the sofa next to the prince. “Imagine? A general serving me? Only in England.”
Wallis watched Trotter pour a powder into her husband’s glass. Completely oblivious, Ernest gulped it down as he continued to grin at the prince.
“I do believe you will be a king who will change the landscape of Europe.”
“I agree.” Trotter smiled and patted Ernest’s shoulder. “Would you like for me to freshen your drink?”
“Yes, please.”
Ernest sipped on the second drug-based glass of wine until he lost his train of thought in mid-sentence. Blinking, he tried to remember the next word he wanted to say, but without success. His hand holding the drink sagged. David reached over to grab it just about as Ernest’s eyes went up in his head and his body went limp.
General Trotter spread Ernest’s body out and grabbed him under his arm pits. “Which way to his room?”
“The door on the left.” Wallis bumped David out of the way. “I better handle this.”
He bumped her back and grasped Ernest’s legs. “I think not. You get the door.”
As Wallis walked to the bedroom, she called back, “A gentleman would have gotten the door.”
David walked by, bent over carrying Ernest’s weight. “You’d better learn. I’m no gentleman.”
“Children,” Trotter chided. “We’ve work to do.”
After Ernest was properly tucked in bed, the others settled comfortably in the salon.
“We must all agree, after the last debacle in Buenos Aires, James Donohue must be eliminated,” the general announced, his face turning grim.
David lit a cigarette. “How about the other two, Jorge and Kiki?”
“We can’t kill them all off at one time,” Trotter explained with an air of condescension.
“Yes, we can’t have a pandemic of socialite deaths,” Wallis added.
“I suppose it makes sense to go after Donohue first,” David conceded. “He said something curious in South America. He said he was a dead man walking.”
“Well, we can’t wait for it to happen naturally,” Trotter replied, eyeing each of them. “We have to poison him several different ways to ensure he dies.”
“Like Rasputin.” Wallis’s eyes twinkled.

It Is What It Is

Here I’ve reached the age of 70, and I don’t know what existentialism is.
Teachers talked about it. Those French writers Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre wrote about it. Even movies are made about existentialism. “Taxi Driver” and “Annie Hall” were about it but you couldn’t prove it by me. One was very violent, and the other was very funny.
I like to write stuff. Some of it is violent and some funny. What if I were an existentialist and didn’t even know it?
I have looked the word up in the dictionary, and what was there didn’t explain it to me. I even went to other dictionaries and they didn’t help either. You’d think that someplace on the internet someone could come up with clear definition, but no.
For a long time, like forty years, I have faked being smart. I call it the old smile and nod. No matter what the conversation is about. This is particularly helpful when the topic is religion or politics. No one can get mad at you if you give them the old smile and nod. I’m also a little deaf in both ears. In the case of not understanding what was being said, I add in the knowing chuckle with the smile and nod. I don’t know if I actually fooled anyone. Most of them had the decency not to expose my ignorance.
Once I got up the courage to ask my wife what existentialism meant. She had a master’s degree in criminal justice and spent a career observing people and writing reports to judges about whether to send someone to prison or not. That’s a very serious job so I figured she must understand existentialism.
“I don’t know, and I don’t care,” she replied and went back to one of her books about biblical archeology or the theory of the black Athena.
When you reach the age of 70 you realize that you don’t have to fake anything anymore because most of the people you were afraid of disappointing with your ignorance have probably already passed on. And who cares what the people younger than you think. They don’t write my paycheck. That’s mostly because I don’t get a paycheck anymore.
One time I asked three people who went to great effort to appear intelligent about existentialism. All of them had highly cogent observations on the condition of mankind, but none of them knew what existentialism was. It was such a relief.
Perhaps it is enough that I have made it through most of my life without inflicting major discomfort on anyone within reasonable distance of my space. If I have not made a fortune, at least I have never taken food or shelter away from anyone else. If I have not done anything to save the world, at least I have given people a smile along the way.
I don’t know what existentialism is.
It is what it is.
I am what I am.
That is enough.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty

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. Stanton brings news of Gettysburg to the basement.

After announcing Gabby’s uncle General Samuel Zook was killed at Gettysburg, Stanton quickly left, locking the door behind him.
A groan escaped Gabby’s lips, and he sank to the floor. Mrs. Lincoln swept around the corner, dropped beside Gabby, and held his head in her arms.
“That wicked, wicked man,” she said. “He did that on purpose to hurt you.”
“Not Uncle Sammy. He was the successful one in the family. He was going to take care of us all. Who’s going to take care of us now?”
“Evil, evil. Why would he treat you like that? You dear, sweet, gentle man. What did you do to him to be treated so shamefully?”
“First, Papa died, then Joe, and now Uncle Sammy. What’s going to happen to me and Cordie? We can hardly take care of ourselves.”
“When this awful war’s over,” Mrs. Lincoln continued, patting his head, “and Mr. Lincoln is in office again, things will change. That Mr. Stanton will pay for his evil ways. He cannot crush people and go unpunished.”
“I wish Cordie was here.” His soulful eyes, glistening with tears, looked up at Mrs. Lincoln. “Her bosom is nice and big and soft. I could sink my head into her bosom and be comforted. The Bible says a rod and staff is supposed to comfort you, but I don’t think anything can comfort you better than a big, soft bosom.”
Her eyes widening and her jaw falling, Mrs. Lincoln stuttered, “I—I think Mr. Lincoln could comfort you better than I. He always knows the right thing to say.”
Standing, she bustled away. Gabby heard them fussing at each other for a few moments. Lincoln ambled around the crates and barrels, taking his time to sink to the floor and managing to cross his ungainly legs. He reached into his pocket and drew out a packet.
“Cordie says it makes my teeth look dirty.”
“Mother says the same thing.” Lincoln took a big chaw of it. “That’s why I like to eat it. It gives us something to talk about. If you want to talk about something, we can.” More silence ensued, punctuated by loud smacks and chews. “I don’t have any appointments in my book for tonight.”
“I thought the whole idea of sticking you in this room was to keep you from having appointments.”
“It was a joke.”
“I’m sorry you got involved in all this.” Lincoln finished his licorice, took out his handkerchief, and wiped his mouth. “If you had laid your rat traps earlier, you’d have missed getting caught.”
“Do you think the rebels killed Uncle Sammy?” Gabby asked as he looked into Lincoln’s deep-set eyes. “Or did Mr. Stanton kill him because he thought me or Cordie might write him? If he did, then Cordie and me killed Uncle Sammy.” Gabby’s eyes filled to overflowing. “Honest, Mr. Lincoln, I never tried to write Uncle Sammy. I couldn’t kill Uncle Sammy. I needed him to take care of me.”
“Mr. Zook, you could hardly kill rats. You couldn’t kill anybody. No. You didn’t kill your uncle. War killed Samuel Zook. It’s war, not you, nor I, nor Mr. Stanton. It’s war’s fault.”
Gabby could not hold his tears back any longer. He flung his head into Lincoln’s chest. He did not mind that it was bony. It was comforting, and that was all he needed.