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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 and friends try to stop villain Malcolm Tent.
Lady Cecelia Snob-Johnson was aghast when her butler opened the front door and there stood a large, overweight but mostly muscular man in a filthy shirt, coat and trousers and with enough dirt under his fingernails to start an herb garden. His sweaty face shone through the dust of the street which had landed on his broad brow and thick cheeks.
“Pardon me, sir. Whom did you want to see?” Her eyes fluttered.
“I want to see me boss.” His Cockney accent was on the verge of being incomprehensible.
“And who exactly is—as you put it—your boss?”
“Chief Inspector Malcolm Tent.”
“Ah. He is in my library with my most intimate friends. Follow me.” She tossed a question over her shoulder, “And whom shall I say is calling?”
Lady swept into the library with Billy following close behind. She could swear she could feel his ale-infused breath on the nape of her neck, which aroused feelings from long ago. She motioned to Tent.
“Chief Inspector Mal Content, a mister William Canine-erel is here to see you.”
“That’s Doggerel, mum,” Billy corrected her. “I ain’t got no pedigree. Me old man was just a plan old son of –“
“Um, yes, Billy, right over here.” Tent motioned for Billy to join him by the window on the far side of the room.
Cecelia was left motionless—well, not completely motionless. She did have the wherewithal to close the door to the ballroom. She could not help herself. She whispered to herself another soliloquy while visions of Sampson Elias Johnson danced in her head.
Sexy Billy, you make me silly; your big belly makes me squeal.
You’re completely covered with dirt.
Your hair is slicked down, your teeth are brown.
But I love your swagger; it makes me stagger.
I love the sneer upon your lips. Come on baby, grab my hips!
You’re a naughty boy, I can tell. Come on, baby, ring my bell!
You must lead a life of crime. You’re going straight to hell.
Your hot body makes me sweat so I’ll go to hell as well.
Who cares that we belong in worlds so far apart?
You know you got the tool to fix my thumping heart!
You’re nothing but a baboon that needs a tamer.
If a girl gets out her whip who the hell could blame her?
Big dirty Billy, I’m your filly.
Big dirty Billy, I feel silly,
Be the master of my dreams.
Millicent broke her revelry when she touched her mother’s arm. “Are you all right? Mother, who is that person?”
“I don’t know, but I would wager he hasn’t had a bath in a month.”
“I would like to give him a bath.” Cecelia’s breath became labored.
“What!?” Millicent’s mouth flew open.
Cecelia shook her head, coming back to reality. “In the interest of a cleaner world, of course.”
“Of course.” She rolled her eyes. Millicent had not seen her mother swoon like this since the last time the chimney sweep made his yearly visit.
“Excuse me, Millicent dear, but I have an irresistible impulse to get to know this person better.” Not waiting for a reply, Cecelia wandered over to the window on the pretense of straightening the curtains.
The party was over, and we had to leave the next day. So sad. I loved the games my granddaughter made up for us to play, but we had to return the rental car by 8 a.m. and be on the plane by 9:30. Morning would be here soon.
The flight out of White Plains went without a hitch but then were faced with the four-hour layover in Charlotte. We found a nice little eatery with all kinds of Italian fast food—pizza by the slice, calzones, pastas, and Caesar and Greek salads. Why they threw in the Greek salad I don’t know why, but I’m glad they did. It’s my favorite. My son got a slice of all-meat pizza, his favorite. We even snagged a place to sit down. And next to us was a guy who had his Chihuahua in a carryon cage. I was tempted to go over and ask to pet the dog, but this was a busy airport so I restrained myself.
Then came the dreaded four-hour wait. I was too tired to pull my notepad and write a new story and I had traded in my smart phone for a dumb phone to save money so I couldn’t browse the internet. My son had a smart phone and a laptop to play games so I was on my own. So I resorted to an old favorite I shared with my wife years ago—people watching.
There were the great groups of teen-aged athletes bubbling with excitement about the event they were going to or coming back from. Always running behind were the old, overweight coaches trying to keep up.
Another group that was interesting was a group of young men with clerical collars, apparently on the way to or from the seminary. They were happy but not as giddy as the student athletes. But then they weren’t in competition with anyone else. I supposed that made a difference.
My favorite group to observe were the families. Most of the time the children, with their noses in their smart phones, were either far ahead or far behind the beleaguered parents who were left to drag all the luggage. I don’t care if they are on wheels, they still weigh a lot and trouble to pull or push, whichever method you prefer.
The family that made me smile the most had a muttering mother taking an aggressive lead with her husband a couple of feet behind her with the baggage. Lagging behind were two young boys. The littlest one looked up and said in a sad little voice, “I know, Mommy, we’re all bad.”
Actually, after I smiled I realized how sad air travel could be. I bet that that little boy never had to apologize for being bad at home. Everyone was too busy going about things that made them happy rather than dwell on how bad they were.
That made me start noticing how many couples were holding hands. Not many at first, but then I started seeing them. Interestingly, most of them were older couples. There was the well-dressed couple (maybe they were from White Plains) whose ringed fingers were gracefully intertwined. Right behind them were a couple that decided to become hippies in the 60s and, dad-burn-it, they’re still hippies fifty years later. From the do-rags on their heads to the beads around their necks and the old sandals on their bare feet. And theirs was not just any regular hand holding. No sir. They had their arms tightly wrapped around each other waists. Not a hint of daylight between them.
But my favorite was another old couple. She held a cane in one hand and a drink in the other. He held her elbow so when she wanted a drink he could help lift the cup to her lips.
I’m going stop with that one. Nothing can top it.
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 pick up crates of jewels from Haile Selassie in Corsica.
Leon often thought of the day three years ago when he confessed to his mother as she lay dying in the garden that he was a mercenary. Also he revealed that he knew the Prince of Wales was a British spy. His indiscretion bothered him. Ironically he had not been on a mission since then in which he had any encounter with the prince. Leon had killed many men and had been paid handsomely for it. That didn’t worry him because that was the life he had chosen for himself. What did nag at him was the fact that he saw Pooka running away from his gate.
Pooka—the old hag who fancied herself a voodoo priestess. She could not be trusted with such delicate information. Leon would kill her but his wife Jessamine craved Pooka’s assurance that he would return safely from his long mysterious journeys. And Leon’s own moral code insisted that he never kill a woman.
Even his son Sidney was beginning to listen to Pooka. He was thirteen and ready to be introduced to the life of a mercenary and he didn’t need to rely on mystical spirits to survive but rather only on himself. Leon had stressed the need to do anything to fill the bellies of his family.
All these thoughts flooded his mind as he returned from his morning walk along the beach. He noticed the dead plant in front of his gate was askew. Leon ran his hand inside the pot and found an empty cigarette pack. Inside he found a folded note.
“Rialto. 9 p.m.”
Leon wadded the paper and stuck it in his pants pocket before going inside for breakfast. His wife Jessamine had matured and calmed down a bit. It was right after Leon’s mother died that Jessamine realized she had to become the mother now. She could no longer be ruled by childish emotions. She quit asking Leon to wear a wedding band. Repeatedly he had told her she was being foolish because wearing one could endanger his life while on one of his trips.
He looked at her with admiration as she placed bowls of grits and shredded conch covered with potatoes, peppers and onions in front of him and Sidney. At age thirteen Sidney was developing into a fine man. He was going to be short like his father but his shoulders were wide and his chest was thickening.
“I have to go to Nassau tonight which means I will be leaving soon on one of my business trips.”
“Then I will prepare your suitcase today,” Jessamine said.
“Thank you.” He looked at Sidney and smiled. “Work hard for Jinglepockets.”
“I will.” He smiled broadly.
Jinglepockets, the old fisherman, told Leon that Sidney was a good hand. The boy sat aright and took a modest spoonful of food into his mouth, just as his father had taught him.
That night Leon sauntered into the casino and located the blonde dealer at her black jack table. He sat and threw a few coins at her.
“Anything you say.”
As her hands spit the cards his way, Leon smiled, and his eyes twinkled.
“How come you and I have never connected after all these years?”
“Your family wouldn’t like it.” She paused and raised an eyebrow. “How many cards?”
Glancing at his hand, Leon looked up and smiled again. “None.” He noticed a slit in the queen of diamonds. “How do you know if I have a family?” Deftly he opened the slit, slipped out the note and put it in his white linen jacket pocket.
“Oh. I can tell a married man as soon as he walks into the casino.” She pursed her lips. “And if they have a kid.”
“Stand. I call.” He turned over his cards. “Two sixes.”
She pushed two chips his way. “You win.” She licked her red lips. “Another game?”
“Some other time.” He stood and walked away. After cashing out, Leon took the ferry back to Freeport. Leaning against the rail, he took out the note.
“SS Europa Tuesday a.m. to Corsica.”
Leon had traveled on the Europa many times. Besides being extremely luxurious, the German liner was one of the fastest ships in the world, convenient for his kind of work. At the appointed time in Nassau, he walked up the gangplank in his white linen suit. He went to his cabin and, after removing his jacket, plopped on the bed. Reaching under the pillow he found a note.
“Late dinner on the upper.”
The ocean liner was skimming through the Atlantic toward the straits of Gibraltar in the silky blackness of midnight. Leon sat at a oner in the corner of the dining hall when a waiter, a fellow Bahamian in a white jacket and black tuxedo slacks, handed him a menu.
“Please note the evening special.”
From a special notch in the leather menu binder, Leon pulled out a white card on which was printed the evening special. On the back was a hand-written note.
“Hotel Lido, Propriano, Corsica. Answer door after seven knocks.”
He folded it and placed it in his trousers’ pocket.
“I don’t think so. What’s the catch of the day?”
Leon relaxed the rest of the voyage. He relished the solitude. As much as he loved his family, they drained his emotions with their needs and wants. He also took the time to consider his mortality. Leon knew that any mission might be his last and he would never see his wife and son again. He also considered he was close to the age of his father when he died. He conceded he could not ask for a better life than his father lived.
Once the liner was docked at Port Valinco in Propriano, Leon went straight to Hotel Lido. As the bellman carried his suitcase through the central courtyard to his room, he looked around in approval. It was a one-story hotel on the beach. Not overtly luxurious but conducive to secrecy, privacy and perhaps romance. Once in his room, he went to the bar, pulled out a bottle of Jamaican rum and poured it into a small glass. Sitting in a comfortable chair facing a window which looked over the sands of the Mediterranean, Leon waited for his seven knocks.
They finally came.
A short, wispy-thin Italian man with a full bushy head of steel gray hair opened the door, charged in and hustled around the room dusting and retrieving errant soiled linen.
Leon noticed the man mumbled to himself but soon realized the servant wasn’t mumbling at all but reciting the orders, like a broken record.
“Midnight. Port Volinco. Dress as peasant with pushcart. Detail of soldiers will arrive, unload five small crates, wait for a signal from a yacht, and then depart. Two men dressed in black will disembark to load the crates. You will kill them, load the crates in the cart and bring it to the Hotel Lido kitchen. In the morning check out, take the first boat to Naples where you will be paid.”
It took a couple of times before Leon heard it all. He didn’t bother to ask questions. The man had already told him everything he knew. At 10 p.m. he located the push cart in which was the peasant garb. He situated himself in the shadows of large shipping containers on the dock. Exactly at midnight Leon heard the tromping of military feet on the cobblestones.
Leon decided the cargo was being delivered by the army from a country with more pomp and circumstance than actual martial power, perhaps a place where its traditions were still rooted in a time long ago.
Five soldiers, each carrying a crate, were surrounded by a phalanx of armed comrades. The parade came to an abrupt stop. All five soldiers lifted their knees high, right then left, then stomped twice. They stood at attention, all staring at the yacht for several minutes. Then a light flashed from the dark recesses of the main deck, once followed by two quicker ones. The guards lifted their knees, right then left, stomped twice and marched away.
When the defiant marching steps faded into silence, two small figures, dressed in black including ski masks, slipped down the gangplank and—before Leon could lift his rifle, aim and fire—grabbed three of the boxes. The larger of them took two under each arm and the smaller carried one using both hands. They scurried back on board.
Leon briefly thought he could scamper over and take the other two but when he further considered how fast they moved he wouldn’t have time. He could kill them upon their return and then take the last two crates.
Raising his rifle he prepared to shoot when they scuttled back down the ramp. His body tensed when he looked through the rifle sights and then paused. He recognized them. The larger figure was the Prince of Wales. The smaller was the lady from the Tanganyika Express. He had saved Leon’s life at least twice. And Leon lived the principle that a man never killed a woman.
He put his rifle down and walked away. Leon rarely failed on a mission. And when he did, it mostly was due to a conscious decision not to break his personal code. The client would simply have to survive without the contents of those crates. Furthermore, Leon didn’t care if the organization disapproved or not.
After the nightmare of a flight I was ready to have fun at the baby shower. It was an easy drive from the White Plains to Wappingers Falls where my daughter and her family live. At least it was easy for me: my son was doing the driving.
When we arrived at the homestead everyone was busy for the crowd the next day. My son-in-law mowing the backyard where they had set up a party tent. More than 40 friends and family were coming and they all couldn’t fit in the house.
Inside, my daughter finished party favors which she had made by hand. She should really be a professional party planner. Remember, she was doing all this while seven and a half months pregnant with her baby boy who made his presence known by kicking every few minutes.
My five-year-old granddaughter was doing her job well, which was being cute and adorable. My son and I showed her the stuffed animals we had picked up on our spring trip to the British Isles—an Irish lamb with a green ribbon around its neck, an English lion, Paddington bear and toy store mascot bear from this six-story emporium which had entire floors dedicated to Star Wars and Harry Potter. She and I played with them the rest of the weekend.
The next morning we put table cloths out under the tent, tied balloons up and did a bunch of other stuff I can’t even remember now. Luckily my son-in-law’s parents showed up early and helped out. They are experts on preparing for their relatives at a party.
It’s kind of nice when the party begins because then I could just sit down and talk to the guests. That’s the easy part. There was a whole table of aunts who liked to exchange stories about which are the best cruise lines to go on and who has the best food. At another table cousins were talking about a recent trip they took to Alaska which they did without the aid of a travel company. The pictures were really breathtaking. I particularly liked the story about the teen-aged son who wanted to take a dip in the Pacific Ocean on the Alaskan beach. After all, it was July. Well, he ran it and immediately ran out; but at least he went in, which is more than I would have been brave enough to do.
My daughter made a calendar marking the due date and the two weeks before and after. For five bucks everyone could guess when the baby would arrive. My son has a mean sense so he chose his niece’s birthday which my daughter didn’t appreciate. I thought, hey, she’d had one busy day but then birthdays would be over for the year. I chose the doctor’s projected due date, which showed my unreasonable faith in the judgement of doctors.
Then there was the food. First were two tables of appetizers from chips to huge shrimp, on which I overindulged. Big mistake. Next out they filled the tables with all kinds of salads and gigantic rings of sandwiches stuffed with everything. When I thought I couldn’t eat another bite, my son-in-law’s mother came by asking how everyone wanted their hamburgers cooked. I politely declined. Of course, there was cake and ice cream. Everyone bravely attempted singing, “Happy baby to you.”
Even though I’m from the South where huge family gatherings flourish, I’m not used to them. I’m one of the few with a relatively small extended family. But this family knows how to party. The next weekend a cousin’s daughter was having her Sweet Sixteen party.
A hundred and twenty-three were expected for that.
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. Alethia is plucked from prison to play Mary Lincoln. Tad knows she’s not his mother but thinks she’s part of the plot to save his father.
Lighting the last of a dozen candles around Tad’s room, Alethia settled next to him on his bed at Anderson Cottage and cuddled.
“The candles look nice,” Tad murmured, resting his head on her full bosom. “Mama always said candles were romantic.”
“They can be.” Alethia caressed his brow. “But they can also be comforting, soothing, nurturing for the soul.”
“Could you sing me that Gloria song? It’s nice.”
Softly and off-key, Alethia sang, and Tad hummed along.
“I don’t know what language that is, but it’s pretty. I like this. It makes me feel good and calm. I sleep better. I’m gonna miss it when Mama comes back.”
“I mean, there’s nothing wrong with the way Mama puts me to bed. I still want her back. But I’ll miss you…”
“Hush, Taddie, my baby.” Wrapping her arms around his head, she continued, “I know what you mean.”
Moments went by without a word, and Alethia relished the intimacy.
“I’m glad you’re feeling better,” Tad whispered. “I got worried about you last summer. Your head was all bloody. I thought you were going to die.”
“No need to worry.”
“I don’t think we could find another lady who looked like Mama and who was so nice.” He paused. “I liked going to the White Mountains with you and Robert.”
“It was so cool there,” Alethia said. “The wind gently blowing against my brow made my head feel better.”
“I’m sorry you couldn’t go hiking with Bob and me. It was fun.” He looked at her. “But you would have got a headache. I don’t want you to have headaches like Mama. They’re awful.”
“Thank you.” She smiled. “I loved watching you two from the veranda. I could tell by the way Bob put his hand on your shoulder he loves you very much.”
“I know,” he said with a chirp. His face clouded. “He thinks I’m a spoiled brat, but he still loves me.”
“And I love both of you.”
“Mama does too,” Tad said. “It’s just that…”
“What Mama calls love, some folks might call bossing people around.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You love up on me, but Mama fusses at me about brushing my teeth and combing my hair.”
“She means well,” Alethia said. “She loves both of you.” She smiled. “I’m sure she was as proud as I was when Bob graduated from college in June.”
“He wants to join the army, but Mama’s scared he’ll get killed. She’s lost two sons already, and she doesn’t want to lose another. I can sound like Mama when she’s fussing at Bob. Do you want to hear it?”
“No, thank you.” Alethia paused to take all this information in. “So should I keep him out of the army?”
“If you don’t want him to find out you’re not Mama. I don’t think he’d play along with it like I do.” Tad frowned. “There’s something else Bob told me as a secret. I don’t know if I should tell.”
“He’s afraid you’ll make him go to law school next month.”
“I see. Thank you for the help.”
The candles began to wane.
“There’s something else about Bob.”
“Bob’s got a girlfriend.”
“How sweet.” Alethia smiled. “What should my reaction be?”
“Fight it at first—Mama would, until you find out who the girl is. She’s a doozy.”
“Really? Who is she?”
“A senator’s daughter. A big shot with the Republicans. Mama will love that.” Tad smiled. “Do you want me to show you how she’ll yell when Bob tells her?”
“No, thank you,” she replied. “I can imagine.”
“The candles are just about out.” Yawning, Tad settled down into bed.
“Then that means it’s time to go to sleep.” She hugged him again. “Let me pray for you.” She mumbled sweet words and then kissed him on the forehead. “Good night, my love.”
Standing to leave, Alethia went to each candle to make sure it was out and then walked to the door.
“Thank you, Mrs. Mama. When the war’s over, and Mama and Papa come back, and you go, I hope you have a happy life.”
“Thank you, my love.”
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 and friends try to stop villain Malcolm Tent.
The ballroom door opened and who should enter but Malcolm Tent who could not hide the suspicion in his eyes. “Oh, there you are. I noticed you were missing from the party.” He stopped abruptly when he noticed Eddie’s bare chest. “Young man, you’re not wearing a shirt.”
“I’m jest bein’ stylish.” Eddie stuck his chin out with pride.
“Skin is in.” Andy stood uncomfortably close to the inspector, his eyes roaming up and down Tent’s body.
Tent quickly stepped aside. “So. What have we going on here? A conspiracy?”
“We don’t have a conspiracy.” Eddie emitted a laugh that would not be allowed in Buckingham Palace. “Yo’re the one who—“
“Oh Eddie!” Millicent had to think fast before Eddie spilled the beans. “You have such a fabulous body! I can’t keep my hands off you!” She pushed him back onto to the chaise lounge and jumped on top of him, planting kisses all over his face.
Andy again sidled next to Tent. “Oh that Millicent! She’s so loyal to the royal family.” He stroked the lapel of Tent’s coat. “I think black is sooo sexy.”
“Egad!” Tent moved away as far away from Andy as he could without jumping out the window. It was his turn to break into a soliloquy.
As chief inspector Malcom Tent my name commands respect
But that won’t pay for the lifestyle I have come to expect.
So that is why I am so sly to run a protection racket.
Tonight’s the night I clinch the deal with the contents of that packet.
Those meddling fools are in the way of that I have no doubt.
I got to stop the man in red before he finds me out.
Andy, Eddie and Millicent converged on the lounge with their own serious patter.
We’ll work and work to save the dough earned by the innocent.
We will not rest until we lock up mean old Malcolm Tent.
The inspector was so engrossed in his own thoughts he didn’t notice their collusion.
I worked the streets for all those years. I made all those arrests.
I never got the fame I earned even though I was the best.
The shopkeepers will pay the price of Astin’s sin of pride.
I worked the system so complete and all from the inside.
So that is why the villain in this pastiche is plain for all to see.
In fact this story is pretty dull without the likes of li’l ol’ me!
After he finished his soul searching, he turned back to the group to observe their cozy situation on the lounge.
Noticing that Tent was noticing, Millicent leaned back into the prince. “By, the way, Eddie, have you talked to your grandmother yet about our marriage?”
“Gosh, I’m sorry, Millie, honey. I keep fergittin’.” Eddie stood and slapped himself for being so scatterbrained.
Millicent went to him and patted his bare chest. “That’s all right. First we’ll teach you to remember to wear a shirt, and then we’ll work on your remembering to ask for permission to marry.”
“Shirt, marriage,” he repeated in earnest.
Millicent reinforced her request with positive incentives. “Shirt.” Kiss. “Marriage.” Kiss.
Tent interrupted their lesson. “Pardon me for being so bold, Prince Edward, but why do you talk like that?”
“Talk like what?” Perhaps it was Millicent’s training methods, but Eddie responded in the Queen’s English.
I was looking forward to flying with my son to New York for my daughter’s baby shower on Labor Day weekend. All my son-in-law’s relatives were to be there, and they are a lot of fun. We’d fly up on Friday, help them with the preparations on Saturday, enjoy the party on Sunday and fly back on Monday. What could be easier than that? My only problem was that I wasn’t paying attention to the weather.
Yes, we were having late afternoon rain but that’s sort of a Florida tradition, isn’t it?
The sun was shining when we arrived at the airport. We checked in, got checked out by security and settled in by our gate to wait for our departure. Then the afternoon clouds formed. Darn, I was hoping to take off before the rain began. With lightning and thunder.
What had not registered with my mind was that there was a low pressure trough lingering off Tampa Bay up to Apalachicola. It was now a tropical storm and wasn’t going away anytime soon. Someone came over the loud speaker to announce all flights had been delayed because of the lightning. Thirty minutes. That wasn’t too bad.
At the end of the thirty minutes lightning was still popping over the airport so the departure was delayed again. At the end of that thirty minutes the loud speaker person said the flight was now on schedule but they were looking for a pilot.
Well, that caught my attention. I thought getting a pilot was at the top of the check list for scheduling a flight, not a last minute afterthought.
By this time the clock was approaching 8 p.m. The storm had abated but evidently still no pilot. The announcer came back on and said the flight was canceled because of turbulent weather and that passengers would have to go to the gate counter to get a card with the emergency number to call to reschedule.
This is why I like traveling with my son. He took care of things like for me now that I am a senior citizen. The newest aggravation was that when the person on the other end of the phone was about to give him important information the loud speaker blared out instructions for passengers at other gates. The best we could do was go back home, an hour’s drive away, and take off the next morning.
The airline offered to make reservations for us at a nearby hotel, but it wasn’t going to pay for it. If the official reason for the cancellation had been no pilot, then it would have been the airline’s fault; but, since the reason was bad weather, it wasn’t anybody’s fault. No thanks, we went home.
The nice thing about the flight the next day was that there was only an hour’s layover in Atlanta which was a nice convenient amount of time to walk from one gate to another. On the transfer plane I knew we were landing in White Plains because I saw a lot of Gucci bags walking down the aisle. (I’d take time to explain that joke but I’m still too tired from the trip.)
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.
Wallis and Ernest found themselves in the unique position of being in London at the same time a few weeks before Easter 1936, sharing breakfast in their Bryanston Court apartment in London. They split the morning edition of the Times, the society pages going to Wallis and the rest to Ernest. She read each line of social news while Ernest only gave a cursory glance at the national and international news.
“It says here Downing Street gave a constrained but determined statement concerning the German army’s invasion of the Rhineland,” he said, breaking the silence.
Wallis bit into a scone. “Now, how can a street make a statement? It’s only a street.”
“I meant the prime minister, darling.” He lowered the paper and smiled. “Sometimes I don’t know how to take your comments. I don’t know if you are marvelously uninformed—which I sincerely doubt—or you are having a laugh with me because you think I am uninformed.”
She raised her pages, covering her face. “Now why would I think that?”
The breakfast conversation stalled, as though a cloud hung over their heads. Not a rain cloud, but a cloud never the less. It didn’t bother Wallis in the least, but she could tell Ernest was uncomfortable by the way he shifted in his seat and rustled his section of the Times.
“I had a rather harsh lecture from Emerald recently.” She bit into a slice of bacon. “She fussed that you don’t attend as many of her get-togethers as you used to. I told her you had business to tend to in New York.”
Ernest lowered the paper and smiled. “Lady Cunard? Herself?”
“Of course, darling. All the ladies in our social circle are quite taken with you. I really should be jealous.”
“You shouldn’t be, you know.” His eyes fluttered. “Well, if Lady Cunard misses me, I suppose I must make an effort to be sociable. When is her next gathering?”
“She’s having a garden party at Easter.”
“Easter, eh? I think I’ll be available for that.” He paused to reflect. “I suppose you will want a new frock for the occasion.”
“Oh dear me, no. I have several suitable dresses.” Wallis cocked her head. “Anything else interesting in the news?”
She could swear she noticed a puffing up of his chest, and it actually made her feel warmly for him. After all, he was a good egg for the circumstances in which they lived.
“The RAF has announced an expansion of military aircraft.” He wrinkled his brow. “Now why would they want to do that? Germany is forbidden from having an air corps.”
“Hmm, strange, isn’t it?”
A knock at the door came at an opportune moment for Wallis. A Buckingham courier nodded to her when she opened the door and handed her an engraved envelope and a simply but elegantly wrapped box from Cartier. Coming back to the table Wallis used her butter knife to open the envelope.
“It’s from the palace. We’ve been invited to the Silver Jubilee of King George and Queen Mary reception in June.” She looked up and smiled. “Wasn’t that nice of David to think of us.”
Ernest daubed his mouth with his napkin. “Yes, it was. June, you say? I planned to spend the summer in New York, but I suppose I could delay my voyage until after the jubilee.” He glanced at the box. “And what is that?”
“Well, I must open it to find out, mustn’t I?” She used her butter knife to tear through the paper, opened it and lifted a small cross outlined in diamonds and embedded with rubies. “Oh cute. Another charm for my bracelet.”
“Cute isn’t quite the word I would use for a pastiche of diamonds and rubies.” He stood. “I must have a serious chat with David about these trinkets. I don’t mind him showering them on you, but I do resent having to pay for the insurance.”
“Oh, Ernest, don’t be dreary.” Wallis watched him walk to his bedroom. “So you don’t plan to go on holiday with the gang to Cannes in August?”
He did not turn back. “I’ll be in New York, remember?”
“Then drop in on dear sweet Mary Raffray,” she called out. “I understand she’s going through a dreadful divorce and could use all the consoling she can get.”
Ernest closed his door with a discernible thud. Wallis smiled, lit a cigarette then opened the tiny compartment in the charm.
“Monday next. Noon. The Fort.”
An overcast sky and gray atmosphere greeted Wallis when she drove a borrowed sports coupe into the front drive of Fort Belvedere. She didn’t bother to knock at the door but rather walked around the side of the house to the garden. David was involved trimming of some bushes on the far side, where the trees were taller and denser, which created convenient shadows for planning espionage.
Wallis sauntered up to David who was bent over a difficult thistle bush that didn’t want to be uprooted. She took a moment to observe how his back muscles flexed through his tight woolen sweater as he tugged on a branch.
“You’ve worked up a nice satiny sheen of sweat,” she said. “If I were so inclined I could become aroused.”
David stood and smiled. “Is that so? Remind me to go sans shirt in Cannes.”
Wallis expected him to be irritated. When he took her quip as a compliment she was nonplussed. A pebble flew from a dark corner of the woods and landed between them. Without another word they walked in that direction. Leaning against an ancient sturdy oak, General Trotter lit his pipe.
“So nice you could join me. This will only take a few minutes.”
“I assume we’re discussing our holiday in Cannes.” David took out his cigarette case and offered one to Wallis before lighting up.
“Yes.” Trotter puffed on his pipe. “As you may well know, Mussolini has designs on Ethiopia. As is his wont, Emperor Haile Selassie waxes poetic stirring up the natives to defend the homeland. However being a realist, he contacted the home office about securing a proper residence should he have to go into exile.”
“Couldn’t a good real estate agent handle that?” Wallis succumbed to boredom quickly. The general should have known that by now.
“It isn’t the exact domicile that concerns us but the means to pay for it. If he made an overt transfer of funds the morale of his troops would be directly affected. What you will facilitate is the transfer of crown jewels and other golden baubles to be held as collateral.”
“Where will this exchange take place?” David asked.
Wallis noticed his eyes remained fixed on her, and again she didn’t know whether to be peeved or pleased.
“After a few days at Cannes you will announce to your guests you want to have some alone time with Mrs. Simpson on Corsica. On a date to be determined later you will disembark the royal yacht at midnight. Waiting for you will be an Ethiopian gentleman who will hand over five small crates. The two of you will load them to the royal suite as quickly as possible. Upon your turn to Cannes you will inform your other guests they will join you on the next train to Kitzbuhel, Austria. You had so much fun there in January you wanted to return for the summer sporting season. While you and your friends are ensconced in the train, the yacht will sail for Portsmouth where our agents will retrieve the five crates and hold them awaiting the wishes of emperor Selassie.”
“How fun. I always enjoy missions that involve jewels.” Wallis cackled.
For my son’s 44th birthday he wanted something different than our usual dinner and a movie. I’m always up for an adventure, but I didn’t realize I was going to enter the mind-warping world of virtual reality.
It was a place called Void at Disney Springs in Orlando. Forty years ago they called the lakeside shopping center Disney Marketplace. Then they updated and expanded it under the name Disney Village. Now it’s been tripled in size and added a giant parking garage so it needed the new moniker.
This was not our first encounter with Disney Springs. Two Christmas Eves ago my son and I went over for a different holiday experience. We ate at this expensive steak restaurant and within half an hour I was puking my guts out. As much as the meal cost, it should have come with sick bags.
Luckily this time we were more interested in the live occurrence than the food. My son bought tickets for a specific time online so we didn’t have to wait too long, although we did have to fill forms clearing them of any responsibility if the virtual reality show made us sick. The restaurant could have used those warnings.
The situation was this: we were the good guys who had stolen Storm Trooper uniforms and we were on a mission to save the princess or steal plans for the Death Star or something else just as dangerous. We put on a power pack, got a rifle and a helmet. When the helmet’s visor lowered we were in complete darkness until the show began.
This was one of those exercises in trust where you were led into a room, totally without vision. Then when the switch was flipped we were in a science fiction world worthy of the George Lucas name. We weren’t really moving but somehow walked down this dark hallway when Storm Troopers started jumping out at us, and we had to shoot them. I actually felt the impact of their blasters, and when I looked down I saw singed dents in my virtual uniform.
At some point our guides directed us into another room which was no more than three steps away but felt further than that. After all, it was virtual reality. In front of me was an opening in the fortress tower and below was a river of lava. We had to cross an iron grid bridge with no handrails.
How on earth did this pass safety regulations? One false step, and I would fall into the lava. That wouldn’t be good. Then I remembered I was in a virtual reality. I was walking on durable commercial-grade carpet. One step either way wouldn’t make any difference. But I had trouble convincing myself of that. I actually felt dizzy like I was going to fall down.
That’s when I virtually slapped my face and told me to get a grip. I didn’t want to really fall down and embarrass my son. Although at the time I didn’t exactly where he was. We were in a small group of virtual warriors and all the Storm Troopers looked alike.
So I bucked up and crossed the bridge only to find myself confronted by a giant dragon rising from the lava. We all focused our fire on him and he soon melted away. I did have lingering doubts about how a dragon that lived in lava could be done in by a few laser shots.
But there was no time to waste. We had to find the princess/the Death Star plans/whatever. In the fourth and final room we saw what we came for, but, of course, you-know-who was standing in the way—Darth Vader himself. Well, I lost it and unloaded my blaster into him. After all he was the one who killed Obi Wan Kenobe.
We didn’t kill him, but a voice did come through our headsets telling us we had recovered the object we came for and we could now escape the empire fortress. On the way out we had our pictures taken. I tried to look like Sylvester Stallone in Rambo shooting his rifle and screaming at the same time. Instead I looked like some demented old man who needed to be taken back to the Home immediately.
For lunch we ate at a huge fast food place across the plaza from the Void. It wasn’t fancy or expensive, but at least it didn’t make me throw up. All in all it was a fun day. I didn’t embarrass my son too much. That was the least I could do considering it was his birthday.