Monthly Archives: August 2018

Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Six

Unfortunately the passionate spell was broken when Cecelia charged through the door with Millicent on her heels.
“Do you feel that burp coming on yet?”

“Mother’s humor has evolved into something quite bizarre lately. You must forgive her.” Millicent motioned to the liquor cabinet. “Andy, would you care for a drink?”

Turning from his close proximity to Bedelia, he clapped his hands as though his mother had just offered him ice cream. “Ooh, I want something with lots and lots of grenadine.”

Cecelia, stuck in the middle of the room with Bedelia, kept reminding herself she must be a cordial hostess even though she was totally mystified by the young lady standing in front of her. The only comment that came to her mind was about Andy.

“I simply cannot believe the change in Lord Taylor.”

“Neither can I.”

Cecelia realized that conversation was going nowhere fast so she appraised Bedelia’s attire. “Well, you must be an accomplished horsewoman.”

“Oh, I don’t ride.” She blushed. “I’m afraid of horses, actually. No, I wear these clothes because I think they look smashing on me. Don’t you think? And mother is so pleased to see me in pants.

Cecelia, who was a champion in small talk, decided to throw in the towel on this conversation. As she walked away to nowhere in particular, Cecelia threw over her should, “She would.”

Bedelia, though beautiful, could be dense at times. Not realizing she was being sloughed off, she followed Cecelia across the room. “And I love this riding crop. I can crack it on my pants any time—you know it really doesn’t hurt—to emphasize a point in a conversation. See, like this.” She slapped her smart mauve riding pants with the crop.

“You ninny.” Cecelia rolled her eyes.

“Oh no. I’d never take a position caring for other people’s children.” Bedelia shook her head with a laugh. “I don’t know yet what I want to have as a profession, but I would never—“

“I said ninny, not nanny, you ninny!” After giving Bedelia an appropriately haughty glare, Cecelia swirled around and went into the ballroom.
Bedelia collapsed on the lounge and melted into tears. Across the room, Millicent finished concocting Andy’s cocktail which, per his instructions, had lots and lots of grenadine in it. She handed it to him and excused herself. “Poor Bedelia. I’ll be back in a minute, Andy.”

“Of course,” he replied, sipping his drink. Immediately Andy grimaced, spit the contents back in the glass, put it on the cabinet, wandered back to the oriental screen and pulled out his monocle on a stick for another inspection.

“Bedelia, please don’t let mother upset you.” Millicent sat next to her and patted her hand.

“I try so hard to be nice to her. Why doesn’t she like me?”

“Sometimes, dear, it’s not so smart to be smart.” She paused to give a knowing little smile. “Or, shall I say, a Smart?”


“Old age is a slow downward spiral into the abyss. Fighting the inevitable is futile. No doubt about it, life will knock you on your ass and there’s not a thing you can do about it. However, complete surrender means the acceptance of the end without hope. Life without hope is unbearable.” The old man finished his glass of white wine and looked around the table at the young men who appeared to be hanging on his every word. “Anybody want another beer?”
“Oh, yes sir.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The young men, all in their early twenties, smiled and nodded. The old man motioned to the bartender.
“I want another white wine, and give each of these fine gentlemen the beer of their choice.” He waited until all the orders were taken. “Personally, I don’t know the difference between one beer and another. I think I would gag if I tried to drink one. Oh, this is not to impugn the taste of any of you gentlemen. It’s a bit like Bill Clinton when he said he couldn’t inhale marijuana. I knew exactly what he meant. I couldn’t swallow cigarette smoke. Made me gag.”
The drinks arrived, and a low murmur overtook their corner of the bar.
“The reason I cannot drink beer is entirely psychological,” he continued as he sipped his wine. “My brother was an alcoholic—no, a drunk. He didn’t go to the meetings so he couldn’t be an alcoholic. He sat at home and drank one beer after another and told me how I was going to be a complete failure in life.” He took another sip. “He was dead a week before any of the neighbors noticed they hadn’t seen him. Now I can drink almost any kind of liquor. Really like a nice margarita or anything with rum. Southern Comfort makes me sick to my stomach though. Wine is nice. It’s a shame this place doesn’t have a full liquor license.”
The old man looked at his wristwatch and squinted. “I can’t read the damned time. My wife bought me this watch because it looked pretty. It doesn’t make any difference if the watch is pretty if the numbers on the damned face are too small to read. What time is it?”
“Almost nine o’clock, sir,” one of the young men said.
“Oh my goodness,” the old man replied with a jostle, glancing at the bartender. “Will you please bring me the bill? My wife will be here soon to pick me up. The woman has the silly idea I shouldn’t be driving after I’ve had a couple glasses of wine.” He looked toward the bar again. “And add another round of beers for my young friends here.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“We appreciate it, sir.”
“There are some old farts who say the younger generation isn’t worth a damn, but they’re wrong. You young men listen to me without ever interrupting. Do you know how often I get interrupted at home? All the time, that’s how often. Anyway, I hope to see you all next week at the same time.”
“Of course, sir.”
“Our pleasure, sir.”
“I wouldn’t blame you if you decide it’s not worth the free beer to have to listen to this old fart,” he said, standing, “and not bother to show up.”
“Oh no, sir.”
“Not at all, sir.”
“I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t show up, but appreciate it if you do.” He looked at them and smiled. “There’s always hope.”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Forty-Four

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on his first mission 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 Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. MI6 orders David and Wallis to infiltrate a secret planning session held by Adolf Hitler.
January 1935 Berchtesgaden had clear skies and brisk, bracing air filled with promises of glory. Joachim von Ribbentrop stood on this same hotel balcony when Hitler first sent for him. At that time the Fuhrer’s chalet was small and modest; now it was a full blown mountain mansion with broad terraces bordered by massive stone walls. His position of chief foreign affairs adviser assured him a role at every major planning session; and, from what he could discern from the contents of the communiques on today’s conference, this meeting would determine the course and momentum of the Third Reich.
His chauffeur knocked on the door, escorted him downstairs to the limousine and drove him to the Wolf’s Lair, which Hitler had christened his reinvented chalet. Upon arrival he entered a main hallway filled with bustling maids, manservants and soldiers, each with an important task essential to the destiny of Germany. One older, balding man, dressed in black slacks, white shirt and a silver stripped vest, approached Ribbentrop to inform him he would be his personal valet during the two-day gathering.
As he settled into his seat he looked around the room and felt honored to be included in such an august body. Hermann Goring, an air hero from the first Great War, sat across from him. Rumor in the hall was that Goring would be the commander in chief of the new air force. Next to him sat General Heinz Guderian, considered a brilliant armored division strategist. Propaganda Minster Joseph Goebbels created a stir when he marched into the room. Each had a valet at his side waiting to satisfy his slightest need.
Voices in the room rumbled when the door opened and Adolf Hitler himself entered, holding several brown folders. Everyone stood, saluted and shouted, “Heil Hitler,” repeatedly until the Fuhrer motioned to stop and be seated. One valet caught Ribbentrop’s attention, the one by the side of General Guderian. Like all the others he extended his arm in salute but his hand did not make it past the tip of his slender, pointed nose.
Hitler stood at a podium at one end of the table, opened his first folder and clasped his hands behind his back while he stared at the papers. No one could grab the attention of an audience better than Hitler, so Ribbentrop was curious why Guderian’s valet seemed to look down or across the room rather than at their national leader.
“I stand here today,” Hitler began, enunciating each word with distinction and determination, “to declare the Treaty of Versailles to be the single most vile document to be written since the beginning of modern times!”
Once more the guests stood, saluted and sang out, “Seig heil!” Except for the valet who seemed more intent on scratching his nose, Ribbentrop observed.
“We are gathered this day to outline the dismantling of that instrument of evil. As just, prudent men we must realize such an undertaking must be done in small, discreet steps, each explained in such plain, common sense language that no reasonable government could object.”
The valet in reality stifled a yawn. Ribbentrop was infuriated. He leaned forward to take a better look at him. At first appraisal, the man did not seem to be that large, but as Ribbentrop compared his height to the other valets, he was tall, at least six feet. His shoulders were narrow but his waist bulged at bit. The valet’s hair was coal black which contrasted starkly with his skin. From this distance he could not determine his eye color, but the man appeared to look like what the British called black Irish.
“Our first step will be the reinstatement of military conscription,” Hitler continued. “We will simply tell the world Germany will not be denied the right to defend itself from its former enemies–Great Britain and France. Nothing in the Treaty of Versailles keeps them from attacking, and we refuse to bow as slaves to any nation.”
Again the room erupted in applause. Even the valets shouted their approval. Except Guderian’s man. Why didn’t anyone else notice what Ribbentrop saw? Then again, why would anyone else notice, he admitted to himself. Perhaps if he were not conflicted by his divided loyalty between the Nazis and the organization he would not have picked up on the man’s eccentricities.
“Always, always, we will tell the world: Germany only wants peace. None of us means to threaten anybody. We disarm our critics by making them look like liars for accusing us of dismantling their little, meaningless treaty.”
Of course General Guderian didn’t notice his valet’s insolence. The man stood behind the general’s back. Ribbentrop forced himself to return his full attention to the Fuhrer or he might be accused of insolence himself.
Hitler looked down and chuckled. “I don’t know if any of you have ever noticed a little trick of mine. I always make my most audacious statements on the future of Germany’s return to world dominance on a Saturday. The newspapers usually have nothing to print on weekends so they spread my word for me. By Monday or Tuesday, I reaffirm my true allegiance to the cause of peace which then makes the newspapers look foolish.” He chuckled again. “I really amuse myself sometimes.”
During luncheon, Ribbentrop whispered to his valet try to make conversation with Guderian’s man, the one who looked black Irish. As the officials returned to the conference room, his valet made his report.
“I spoke several moments to the man. Very friendly. He even offered me a cigarette,” the valet said.
“Anything suspicious about the man?” Ribbentrop asked.
“The way he talked.”
“What do you mean?”
“His German.”
“What? Was he illiterate?”
“No. He didn’t make any mistakes at all. And I couldn’t tell what region he came from. It was like he was a damn grammar school teacher.”
“Hmm.” Ribbentrop wrinkled his brow. “How old was he? From here it looked like he was trying to look older than he was.”
“No. He looked like late thirties, maybe early forties. His hair looked like it was dyed, but that is not unusual for a man his age.”
Hitler resumed his discourse in the afternoon with the announcement his intention to take the Rhineland back from Austria.
“During luncheon your valets were handed a memorandum outlining my rationale for asserting German sovereignty over this region which has been traditionally accepted as Germanic in character. They will now pass them out to you. Read it. Memorize it. Put it into your own words. As you deal with representatives of the other European powers, you must impress upon them the common sense of our actions.”
A woman’s voice, thunderously tenor in nature, echoed throughout the building. It rang out like a siren for what seemed like several minutes until she had to pause to pant and gag. Another round of shrieks began, interrupted with ungovernable hysterics. The outburst in due course ended with gagging and vomiting.
Hitler’s bodyguards hurried him out of the room while the other officials milled around, much like sheep in need of a shepherd. Eventually they wandered into the foyer, breaking into small groups to whisper about what caused the scream. Within a few minutes, a black-uniformed officer appeared at the top of the stairs, jutted out his jaw, stared out over the crowd and waited for the muttering to stop, which it did.
“Gentlemen, security has been breached. The Fuhrer’s personal staff has decided to cancel tonight’s formal dinner. You shall return to your hotels until the Wolf’s Lair has been thoroughly searched and declared safe. At that time you will be notified if the second day of the conference will continue as scheduled.”
“But I am accommodated here at the chalet!” Goering called out.
“You must leave. It is the wish of the Fuhrer,” the officer stated. “Your valet will be allowed to go to your room to retrieve anything you will need for an overnight hotel stay.”
“Even Herr Hitler has left the premises.” The officer raised his voice to drown out Goering’s objections.
“But my valet is missing,” Guderian announced in frustration.
“That is none of my concern.”

All That Music and Not a Note to Hear

I’m in the massive task of downsizing 44 years of living so I can move into an apartment. Actually, it’s more than the years I was married but an additional 40 years of memories from my mother-in-law. My wife and I adopted them like they were orphans.
These orphans are 78 vinyl records. For years we rationalized storing them in closets because they were going to be some magical source of retirement income. We even had one extra-thick record from the Thomas Edison Company. No, not the one of him reciting Mary Had a Little Lamb, but some kind of music. I looked it up on eBay, and it was worth only a buck fifty. A lot of Bing Crosby too, but he was so popular his records are worth less than Edison’s.
If you wanted to get any cash out of this stack they had to be by someone no one ever heard of before. Well, not just any nobody. It had to be somebody whose talent was been discovered after the artist died with only one or two albums made. And those album covers had to be in pristine shape. Vinyl with no cover was only worth molding into salad bowls.
Believe it or not, my wife Janet and I found a few records that fit that criteria. We thought we’d at least put them on display in our living room bookcase. Like a conversation item. Then we let this woman sleep in our living room because she had left her husband and her parents wouldn’t let her bring her pet dogs into their house. The doggies just loved the glue used on those record covers so there went the conversation value of those.
Since Janet died I kept them thinking I might want to listen to them myself. That way, they’d have some value, even if it were just for me. Recently I tried to play them but they didn’t sound right. Then I realized my player only had speeds of 45 and 33 1/3. I wouldn’t even know how to begin to find an old Victrola to play them. And if I did find one, it would cost too much. I’m old. I’m trying to save money, not spend more of it.
My deadline of clearing out the house is coming up after the first of the year, and it looks more and more like I’m just going to make several trips to the local dump ground. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I won’t make any money from them. I’ve never been able to sell anything so why would I want to ruin my perfect record. And there’s no real sentimental value to them, since they had been bought and listened to by my in-laws when they were youngin’s themselves.
My only regret is that I won’t get to listen to them even one time. These were the songs played in the thirties and forties when radio was just catching on and television was some cock-eyed invention in the future. There’s Guy Lombardo waltz tunes, the Ink Spots, Mills Brothers, Perry Como and some group called the Blind Coal Miners of Virginia.
I guess I’ll have to rely on imagination, like I depend on it to visit the Eiffel tower, the Pyramids, the Great Wall of China and Machu Picchu. At least in my mind, the records won’t have any scratches on them.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty-Eight

The torture did not end. Days extended into weeks. May arrived, the rain continued, and Duff again heard Stanton coughing.
“The news is not good from Chancellorsville,” Stanton said, wiping spit from his chin.
“What is it?”
“Grant has engaged Lee in a forest called the Wilderness.”
“That’s what we wanted, isn’t it?”
“Heavy losses.” Stanton coughed again.
“So you’re going to replace Grant?”
“I don’t know.” He leaned back in the chair and moaned. “I haven’t seen Lincoln yet.”
Stanton sat up and coughed. “I haven’t given it much thought yet.”
“You talk to…” Duff paused to look at the door behind Stanton. “You go to the basement?”
“It’s not your concern.” Stanton straightened his shoulders. “You will be informed of our—my decision eventually.”
“Oh.” Duff tried not to smile.
The next morning Stanton announced to him that he had decided to stay the course with General Grant.
“Grant’s determination will prevail in the end, like the little dog hanging on to the traveling salesman’s trouser leg,” Stanton said, acting a little delirious. “We’ll stay out of Grant’s way.”
“Very astute,” Duff replied.
In another few days, Stanton relayed news of a devastating defeat at Spotsylvania.
“Perhaps I should write a letter of encouragement to General Grant,” Duff said.
“Yes,” Stanton replied, pursing his Cupid’s bow lips.
On the last day of May 1864, the rain finally stopped, and Duff walked out of the Executive Mansion to the turnstile on his way to the War Department, wanting to find out details on the battle at Cold Harbor. Stanton was suffering from another hacking asthma attack in Duff’s office. Deep in his heart, Duff wished Stanton would stop coughing and just die. Looking up, Duff found Lamon blocking the turnstile.
“Mr. President.”
“I was on my way to the War Department telegraph office.”
“Yes. It doesn’t look good.”
“We’re staying the course.” Duff’s eyes went to the ground. “With Grant.”
“I can see you’re staying the course.” Lamon paused. “Where’s Stanton?”
“In my office. Wrestling with his asthma.”
“He’s still sick?”
“Maybe he’ll die.”
“Maybe.” Duff looked up.
Lamon laughed as he stepped out of the way to let Duff go through the turnstile.
“I’m here when you need me, Mr. President.”
“Thank you.”
Lamon stopped the turnstile, blocking Duff in the gate. He looked deep into Duff’s eyes for a long moment and then leaned in close.
“I can’t help if you lie to me.”

Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Five

Previously: Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with hints of parody of Zorro and The Scarlet Pimpernel and a dash of social satire on gender roles and class mores. Cecelia throws her annual society ball, where former lovers Andy and Bedelia meet.
Andy stepped away, stopping her in mid-couplet in a vain effort to break the burgeoning romantic atmosphere.

But you’ve changed too, my dear. You’ve started to wear pants.
Don’t get me wrong, you’ve grown so strong, so butch perchance.

Bedelia pursued him like a starving man at a buffet. “You don’t remember?”

Andy made a break for the other side of the room. “You stir my embers.”

“What did you say?” She stayed right on his heels. “You do recall that day!”

Andy swirled and said in the most light-hearted manner, “No no, my dear, no memories at all.” After a pause, he stepped forward, ready for another round of terse verse.

Are you engaged? A gorgeous man has swept you off your feet?
Please tell me details, like where and when did you meet.

Bedelia moved so close she felt his breath.

I loved a man once long ago and that is quite enough
For any woman’s life. It makes existence rough.

Andy held his ground, looking deep into her brown eyes.

So are you saying that your life is empty now? Tres triste. How sad.
But think of this, my dear. No man can break your heart. Be glad.

If they got any closer, they’d bump noses. Bedelia stood fast, not being the first to move away

Oh don’t you see I love a man who is so brave and true?
Please, Andy, dear, why don’t you know, it’s you, it’s you, it’s you?

Andy unperceptively shook his head, “I don’t recall.”

“No, not at all?” Her voice quivered.

“But if I did—“

“I wish you did—“

This was said in perfect unison which was quite remarkable because neither thought they’d ever be saying such words again.
“I’d wish I fell in love with you.”


“Ugh.” Ralph sat up in his recliner.
“Uh?” Gertie lowered her newspaper.
“Ugh.” He waved in the direction of the television remote control.
“Oh.” She stretched her arm across the sofa to retrieve it. Then she tossed it to him.
“Ah.” She returned her attention to the newspaper.
Ralph clicked the television on and turned to professional wrestling. “Ah!”
“Nuh uh.”
“Nuh uh!”
“Sheez.” Ralph began to channel surf. He stopped on a station showing NASCAR. “Hmm?”
“Nuh uh.”
Ralph continued to click until Home Shopping Network showed up.
“Unh! Unh!” Gertie bounced on the sofa.
“Oh sheez no!”
“Bthpt!” Gertie glared at Ralph and then jerked the newspaper up to cover her face, almost ripping it.
“Hmph!” Ralph turned off the television and threw the remote control down. He looked up at the ceiling. After a moment he sighed and started tapping his fingers on the arm of the recliner. He looked over at Gertie. “Hmm?” He paused, waiting for a reply. “Hmm?”
Finally he stood and walked over to the sofa and sat next to Gertie, leaning into her. “Hmm?”
“Nuh uh!” Gertie kept her newspaper between her and Ralph.
He nudged her again. When he received no response he put his lips up to her ear.
“Boogly woogly,” he whispered.
“Nuh uh!”
“Oh, boogly woogly.” His voice took on a pitiful tone as Ralph scooted closer.
“Meh!” Gertie elbowed him in the gut.
Bending over, Ralph let out, “Ow!” He wiggled back a little. “Boogly woogly?” Again she ignored him. “Oh boo hoo, boo hoo hoo.”
“Oh sheez.” She put down her newspaper to look at him.
“Boogly woogly?”
She smiled. “Oh poopy doopy.”
Ralph put his arms around Gertie. “Boogly woogly! Boogly woogly!”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Forty-Three

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on his first mission 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 saves Prince George from scandal in Paris and introduces him to his future wife.
A couple of months into the burgeoning courtship, David invited George, Marina, brother Bertie and his wife Elizabeth to Fort Belvedere for a weekend of skating on the frozen pond. Wallis and Ernest joined in just for laughs. And for a hint of self-styled respectability, Thelma Furness served as hostess for the gang. The most fun part of the activities was when they actually put on skates and ventured out on the ice. It was at that moment most of them realized they didn’t realize they didn’t know how to skate. The best they could do was fall on their asses with great aplomb. Wallis described the scene as “a scream” and Ernest couldn’t keep from giggling.
After a while, David and Wallis escorted Marina up to the terrace where the servants had hot chocolate. From there they could observe the activities on the ice. David and Wallis had previously outlined how to enlighten the Greek princess about her suitor. David thought best to let Wallis do all the talking.
“The main thing is that you are having fun.” Wallis pressed her thin lips into a smile that surprisingly passed as sincere. “You are having fun, aren’t you, Marina, darling?”
Marina removed her woolen cap and shook out her long, black hair. “Of course, I’m having fun. I’m with George, aren’t I?”
They looked out at the pond where the young prince seemed to be the only one able to stay on his feet for any amount of time.
“He looks bilious, don’t you think?” Marina asked.
“I suppose,” Wallis replied in vague agreement.
“It’s his sea-sickness. He probably can’t get over the fact he’s on water, even though most of it’s frozen solid,” Marina said.
“So you know about that already?” David felt secure in throwing out his question.
“Oh yes. There’s very little I don’t know about George by now.”
“Hmm. I see.” Wallis paused and narrowed her eyes. “You may have heard certain rumors about George. How would you react if I told you most of them are true?”
Marina loosened her scarf. “Mrs. Simpson, you must remember I am Greek. For centuries the topic of some of those rumors was called Greek love. Hardly anything startles me. I was there when my grandfather the king was murdered. Matters of alcoholism, drug abuse, sexuality pale in comparison to what I have lived through.” She reached over to pat Wallis’s arm. “I know what I am getting into, and I’m confident I will save George from himself.” Lifting an eyebrow, Marina added, “Any other questions?”
Wallis pursed her lips. “If I don’t watch it, I think I could fall in love with you myself.”
David, pleased with the outcome of the discussion, looked out at the pond. “I see Bertie and Elizabeth have finally given up and are coming for hot chocolate.”
Wallis turned to the princess. “The next question is do you think you can abide the duchess’s high whimpering voice?” She took on a quivering falsetto. “Don’t you think Lillibet and Meg are adorable?”
What she didn’t realize was that the couple were closer than she thought, and they heard the imitation.
“Lillibet and Meg are adorable,” Elizabeth announced. “Now where is the chocolate? I’m chilled to the bone.”
Marina quickly busied herself adjusting her scarf over her mouth.
Despite Wallis’s inappropriate behavior, the romance between George and Marina grew through the spring and summer. David was pleased to share with Wallis over tea at Bryanston Court in late August—when Ernest was on a business trip to New York, of course—that George officially proposed to Marina when they went to Yugoslavia on holiday with her sister Olga and her husband Prince Paul. The wedding was set for November 1934. MI6 congratulated David and Wallis on a job well done.
David actually manipulated his parents into inviting the Simpsons not only to the Westminster wedding but also to the palace ball preceding the nuptials. He insisted it would be bad for relations with the United States to rebuff such a prominent American businessman as Ernest Simpson and his wife. On the night of the gala, David went to Bryanston Court to escort the couple to Buckingham. Before they left, he pulled out a box from Cartier.
“You don’t mind if I give your wife a trinket to commemorate the occasion, do you?” He smiled in Peter Pan innocence.
“Of course not,” Ernest replied as he beamed. A shadow crossed his face. “Um, who’s paying for the insurance?”
“Oh, Ernest, don’t be dreary.” Wallis opened the box to find a multi-diamond faceted charm bracelet adorned by a single cross embedded with emeralds. “How lovely. Would it be gauche to wear it both to the ball and the wedding?”
“My dear, when did it ever bother you to be gauche?” Ernest laughed, took the bracelet from the box and placed it on her wrist.
The ball was charming. David found himself dancing with Wallis too much during the evening even though Ernest didn’t seem to mind. He even stared at her during the ceremony at Westminster Abby. He had deliberately ordered a prominent seating for the Simpsons in the front of the church. By the way Wallis shifted in her pew David knew she was bored. He didn’t know why that amused him so much. When she began to fidget with her new charm bracelet, David cocked his head. She must find the secret compartment with the note soon. She did. Wallis opened the tiny note and squinted.
“Dec. 30. Anne Hathaway’s cottage.”
He wondered how she would react to the instructions from MI6. She wadded the note and stuck it in her mouth. A moment later he saw her large Adam’s apple bob. Wallis leaned into Ernest to whisper something witty. True to his fashion, he giggled loud enough to echo through the vaulted ceiling of the ancient church. Fortunately the choir was singing at the moment, and no one else seemed to notice.
A little more than a month later, David, wearing a dark toupee and a fake beard, meandered through the home of William Shakespeare, not bothering to listen to the drone of the tour guide’s lecture. He looked down when he felt a hand in his coat pocket. Glancing around he saw nobody who might have been the perpetrator. He reached in to retrieve a note, and read it:
“Stratford Tea House. 1 p.m.”
When he arrived at the appointed hour, David spied Wallis sitting at a back table tapping her fashionable high heeled shoe. She was bored again. He joined her and ordered a cup of tea. Soon General Trotter slipped in the backdoor and joined them.
“Hitler is on the move,” he whispered.
“As Anne Hathaway often said,” Wallis quipped, “no shit Shakespeare.”
David smiled. “I think the proper dirty joke is no—“
“Please, we’re talking national security here,” Trotter interrupted. “We have it on the best authority that Joachim von Ribbentrop is leaving on New Year’s Eve for Germany.”
“So?” David sounded insolent.
“Please.” Wallis was equally impudent. “Joachim would never leave town on one of the most important social evenings of the year.”
“Exactly.” Trotter lit his pipe. “He’s already booked lodgings in Berchtesgaden. We also have sources in Berlin that Hitler has informed his staff that he will extend his Christmas holiday and not return until late January.”
“Do we know what Hitler is planning?” David asked.
“The Treaty of Versailles included several prohibitions on German military, any one of which Hitler is intent on breaking,” Trotter explained.
“Of course,” David agreed.
“Where is Joachim staying? I may get another white carnation,” Wallis asked in a business tone.
David felt himself becoming irritated. “You’ve mentioned those damned white carnations before. What the hell does that mean?”
“None of your damn business.” Wallis lit a cigarette.
Trotter looked out the tea house window and smiled.


Sir Thomas More had come to terms with his future. In the morning he would be executed for not acknowledging the legality of Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn and the dissolution of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. For many years he reaped the benefits of being the friend of the King of England, and now faced the consequences of adhering to his principles of faith.
As he prayed to thank God for his blessings of a good wife and a loyal daughter, More heard the clanking of the key in his Tower of London cell. As he turned to see who was visiting him at this late hour, his jaw dropped opened. Before him stood his sovereign lord Henry.
“I am interrupting your prayers,” Henry said. “You must forgive me.”
“You are forgiven.” More tried to hide the irony which flitted across his face.
“Actually, I have spent the day in prayer myself.” He approached More. “Please let me help you to your feet.”
The king gently put his large hands on the prisoner’s elbows, and they settled on the small bed in the corner. At this point Henry embraced his friend and whispered into his ear.
“The Lord has revealed to me the truth. I don’t know why I did not see it myself months ago. We are both sinners, Thomas, and as your king and as the Defender of the Faith, the responsibility lies with me.”
More had never heard Henry speak with such humility before. He tried to calm his heart which was about to explode. Was the king going to release him to return to the life he loved with his wife and daughter? Such were the essence of miracles.
“My Lord, you are not obligated to say one word more,” he whispered. “You are shaming me with your penance.”
Henry stood and walked to the far wall, bowed his head for a moment before turning to face More. Tears stained his cheeks.
“God explained to me why you could not sign the declaration. I cannot hold your feelings against you. Arise. You are a free man.”
Smiling, More stood and went to his friend, extending his hand. Within the hour he would embrace his wife.
“Yes, Thomas, I now realize the real reason you opposed my marriage to Queen Anne. You are jealous. You cannot accept the fact that I do not love you the way you love me.”
More came to an abrupt stop. “What?”
“You must realize I cannot commit another sin against God. I was wrong to marry my dead brother’s wife, and it would be equally wrong to love another man. It is an abomination.”
“What?” More had not slept well while residing in the Tower of London. His appetite had vanished. Surely he had misunderstood what the king said.
“I cannot blame you. Who does not love me?” Henry spread his arms to put his large frame on display. They all lust after me. The king of France. The princes of Germany. Even the bishop of Rome. I have to admit it. Now if you were a woman I could take you as my mistress.”
“Don’t worry. No one will ever know. I want to protect you against any acts of jealousy from the lords and earls.” Henry nodded. “Oh yes, they covet me too.”
“Oh dear. I have upset you. I suppose you might have preferred going to your death with the impossible dream intact that one day you might worship at this altar.”
“You must never touch the royal scepter. You must never hold the crown jewels. You must never experience the divine right of kings.”
“You must be crazy.” More had his own revelation from God.
“Is it madness to save this temple of God only for the queen?”
“I cannot stand to see your disappointment.” Henry began to remove his ermine robe. “Quickly take off your clothing. I will mount you tonight, but only once.”
More clenched his thin coat around him. “Oh hell no.”
“Very well. Once a month. But no more than that. I do have my principles.”
“I don’t think you understand. I love my wife very much. She just left here a few hours ago. She was very upset. I had to comfort her, and I’m the one dying in the morning.”
“Hurry. Anne is expecting me back in her bed by midnight.”
“My daughter really has her heart set on receiving my head and carrying it around with her for the rest of her life. She would be extremely disappointment if she didn’t have it in her purse by tomorrow night.”
“But you belong to me.” Henry began to undo his waistcoat.
“Of course, my heart belongs to you. As the hearts of all good Englishmen belong to their king. But my head belongs to my daughter.”
Henry stopped to observe More closely. “I’m beginning to suspect you don’t really want all this.” His hands roamed across his body.
“I think you’ve bedded one too many women who don’t exactly have the cleanest bodies in the kingdom. You got knocked upside the head in one too many jousting matches. You’ve chugalugged one too many bottles of wine.”
“I think you’re the crazy one.” Henry huffed as he quickly retrieved his robe. “Every man, woman and child in England wants me. Everybody knows it.”
“Everybody knows you’re crazy as a loon, but they’re afraid to say it to your face.”
“That is treason! I will have your head for insulting the king!”
“Just make sure my daughter ends up with it by the end of the day. Thank you.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty-Seven

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Impostor Duff must deliver the Gettysburg Address. Mrs. Surratt confronts Gabby’s sister Cordie at the boardinghouse about spying for the South.
Late April found the capital drenched in an eternal cold, tingling drizzle. Duff, well into the second year of pretending to be Abraham Lincoln, stared out of his office window at the people running through the rain, trying to jump around mud holes. In many ways, he felt content with his life as husband to Alethia, though he had not found the courage to consummate their love, fearing the intimacy would require that he reveal his secrets to her. He liked Tad better each day, and enjoyed his contact with the Cabinet members. On the other hand, Duff hated himself for lying to Lamon, for fearing Stanton, and for allowing the Lincolns to waste away in the basement.
“Mr. President, Secretary Stanton is here to see you.” Hay broke Duff’s trance with his announcement.
“Very well.”
Hay stepped aside to allow Stanton, wheezing and coughing, to enter. After the young man closed the door, Stanton sat and wiped his mouth with a handkerchief.
“Have you seen your doctor?”
“Yes, this morning.” A hacking cough erupted. “Damn asthma. Damn nuisance.”
“You should take to your bed.”
“That’s what my doctor said.” He looked up at Duff. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? You’d have Ward Lamon here and tell him the whole story.”
“How do you know I haven’t already told him?”
“Because Lamon hasn’t stormed the building.” Stanton coughed. “And because you know if Lincoln’s freed now, you’ll return to prison to hang.”
“Maybe not.”
“I don’t think you’re willing to take the chance.”
“In any case, you’re not willing to give me the chance.”
Stanton laughed and coughed at the same time. Putting his head in his hands, he continued, “The newspapers are responding well to the announcement that you named General Grant to head of the Army of the Potomac. He’s taken control of the troops, and they seem to be responding favorably to him. In the next few days, you should send a series of letters to him, reiterating your support.”
“Anything else?”
“I’ll let you know.” Stanton stood. “I’m going home, but I’ve instructed Private Christy to spend more time with you in the office. After all, he is your adjutant.”
“Yes, sir.”
“He’ll be here in a few minutes.” Stanton turned for the door. “I’ll return this evening, with news from the telegraph room.”
How he loathed the man, Duff thought as he returned his gaze to the rain outside his window.
“Mr. President?” Hay hesitantly asked as he stepped into the office. “May I have a word with you?”
Duff nodded. Hay looked back before he closed the door.
“I think I should mention something, but you may not want to hear it.”
Stiffening, Duff remained silent but motioned for Hay to sit.
“Mr. President,” Hay began with his eyes down, “as you know, I enjoy my night life, going to bars late into the evening. Often I hear gossip, and I dismiss it as gossip, but recently soldiers, many of them just released from army hospitals, were complaining about lack of medical supplies.”
“We’re funding the military as well as we can,” Duff replied.
“They aren’t blaming you or Congress. It’s Mr. Stanton.”
“It’s gossip.”
“They say you were going to fire him—back in sixty-two.” Hay stressed the year, cocking his head.
Duff smiled. “Have you heard the one that Mrs. Lincoln’s a Southern spy? Not only that, she stole my State of the Union address and sold it to the newspapers. Best of all is the story that I’m totally insane.”
“You haven’t been yourself for almost two years,” Hay whispered. He looked startled and then dropped his head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
Duff did not know whether to be relieved or threatened. Hay knew. If he knew, Nicolay knew, yet they had said nothing all this time. Duff wondered why Hay had chosen this time to broach the topic. Putting his hand to his mouth, he thought perhaps the asthma outbreak had weakened Stanton’s determination. Maybe it had. Maybe this was the time. Duff leaned forward in his chair to confide in his staff. A knock interrupted him.
“It’s me, sir, Private Christy.” Adam paused at the door. “Mr. Stanton said you needed me.”
For a moment Duff made eye contact with Hay, then decided the opportunity had passed.
“Come in, Private.”
Adam entered, and Duff was impressed. He looked sharp in his uniform. Maybe he was filling it out, too. His eyes no longer looked glazed over.
“What do you need, Mr. President?”
“A letter delivered to the War Department,” Duff said, watching Hay slump back in his chair. “For General Grant. Ready for dictation, Mr. Hay?”
“Yes, sir.” Hay pulled a pad and pencil from his pocket.
“Dear General Grant…”
Duff leaned back in his chair and tried to think of the right words to say while he watched Adam’s eyes wander out the window and a smile land softly on his lips.
“I want to take this occasion to express my confidence…”
Adam was in love, Duff decided. He had been young once. He remembered how it felt. He knew how it felt even now when Alethia walked into the room. Did love make his intolerable job tolerable? Duff wondered. Perhaps. Love created hope, and hope meant there was going to be a tomorrow.
“Reports say the troops are responding well to your leadership…”
And what kept Hay going? Duff switched his attention to his secretary. He did not believe Hay was in love, except for his love of life. Maybe that is what gave him the courage to speak the unspeakable and the hope for something better.
“Please feel free to correspond with me any time…”
And what kept himself? Was it love, hope, or pure, simple fear that he would be discovered? His cowardice and his evil desperation could be exposed to the world for condemnation. As long as he lied and walked the tightrope of deception, his world would continue.
“Best wishes, A. Lincoln.”
Duff turned to look out of the window.
“That will be all, gentlemen.”
Hay and Adam left, and after they shut the door, Duff choked back tears. This was torture, but he feared more what awaited him beyond the torture.