Monthly Archives: July 2018

The Man in the Red Underwear Forward and Chapter One

Forward
The Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with absolutely no purpose except to make the ready break out in giggles. There are hints of parody of Zorro and The Scarlet Pimpernel and a dash of social satire on gender roles and class mores, but not enough to get in the way of a good time.

Chapter One
In the waning years of Queen Victoria’s reign—let’s face it—the party scene was a big bore. What could you expect? The old broad was still wearing black fifty years after her husband Prince Albert died. She could have at least gone to purple. Nothing seemed to amuse her, so it was left to her subjects to take up the slack and cut a few rugs, so to speak. Lady Cecelia Snob-Johnson did her part by throwing a fling-a-wing-ding every year at her brownstone in a semi-elegant section of London.
Now no one exactly knows how Cecelia managed to get the title of lady. She didn’t come from the best of families. Her father, JohnBob Snob, held sway in the theatrical West End of town for years, and rumor had it that Victoria knighted him after one particularly lascivious production of Romeo and Juliet. This was, of course, before Albert kicked the bucket. So if JohnBob was a lord, his daughter had to be a lady, a lady without any money but a lady nonetheless.
The financial situation brightened appreciably when Cecelia caught the eye of coal magnate Sampson Elias Johnson. She got a twofer with old Sampson Elias. He was rich and built like his biblical namesake. In fact, Cecelia couldn’t keep her hands off him and by their first wedding anniversary she gave birth to her beautiful daughter Millicent. However, Sampson Elias believed in not asking his employees to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself. So he hacked and hewed right alongside his miners. He dropped dead from some nasty lung ailment before he could sire any more children. This left Cecelia wealthy but no love life and no social standing. High muckety-mucks never forgave poor Sampson Elias for having coal stained hands as he lay in state at Winchester Cathedral.

Nevertheless, Lady Cecelia Snob-Johnson never gave up hope that her annual gala would bring the social acceptance she so craved. Everything had to be spit-polished and dusted. Her ballroom glistened, and her library was impeccable. It was in the library where she hoped she could bring her immense power to seduce her detractors to its full potential. The guests slowly arrived, and the orchestra began warming up. No matter what else anyone could say about Cecelia, she put out the bucks to buy the best musicians in town, for at least one night.

To calm her nerves, Cecelia dashed from the ballroom for one last inspection of the library. She ran her fingers across the mantel and pleasantly found no dust. Looking up, she made sure her daddy’s fencing swords—believed to have been the very weapons from the production of Romeo and Juliet which prompted the Queen to knight him—were securely affixed above the mantel. In the middle of said mantel was a small framed photograph of Lily Langtry, the only person of high society who liked her. Cecelia gave the picture a quick kiss for good luck. Next she went to the far corner where an ornate oriental screen stood. Cecelia was particularly fond of the expensive flubdub because it was the last thing Sampson Elias Johnson bought her before dropping dead. He may have had dirty fingernails but he knew how to treat a dame right.

In front of the screen was a chaise lounge, large enough to accommodate a seductress and her victim. After fluffing the pillows on the lounge, she decided a small libation to stiffen her resolve so she went across the room where she poured herself a drink from the stylish cabinet suitably equipped with her ladyship’s favorite liquors. She turned to look at Lily Langtry’s photograph and toasted her in anticipation of a successful evening. Cecelia then decided to break out in a soliloquy in rhymed iambic pentameter, a habit she had inherited from her father.

Each year I give a party for the people of great wealth and world renown.
They’re kings and queens and dukes and earls and ladies in their gowns.
Oh hell, I might as well get real—those snooty types, they always turn me down.
I love the party life, it fills me with delight, the razz and the matazz.
I want to prove I have more charm than any of those high class rotters has.
This year I asked Prime Minister Lloyd George who rudely had the flu.
Instead I got Scotland Yard’s Sir Malcolm Tent so I am truly blue.
My daughter Millicent invited Victoria’s grandson so he’s a prince.
He should be quite a catch for any gala’s list, but he is dull and really dense.
I love the party life, excitement and romantic light.
I want to fall in love at least for just one night.

Invigorated by her pitiful attempt at poetry, Cecelia returned to her ballroom, a large space bedecked with gold, crystal and mirrors which looked quite sad because so few people were in it. Her daughter Millicent, wearing a brilliant blue satin gown with startling décolletage, worked the crowd, smiling and offering a tray of canapés. The social pickings were so slim that the arrival of Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard Malcolm Tent made her heart flutter for a moment. But only for a moment because he was dressed in a drab black suit frayed around the edges. He also lacked an aptitude in personal ablutions. He needed to decide whether he wanted a beard or to be clean shaven. In his current condition he was neither. Cecelia breathed deeply and swept across the dance floor and locked arms with the inspector.

“Oh, chief inspector, I am so pleased you could attend my annual gala,” she gushed. “It’s the highlight of the social season for the poshest inner circles of London upper class.”

“I don’t care,” he muttered.

Cecelia leaned in to catch what he said. “Pardon?”

“I don’t pardon.” Tent appraised her in askance. “The Queen pardons. I merely arrest.”

“No, I mean, I was asking what you said, Sir Malcontent,” she clarified.

“My name is Malcolm Tent,” he clearly articulated. And I’m not a sir. More’s the pity. Anyway, I said I don’t care. Forgive my bluntness. I’m obsessed over the shop robberies in Soho.”

Cecelia’s eyes lit with excitement. “They are quite bizarre. According to reports in the Times, a man in disguises exposes himself in—oh, dare I say it—in red underwear!”

“An exhibitionist, quite obviously.

“And then he commits robbery!” Her breathing became quite labored, as though she were reading aloud a penny dreadful novel. “And he’s so handsome, according to reports. And evidently well bred, by the cut of his tights. Aristocratic. How could anyone so high be so low in Soho?” Cecelia realized the dozen or so other guests in the ballroom had stopped milling around to listen in on their conversation. This sense of sudden importance made her cheeks flush. She was sure she was on her way to social acceptability. She raised her voice so all around her could hear. “How is the investigation going?”

“So so.”

“Exactly how much has he stolen?”

“And why are you asking so many questions?” Tent matched her volume decibel for decibel.

The mood of the guests noticeably changed. She could decipher some of the mumblings as, “Yeah, why does the old busybody want to know so much?” and “Who does she think she is, interfering with Scotland Yard?” Cecelia realized she needed to gain the confidence of Inspector Tent in privacy so she gently pushed him toward the library door.

“Inspector, you must see my photograph of Lilly Langtry in the library. She autographed it herself. It’s quite fascinating.” Once Cecelia had him alone behind closed doors, she began her confession which, because she was unusually nervous, came out in iambic pentameter.

You know I love the party life, but one thing I adore.
Some juicy gossip makes me want to roar. Tell me more!
You got dirt on the upper class? You bet your ass
I want to know who’s doing what to you know who.
Who’s spending money faster than they make it on the job
And I’ll tell you which royal prince is nothing but a slob!

Tent headed for the door.

I swear you make me pull out my hair! I don’t care!
I just care about the lair of the man in the red underwear!

A Thought About Bullies

Right before choir class began, the school bully came in and sat next to me. It wasn’t his usual seat. He put his arm around my shoulders.
In 1965 Texas that meant I was a homosexual, and he was my—well I don’t know what to call him since he was implying he wasn’t a homosexual, just me. When he had pulled that stunt on other guys, smaller than he, the victim was supposed to jerk away and glare at him, and he would laugh maniacally.
I didn’t do that. I just stared straight ahead, not moving a muscle. After a long moment, he patted my arm and pulled away. That wasn’t the first time he had done something. He liked to make fun of what I wore, threaten to beat me up after school and sing loud in my ear during a choir concert to throw me off key. The usual bully crap. Later one of my friends lectured me for not following the accepted custom of pulling away and glaring at him.
“Don’t you know what that means?”
Yes, I did, and I didn’t care. At that time I had a life-threatening crush on a girl half a year older than me so I knew I wasn’t a homosexual and I was convinced that if the girl didn’t like me as much as I liked her my life would be over.
By the end of the school year, the bully and I came up to the water fountain at the same time.
“You don’t like me, do you?” He looked rather pitiful at that moment.
“No, you’re okay.” I was still too infatuated with the older girl to wax righteous about whether or not he was likeable.
By the end of the next school year my worst fear came true. The older girl did not like me in the same way I liked her. I went to college, and the girl and the bully went on to their own lives. I heard later he became an evangelist.
However, throughout my adult life I have found whenever another man puts his arm around my shoulders, a traditional sign of brotherly affection, I stiffen and slightly pull away, which has short-circuited some friendships. By and large, the incident did not keep me from marrying the right woman, having two wonderful children and enjoying a host of good friends in my older years.
This memory re-emerges briefly when I read in the newspaper another child who kills himself because he was bullied, or he himself becomes the killer. I see bullying become a legitimate campaign tactic. I hear people comment on the Millennial activism, “Those kids have to be given hot chocolate just because an election didn’t go their way.” That statement in itself is a form of bullying. I wonder about official school policies that state a person has to have more than one incident by the same person in order to be considered a bullying victim. Sometimes television situation comedies will show the best way to handle a bully is to be a bully right back at him.
I think about how much one minor incident affected my life and how long-term, vicious harassment can be devastating for anyone who is too skinny, too heavy, too awkward, too different. Don’t feel sorry for us. Don’t put your arm around us. Teach your children to respect everyone. Practice compassion yourself.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Thirty-Nine

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 asks Ernest’s permission to have an affair with Wallis.
A cloud hung over Leon’s hacienda on Eleuthura even though the Bahamian sky was clear and the sun was relentless in its heat. Inside, his mother Dotty was about to die. When he returned from his assignment in New York a year ago, she complained her left breast had development a knot under the nipple and it hurt. When Leon insisted she go to the hospital in Freeport, Dotty refused, saying it would cost too much. Now her breast was black and shriveled, her body was cadaverous and her eyes hollow.
Jessamine, as a good dutiful daughter-in-law, wiped her brow with a cold, wet cloth. Sidney, now eight years old, held his father’s hand and stared solemnly at his grandmother. Leon knew this day would come when she refused to go to the hospital. He understood she would die the way she had lived, and she had lived a long, satisfying life.
“Sidney, go say good-bye to Granny Dotty,” he said in a muted tone.
“Yes, father.”
Sidney walked to the other side of the bed, stroked her hair and whispered, “Don’t worry, Granny Dotty, we will be together again someday. And you can introduce me to Grandpa Jed.”
Dotty waved for him to bend over and cradled his head in her skeletal arms. “You are a good boy,” she whispered. “Be like your father, and I will smile down on you.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
She let go of him and turned to smile at Jessamine. “Thank you for being so good to my son, for being a good mother to my grandson.” Dotty reached for her hands and held them. “I leave them in your care.”
Tears streamed down Jessamine’s cheeks. Dotty took the cloth from her hands and wiped it across Jessamine’s face. She looked up at her son.
“I want to lie in my garden.”
“Mother, the sun is bright today. It is too hot.”
“Yes, it will be warm, but only for a little time longer.” She smiled.
Leon leaned down to pick her up. She seemed so light.
“Sidney, bring her pillow. Jessamine, bring the quilt.”
They both nodded and followed him down the stairs. Dotty pointed to the small grove of orange trees by the gate to the street, and Jessamine hurriedly laid the quilt in their shade. Leon arranged her on the quilt as Sidney slid the pillow under her head. She nodded at Jessamine and Sidney.
“I want to spend my last moments alone with my son.” The words barely made it past her withered lips.
After mother and son went back upstairs, Dotty patted the ground next to her. Leon sat cross-legged and kissed his mother moist forehead.
“I want you to know that I am proud of you.” Her voice grew weaker. “I know you have done terrible things to provide for your family—“
“Oh, no, mother,” he interrupted her in a kind tone. “Nothing terrible. I travel buying and selling…spices and tea.”
“No one could make enough money selling spices and tea to afford this house and to buy fine clothes for your family. You make money by killing people.”
He smiled. “Now what makes you think that?”
“I see it in your eyes.”
Leon looked down and tried to reply, but nothing came out.
“I am proud of you.” Her faded voice was firm. “What did your father always say to you?”
“Do anything you have to do to keep your family’s bellies full.”
“And you have done that.”
Leon looked up at the hacienda, his eyes filled with tears. “Oh, mama, what secrets I have to keep. I can tell no one what I have done. What I will do again.”
“Then tell me, for I will be dead soon, and your secrets will be safe.”
“I killed two men when I was sixteen, in this house, and then I made love to the woman who lived here. She told me of this organization—I don’t know the name, just the organization—where I would be paid big money for killing people, for stealing things, for seducing women. Oh, mama, don’t hate me.”
“Keep talking. Tell me all. My time is coming soon.”
“Messages are left for me in the pot outside the gate. I then go to the casino in Nassau where I get details. It is the same person every time. A blonde card dealer. She is beautiful. I have wanted her. She gives me a location, and at that place another person gives me more instructions. Sometimes I don’t know exactly what I am what to do until moment I have to do it. Another person pays me later. Unless the client dies before the organization can get the money from them. I have no idea who the leader of the organization is. It could be anyone in the world.” He paused to swallow.
“Continue. Quickly.”
“Sometimes I have to fight good people. Agents from the British Empire, America. I’ve seen this American woman several times. I saved her life. I don’t know who she is. I don’t know who any of them are. Except one from England. You won’t believe who he is.”
Dotty took his hand, a rattle emitting from deep in her chest.
“The Prince of Wales,” he shared.
Her hand fell away. Leon’s beloved mother was dead. He stood, walked to the gate and opened it. He wanted his tears to dry before he told his family she was gone. He looked down the sandy path and saw Pooka running away.

On the Bench

Two old men sat on a bench at the park, one tall, balding with a pot belly and the other short, bearded and skinny. They both stared at the pond, the ducks floating on it and at the children playing on the jungle gym. From time to time they looked at each other and smiled. When someone parked his small foreign car in front of them, the skinny man tapped the fat man and pointed.
“Audi.”
“Howdy to you.” The big man took his hand and shook it with vigor. “Kinda hard to start up a conversation these days, ain’t it?”
The little man smiled, but wrinkled his brow and pointed to the car again. “Audi. Audi.”
“Well, ain’t you the friendly one. But you can’t speak Amurican, can you?”
He shook his head, keeping the smile on his face.
“No wonder you sat there so long and didn’t say nuthin’. I guess some folks make you scairt ‘cause you can’t speak Amurican, but I’m broad minded, buddy.” He pointed at himself. “Me Billy.” He pointed at the little man. “You?”
He pointed at the car and repeated, “Audi.”
“Bet you watched a bunch of westerns before you come over here and the only word you picked up was howdy. Ain’t that right?”
The little man nodded. “Oui. Audi.”
“Oh, we got us a outhouse right over there if you need to go.” He pointed to the restrooms on the other side of the parking lot. You gotta go wee wee?”
Oui, oui.” He nodded and shook Billy’s hand again.
“You better get on over there then before you wet your pants.”
J’aime Audi.”
“Jim, howdy to you too, but you better go to the outhouse and pee.”
He looked in the sky and shook his head. “Non il plieu.”
“I’m sorry, Jim, I thought you said you had to go pee. Gosh, it’s hard to talk to a foreigner.” Billy thought a moment. “Do you wanna go over there to the stand and get a sody pop? You know, sody pop?” He motioned like he was drinking from a bottle.
Oui, oui.” He made the same motion. “Salut.”
“No, Jim, I don’t think they got salad.”
Pinot, cabernet, champagne?”
“Champagne? Heck no, Jim. The cops’ll throw us in the hoosegow.”
Non champagne?”
“No, Jim, not even a beer.”
Quelle domage.”
“Yeah, you can do a lot damage with that there champagne. What I was talking about was a Coca Cola. You know, Coke?” Billy made shape of a Coca Cola bottle with his hands.
Oui, oui!” The little man said with a twinkle in his eyes. “J’aime les femmes.”
“Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. You said Jim’s a what?”
J’aime les femmes.” He pointed at a woman sunbathing in the park.
Billy reached out and put the man’s arm down. “Oh, you better watch that, Jim. You go pointin’ at all the purty gals in the park, and the cops will get you.”
Non femmes? Quelle domage. C’est la vie.”
“Well, Jim, it was right nice talkin’ to you. I gotta get on home to supper.” Billy shook the little man’s hand. “I hope I see you tomorrow. I’m here at this time just about every day.”
Au revoir.”
“No, it ain’t a reservoir. It’s just a little old pond.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty-Three

Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Mrs. Surratt confronts Gabby’s sister Cordie at the boardinghouse.
Walking down the Executive Mansion steps to Pennsylvania Avenue, Adam inhaled and exhaled deeply, thinking of Jessie. In the beginning, just the mention of her name had been enough to make his heart race and his spirits lift. Now he had to rely on a few gulps of whiskey. Pulling a flask from the pocket of his blue jacket, he popped the cap and lifted it to his mouth. The clanging of an omnibus caused him to jump and quickly cap the flask and return it to his pocket. Perhaps Jessie was on the bus, and he did not want her to see him drinking. She did not like it. He brushed aside his unruly red hair and smoothed out the wrinkles in his uniform. Standing on one foot, then the other, Adam eagerly waited for the omnibus doors to open. His heart sank when he saw Cordie appear. He wanted an evening alone with Jessie, but he forced a smile as Cordie walked toward him.
“I mended these pants for Gabby.”
Her hands were trembling, Adam noticed. Perhaps she was tired. His spirits rose when he decided to suggest that she go back home to rest. He wanted time alone with Jessie.
“Of course, I’ll give them to Mr. Gabby. You look very tired.”
“I’m fine. Jessie wanted me here tonight.”
“Oh.”
“And how are you? Did you have a hard day?”
“It wasn’t bad.” Adam glanced down the avenue, hoping Jessie would appear.
“How’s Gabby?”
“Very good. He’s always eager to get his food.”
“That’s good. At least he’s eating well.” Her eyes went down. “I hope the war’s over soon, then Gabby and I can be together.”
“Yeah, I hope it’s over soon,” he said, distracted. He looked at Cordie. “Do you know why she’s so late?”
“Don’t ask me.” Cordie laughed. “I don’t know anything. You’re the one in the White House. You must know more than me.”
“Hmm.” His attention was down the dark avenue.
“I bet you even know what happened at Gettysburg today.”
“What?”
“I bet you know how many soldiers got killed; where the army’s going next.”
“Troop movement?” Adam shook off his distraction to focus on her. “Casualty numbers? Why would you want to know that?”
“I don’t want to know.” Her eyes fluttered. “I was just saying you must know.”
“You’ve never asked questions like this before.”
“I was just making conversation.”
Her hands trembled more, making Adam think something was wrong.
“People don’t make casual conversation about troop movements,” Adam said.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t even say that. I only asked about your day.”
“No. You asked where the Union army was going next.”
“I didn’t ask anything. I never asked a question.” Cordie’s voice rose to a high pitch. “I said I bet you knew where the Union soldiers were going next. That’s all.”
“Don’t try to play games with me. I like you, Miss Zook, but I think you’re up to something bad.” Adam heard his voice, but did not recognize it, which frightened him. “Who put you up to this? I know you. You wouldn’t do anything like this on your own.”
“No one put me up to it!”
“Was it a Confederate spy?”
“She’s not a spy.”
“She? Who’s she?”
“Nobody! I—I didn’t say anything about a woman.” Her voice began to crack.
“Don’t lie to me.” Adam stared into Cordie’s watery eyes until she looked down at the hard dirt street. “Who is she?” He took her chin and lifted her face.
“My landlady.” She averted her eyes again. “She forced me to tell her about Gabby. And she wanted more information.”
“Did she give you money?”
“Enough for the omnibus,” she whispered.
“More to come later?”
“Only if I could find things out.”
“Are you that bad off?” Adam softened the tone of his voice. “If you needed money, I could have gotten some for you.”
“She was going to raise my rent.” Cordie took a handkerchief from her pocket to daub her cheeks. “She was going to put me out on the street.”
“You didn’t want to tell her anything?”
“No. But she scared me, just like you’re scaring me now.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Could you make something up for me to tell her, so she won’t raise my rent?”
“I don’t know enough to make up a good lie.” Adam ran his hand through his coarse red hair. “Tell her I’m a mean cuss who won’t tell you anything. Tell her it might take months to soften me up. By then, maybe the war will be over.”
“Thank you.” Her eyes focused on the trousers stuck under his arm. “Make sure Gabby gets his pants.” She sighed. “I’m tired, but I don’t want to disappoint Jessie.”
“You don’t have to stay,” Adam said hoarsely.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” he whispered. “Here’s omnibus fare.” He held coins out to her.
Cordie looked as though she were about to decline his offer, but instead smiled and took the money.
“Thank you. Tell Jessie I’ll see her tomorrow.” She walked toward an approaching omnibus.

Burly Chapter Twenty-Six

(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 was now seventeen years old, and Burly is in the trunk. After Herman left for college, papa took Burly from the trunk.)
The old farmhouse outside of Cumby lapsed into disrepair as the years stretched into decades. An interstate highway drew traffic away from the narrow blacktop road that passed nearby until the only people to see it were neighboring farmers slowly going by on their tractors and their children walking home from school. Tales began to be spun about the mysterious old man who lived in the run-down house and who carried a burlap teddy bear with him everywhere he went. Children believed him to be some sort of evil ghoul who lured unsuspecting strangers into his barn where they met terrible deaths. Other children whispered the old man was simply out of his mind, someone to be teased for the awful crime of living too long.
Of course, their parents stopped them before they did anything harmful to old Mr. Horn. Feel sorry for him, the parents said. Once he had a fine farm but over the years he had to sell off bits and pieces until all he had left was the house, barn and five acres out back.
“But isn’t he mean or crazy or dumb?” two little boys asked their father as they rode past on their tractor.
“No,” Gerald Morgan replied. “I remember when he wasn’t considered a strange old man at all.”
“Really?” the younger boy asked in awe.
“Yes. When I was about your age I remember how he was quite normal. He had a nice looking wife and three children.”
“You mean he smiled and laughed like anybody else?” the other boy asked, not quite believing this yarn their father was spinning.
Gerald Morgan chuckled. “Oh yes. I remember one time seeing him at a Toby show with his children. He had his youngest son on his shoulders, and he was smiling, laughing and eating popcorn.”
“What’s a Toby show, Dad?” the younger boy asked.
He reached over to tousle his son’s hair. “That’s another story.” He paused and became very serious. “In fact, I think that night was the last time I ever saw Mr. Horn smile.”
“What happened to his family?” the older boy continued his questions.
“His wife died soon after that, and the daughter—she was older than me—went off to live with relatives in Houston. The oldest boy died in the war.”
“And the younger boy, what happened to him?”
Gerald Morgan had a faraway look in his eyes. “Herman Horn was one of my best friends in high school.”
“Did he die?”
Shaking his head Gerald just drove on and left the boy’s question unanswered. As the tractor putted on down the road away from the old farmhouse, the brothers looked back at it. They wondered what made it look so fearsome and so lonely. The boys didn’t know it but at that moment inside the old farmhouse, scary, mysterious, sad old Mr. Horn was clutching at his chest with one hand and with the other reaching for Burly Bear on the bed. He crumbled on the floor and lay there for the next three days.
Burly heard Woody collapse and the postman’s knock at the door three days later, but couldn’t do anything about it. He heard muffled whispers of neighbors who peeked in the door as the ambulance attendants carried the body out. He felt shattering numbness which befalls a house when no one will live in it again. A few days later the little bear heard the steps of a weary man enter the house. Burly was aware of a man’s lifting his little body.
“Oh Burly, I’m sorry I did this to you,” a grown Herman whispered. Fingering the worn burlap he confessed, “I should have never put you in that trunk. Forgive me.”
Burly heard Herman’s plea, but he didn’t know this tall, broad-shouldered man who was shaking and crying. At least he didn’t know him until the tears from Herman’s eyes landed on his head and magic happened again. Burly Bear blinked his button eyes at this man holding him and realized who it was.
“Excuse me, but are you Herman?” Burly asked politely.
Herman looked shocked, then smiled. “Yes, I’m Herman, your friend.”
Burly was confused. “But Herman is a little boy. Or he was a little boy. The last time I saw him he was a big teen-ager.”
Sniffing and wiping his eyes, Herman nodded. “That’s right. A very foolish teen-aged boy. But that was many years ago.”
“I remember. Don’t worry,” Burly said soothingly. He looked deep into Herman’s red eyes. “Yes, I can tell now. You are Herman.”
“Well, I’m not exactly the same little boy that you knew.”
Looking at his worn little body, Burly said, “I guess I’m not the bear I once was either.”
“Who cares if you’re a little frayed around the edges,” Herman said, tapping Burly’s arm. “I still love you.”
Burly felt warm inside. “I’m so glad you came back for me.”
“Actually I came back for my father’s funeral,” Herman told him. “I haven’t given you much thought the last few years until I walked in the door and then you were all I could think about.”
“At least we’re together again,” Burly offered.
“I wish I had had you with me all that time,” Herman said. “Without your advice I made a lot of mistakes.”
“Oh, but I’m sure you’ve done a lot of good things too. You were always so smart.”
Herman shrugged. “I did go to college and get a law degree.”
“Just as you said you would.” Burly leaned forward with anticipation. “Did you help the black people like you wanted?”
Herman looked away in shame. “I’m afraid not. Sometimes I forgot about important things like honesty and love along the way. You’re not disappointed in me, are you?”
“I could never be disappointed in you, Herman. You’re my friend.”
“Not a very good one, sticking you in that trunk like that. And I wasn’t a very good friend to Gerald Morgan.”
“He was one of the nicer boys who visited you,” Burly said, trying to remember.
“Yes. We said we would always be friends, even if we didn’t live in the same town. We would visit and write. But I never did. I always meant to but I didn’t.”
“Stop being so hard on yourself,” Burly told him. “Everyone makes mistakes. And mistakes can sometimes be undone.”
Herman smiled. “Yes. Gerald came to papa’s funeral and I apologized. I told him I would keep in touch and I really meant it this time.”
Burly looked down. “You know your father was very sad you never came to visit him.”
“I didn’t think he wanted to see me.”
“You know that wasn’t so,” Burly replied. “I told you many times how much he loved you.”
Herman hung his head. “I guess so.”
“In fact he loved you much more than I realized,” Burly continued.
Herman looked up. “Did he talk to you much? Gerald told me at the funeral papa had gotten into the habit of carrying a teddy bear with him.”
“He talked to me all the time. He didn’t understand why you didn’t answer his letters.”
“Did—did you talk to him?”
Burly shook his burlap head. “No. I didn’t think he’d understand how a teddy bear could talk.”
Herman wiped another tear from his eyes. “So he did love me.”
“And Tad and Callie too,” Burly added. “Look at the table by his bed—Tad’s hunting knife and Callie’s picture. You know, Callie wrote him all the time. She even invited him to visit her in Houston. Of course, he didn’t take me along.”
“Herman! Hurry up!” a woman’s voice called out from the kitchen.
“Who’s that?” Burly asked.
“Why, that’s Callie.”
“Really?” Burly replied. “She doesn’t happen to still have my mother?”
Herman winked. “You’d be surprised.” Herman stood and carried Burly toward the door. “And I have a surprise for you.”
“What?”
“Well, you remember May Beth?”
“Oh, the girl Marvin married,” Burly replied.
“She left Marvin a couple of years after they were married. We met in Austin,” Herman told him.
“That’s where you were going to school.” Burly was so pleased more of his memory was returning.
“Yes, and we started dating again. This time I wasn’t dumb enough to let her slip away.”
“So May Beth is here?”
“Yes,” Herman replied. “And someone else whom I think will become as good a friend to you as I was. Better.”
Herman opened the bedroom door and brought out Burly who looked around the old farmhouse kitchen. He recognized Callie right off because she looked just like her mother. And beside her was a blonde-headed little girl holding Pearly Bear. Then he looked over to see a pretty dark-haired woman he assumed was May Beth since he had never met her. And next to her was a little boy. Burly caught his breath. The child looked just like Herman, maybe his hair was a bit darker. And there wasn’t that terrible sad look in his eyes that Herman had that first night his tears dropped on the burlap bear.
“You’re doing something right,” Burly whispered to Herman. “You’re a good father. I can tell by the happiness on your son’s face.
“Thank you,” Herman whispered back. He walked across the room and held out Burly to his son. “Bobby, I want you to meet an old friend of mine, Burly Bear.”
Bobby grabbed Burly and hugged him. “Thank you, daddy. He’s wonderful.”
Burly shivered with warmth, excitement and love.
Welcome back, Burly Bear.

Don’t Mess With Linda

Linda protected her older sister Anne because Anne, Linda felt, let people run over her. She came to this conclusion after seventy years of watching Anne cave into other people’s demands just to get along.
The Florida sun beaded down as the sisters walked up the steps to the bank to make a deposit. Linda knew the clerk would short-change her sister if she did not watch her every move. Anne lost her footing and fell back down the steps.
“You okay, Sis?” Linda bent over to lightly touch Anne’s arms and legs. “Does this hurt?”
Before Linda knew it a bank clerk hovered over them with a large umbrella.
“Oh you poor thing,” the clerk cooed. “How dreadful. Let me protect you from that awful sun.” In the next breath she stuck a piece of paper and pen under Anne’s nose. “Here, sign this.”
“Okay.” Anne took the paper and pen and signed.
“No!” Linda screamed, but it was too late.
The clerk smiled at Linda in triumph. “There, there, everything will be all right.”
Linda pinched her lips because she knew the paper was a release form, clearing the bank from any responsibility for the accident. Why did Anne always do this to her?
“Yes, everything will be all right as soon as the ambulance gets here. You did call 911, didn’t you?”
The clerk paused. “No, I was concerned about your sister getting heatstroke so I came straight out with the umbrella.”
“My goodness,” Linda said in feigned concern. “We must go immediately inside and call 911, mustn’t we?”
“I’ll do it,” the clerk replied. “You stay here with your sister.”
“No, she’ll be okay. She’s got the umbrella.”
Linda stood and put her arm around the clerk’s waist as they walked into the bank. “Oh, my dear, I don’t know what we’d done without your quick thinking.” She raised her voice. “Someone call 911! My sister needs an ambulance!”
“I’ll do that.” The clerk tried to pull away with the signed paper.
“Oh my sister! Oh my sister! What am I going to do!” Linda wrapped her arms around the clerk. “She’s all I got in life! Help me! Help me!”
“My dear lady! Control yourself.”
“No! No!” Linda sobbed and pawed the clerk. “I need the comfort of your arms. You are so sweet to me!”
A siren cut through the air. Linda pulled away and headed for the door. “Oh good. The ambulance is here. Thank you, my dear.”
Outside she knelt by her sister under the umbrella.
“What was on that piece of paper I signed?” Anne sounded mystified.
“Don’t worry about it, Sis.” Linda extended her hand to show the wadded-up paper. “I robbed the bank.”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Thirty-Eight


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, but Donohue’s son Jimmy beats them to it.
David sat on the terrace enjoying the autumn colors in his garden at Fort Belvedere as he had his coffee and toast. He noticed an item in the London Times about the death of James Donohue, playboy husband of Woolworth heiress Jessie Donohue. Sources said the cause of death had yet to be determined but it was suspected to be an ear infection or an accidental overdose of bichloride mercury. The funeral, the Times reported, was one of the largest in Manhattan in years.
Accidental overdose? How could you accidentally overdose on a medication that’s supposed to be applied directly to the skin? Being considered a bon vivant of international fame, David was familiar with the curative powers of the drug. Oh well. At least we don’t have to bother with a trip to America anytime soon.
The butler stood in the door to the terrace and coughed, interrupting David’s thought.
“Yes?”
“General Trotter is here, sir.”
“Oh, send him out. And prepare him a cup of coffee.”
“Yes, sir.”
Soon David and Trotter settled into a nice conversation about how the garden was progressing. The swimming pool had been installed, though at this time of year the temperature prevented it from being used on a regular basis. Once they were sure the servants had gone on about their business, Trotter scooted his chair closer to the prince.
“I assume you read the story in the Times,” he whispered.
“Indeed. Either an ear infection or an overdose of a syphilis salve. Quite sad.”
“Yes, quite.” The general sipped his coffee. “Our sources say the organization had a hand in it.”
The organization?” David arched an eyebrow. “Evidently he had inconvenienced more than the House of Windsor.”
“Quite.” Trotter looked at David’s plate. “Do you think I could get some toast? My wife burnt mine this morning so I begged off. Now I’ve starving.”
“Of course.” David rang a bell. The butler appeared at the door. “The general wants some toast. Be generous. And take care not to burn it.”
After the butler disappeared Trotter leaned in again. “By the way, good job in Argentina. George now seem amenable to marriage. We just have to find the right woman for him.”
David cleared his throat. “Has Wallis had any missions lately?”
“You know I can’t tell you that.” The general cocked his head. “And why would you care?”
“Oh, I don’t.” David looked up. “Ah. Here comes your toast. Would you like blackberry jam? Picked from my own garden.”
“Clotted cream.”
The butler placed the plate of warm toast in front of Trotter and moved the small pot of clotted cream to his side. With a bow, he left the men alone.
“The main purpose of this visit is to put you on notice that another attempt might be made to embroil George in new controversy as soon as the news gets out he is about to propose marriage. Frankly, we can’t trust the boy not to muck it up again.” He bit into his toast. “We also think the organization is behind this whole ugly sex and drugs state of affairs.”
“Bad business this. George is such a good man, really. He has potential. He and I have always been chummier than my other brothers.”
“So you have a vested interest in this mission. Good.” After another sip of coffee, he added, “And MI6 has decided it’s time for the next step to bring you and Wallis together as a team. Plan one of your weekends here at the fort. Invite the usual crowd and include the Simpsons, both of them. Sometime during the party you must kiss Wallis on the lips in front of everyone.”
“Indeed.”
David scheduled the gathering for the last weekend in January of 1932. He’d leave the planning to Thelma. She’s such a good egg to put up with me. Oh well, she made the decision not to marry me years ago. She usually made out the guest lists for such social occasions. He would think of some way of casually suggesting the Simpsons. He was somewhat eager, and he didn’t know why.
The last Friday night in January finally arrived, and all of their guests, including Connie and Ben Thaw, had arrived, except for the Simpsons. David stood in the foyer waiting their arrival. As the hour grew late, he smoothed out his kilt and looked into the octagonal parlor where the others had settled into card games and putting together jigsaw puzzles. David jumped a bit when the butler opened the door and invited the Simpsons in.
Servants took their luggage upstairs, and David escorted the Simpsons into the parlor, a pine paneled room with yellow velvet curtains.
“Yellow velvet? My, how brave you are.” Wallis laughed and walked over to Thelma for a hug and kiss.
“Isn’t she a scream?” Ernest said with a laugh.
“Yes, hysterical.” David crossed to Wallis and took her elbow to guide her to another table. “Please, I’ve saved you a spot at the poker table. I’ll sit next to you to help.”
As she sat, she smiled. “Oh yes, the last time we met was at a party at Thelma’s place in town. I was quite dreadful at cards, wasn’t I?”
When the dealer dealt the next hand, David stood and leaned over Wallis’ shoulder, his cheek grazing hers.
“Oh yes, this is a very good hand. I suggest—“
“Let me guess,” she interrupted him and within a couple of rounds she had won the pot. “Surprise. I’ve been practicing.”
“So you have.” David drifted over to a jigsaw table and sat.
In a few minutes Thelma went to the Victrola and put on a record of Tea for Two. She tapped on David’s shoulder and soon they were dancing in the middle of the room. Connie Thaw was the first to cut in to dance with the prince. Every woman had their turn except Wallis, still seated at the poker table. David grabbed her hand and twirled her to the middle of the room. He snuggled her neck.
“MI6 says I need to make my first advance on you tonight. Get ready to be kissed.”
“If MI6 orders it,” she whispered back. “Oh well, for King and Country.”
David stopped in the middle of the room, in sight of all the guests, and impressed a long kiss on Wallis’s lips, like a scene out of a silent movie. Among all the subdued gasps, he was sure he heard a man giggle.
The next morning his guests slept in per his instructions, but he arose early, put on his work clothes topped with a baggy sweater and attacked encroaching vines in his garden. He kept alert to anyone coming out on the terrace. Eventually, the Simpsons appeared carrying their cups of coffee. David walked over to them.
“I’m waging war on the laurel. It will absolutely triumph over the garden if I let it.” He paused to smile at Ernest. “Would you like to join me?”
He watched as a big smile spread across the face of Wallis’ husband.
“Why, it would be an honor, your highness.”
“Well, go up and get a heavy sweater. It’s cold out here.”
“Yes, sir!” Ernest ran inside like a giddy school boy.
Wallis looked at David in askance. “What are you going to do? Ask his permission?”
“Yes, I think I will. It would be the proper approach. Don’t you think he’ll approve?”
“Of course he will. If you’re not careful, he’ll send me to your bedroom tonight.”
Within half an hour, David and Ernest were hacking away at the weeds.
“You have an extremely attractive wife, Mr. Simpson.”
“Oh. Call me Ernest, sir. And yes, Wallis is lovely and vivacious.”
“I want to have an affair with her.” David grinned. “Would you mind? It’s a bit like cutting in at a dance.”
“Of course! I understand!” Ernest stepped in toward the prince. “I’m off to tend to my shipping business in New York quite often, which will be quite convenient, won’t it?”
“Yes. Quite.”
“And convenient in another way. I’ve always taken an interest in Wallis’ friend Mary Raffray. She’s recently divorced and, well, available. You won’t tell Wallis, will you?”
“Indeed not.”

July Fourth

July Fourth brings back a time I worked for the Dallas Morning News on its editing desk. After five p.m., calls to the information center downstairs were rerouted to the editing desk. Why, I don’t know. We didn’t have the authority to reply to requests. We were on an assembly line of correcting typos and writing headlines fast so our readers would have their newspapers to skim as they ate breakfast.
One July Fourth night I got stuck with a call from a woman in tears.
“Why don’t children respect holidays anymore?”
“I don’t know, ma’am.” I kept reading for mistakes in an Associated Press story from Indonesia or some such distant location which had undergone a catastrophe.
“We always tried to make holidays special for them, but they didn’t appreciate it.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Nothing means anything to them anymore, except their silly fishing boats and always drinking that beer.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
My mind went back to a July Fourth long ago when I asked my mother if we could do something special for the holiday. My father was a Royal Crown Cola salesman and those grocery stores needed fresh supplies of soda pop whether it was a holiday or not. That meant the rest of us just sat home and ate hot dogs and watermelon. For entertainment my brothers lit firecrackers and threw them at me. I was only seven or eight so I screamed and ran. That’s why I was hoping this July Fourth we could do something different. If dad could take off a little early maybe we could go out to the local lake for a picnic and splashing in the water.
“We’ll have to ask your father,” she said.
“Yeah, sure, if I get done,” he said.
On July Fourth morning I was up early. I knew we couldn’t leave until dad came home, but I wanted to be ready when he did roll his truck in the yard and load us into the car for the lake. But he didn’t show up. Mom fixed the hot dogs for lunch, and we ate watermelon. In the afternoon, my brothers threw firecrackers at me and laughed when I screamed and ran.
Not only did dad not take off early, he worked extra late so he even missed supper. I didn’t say anything to mom because I didn’t want another lecture about how selfish a little boy I was for expecting dad to do anything except work hard. Here he slaved away to pay the bills and buy groceries and all I could think of was having fun.
“The children never show up for holidays,” the woman on the phone said through her tears.
“I wish I could do something to make you feel better.” I was only in my twenties. I didn’t know the right thing to say.
She sniffed. “Oh, that’s all right. Thank you for listening.”
After she hung up, I realized I was working on July Fourth, and my wife and baby boy were home alone. Some things never changed. No, I told myself. The difference was I wanted to be at home with them, and I promised myself to be there with them every holiday I could.
Then it was time to write another headline. After all, the newspaper had to come out on time.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty-Two

Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement. Stanton selects Duff, an AWOL convict,to impersonate Lincoln. Mrs. Surratt confronts Gabby’s sister Cordie at the boardinghouse.
“I’m sorry I’ve been harsh with you.” Mrs. Surratt looked fondly at Cordie.
“Then you’re not going to charge me for having Gabby’s clothes here?”
“Of course not.” She paused. “While your loyalty to your father and his Union sympathies is worthy, you must admit Mr. Lincoln does nothing to ease your financial woes.”
“Gabby and I take care of ourselves.”
“You know, the awful northern press paints a terribly unfair picture of the South and its sympathizers. We don’t want to see any citizen suffer. A lady like you shouldn’t have to worry about where the rent money is coming from each month.”
“Between selling quilts and mending socks I can pay our bills.” Cordie was becoming irritated by Mrs. Surratt’s comments on money. It was not her business.
“But you must have enough for emergencies.”
“What emergencies?” Cordie tried to sound pleasant.
“Why,” Mrs. Surratt said, with a twinkle in her eyes, “when a daft old woman like me demands more money than she should.”
“Oh.” That did not make sense to Cordie, but she did not want to be rude and tell Mrs. Surratt that.
“I shouldn’t tell you this, but I do so want to help you—in the spirit of the Confederacy, of course.” Mrs. Surratt put her arm around Cordie’s rounded shoulders. “My son John has very close contacts with the Confederate government, and therefore access to the Confederate treasury. I think I could intercede on your behalf to my son for money.”
“I don’t want charity.” Cordie was becoming angry.
“Bless you, my dear. Of course you don’t want charity. That’s what’s so wonderful about the Confederacy. It’s willing to examine your situation to find out what you have that it could buy.”
“What on earth would they want to buy from me?” Cordie narrowed her eyes.
“Information.”
“I don’t know anything.” Cordie felt extremely uncomfortable with Mrs. Surratt’s arm around her shoulders.
“You’re so modest. How sweet. Your brother works at the White House. He sees things. He hears things. The Confederacy pays to learn those things.”
“We won’t be spies.” Cordie stood; she had had enough.
“You’re so innocent.” Mrs. Surratt laughed. “It’s quite appealing. They’re playing word games with you. If they send people to Richmond, they call it surveillance, but when we southerners seek the truth, they call us spies.”
“It’s still spying.” Cordie turned her back to her. “I don’t even talk to Gabby.”
“Then how does he get his mending?”
“A White House soldier takes it,” she said grudgingly.
“Is he young?”
“He’s a private.”
“Appeal to his maternal needs. He can tell you—”
“I’m not his mother.” Cordie turned to look at her with steely eyes. “I’m not good at being devious.”
“You disappoint me.” Mrs. Surratt stiffened and stood. “On second thought, maybe I should charge you for your brother. After all, we’re saving space for him here, aren’t we? Space I could be renting to someone else.”
“Charge more?” Cordie held her breath. Gabby was not bringing in his salary, so there was not enough to pay more rent.
“And you’re selling these quilts. I didn’t know that. You’re making quite a living under my roof. I should charge more for that.”
“I can’t pay more,” she whispered.
“Then you’ll have to find another place to live, won’t you?”
Washington boardinghouses were filled; no rooms were available. Everybody knew that. What would she do? Cordie worried, as tears filled her eyes.
“Of course, if you were a friend of the Confederacy and asked your young soldier a few questions about the White House, perhaps I could reconsider.”
“Very well.” Cordie wiped her tear-stained cheeks. “I’ll try.”
“Bless you, my dear.” Mrs. Surratt kissed Cordie’s forehead. “You’ll save many, many lives.” Walking to the door, she turned to smile. “When will you see that dear young private?”
“Tonight. We’re going to watch the parade. I’ll give him Gabby’s trousers.”
“Good. Like I said, ask him a few questions.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Cordie hung her head as blankness covered her face.
“Thank you, my dear.” Mrs. Surratt reached for her change purse. “You look exhausted. Here’s money for the omnibus.” She dropped a few coins in Cordie’s hand. “There’s more where that came from, if you do your job well.”
As the door shut quietly, Cordie looked at the coins and sighed. Mrs. Surratt gave her only enough for the ride to the Executive Mansion and not back. Gathering her things together, Cordie left and, with apprehension, climbed on board the omnibus.