I am taking time away from the blog during the holiday season. Please check through my archives for old stories and novels you might have missed. I’ll be back after New York’s with more stories about Abe and Mary, David, Wallis and the mercenary and the Man in the Red Underwear. Enjoy your festivities and I hope your home at Christmas is filled with giggles!
Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Mary talks Gabby into attacking Adam. Lincoln intervenes. Ashamed and distraught, Adam gets drunk and kills the butler who stops him from molesting the cook.
Adam walked back to his room and collapsed on his cot, his mind racing. What to do? Collecting his thoughts, he decided to go directly to the metropolitan police station. Turning himself in to the police would be the right thing—but would it be what Stanton would want, he wondered. Going to Stanton for every decision was part of his nature now; he could not change. Adam went to the wash table to clean his flushed face and his sweaty arms and neck. On Pennsylvania Avenue he caught an omnibus to K Street. Night breezes cooled his heated face, but to no avail; his skin still burned from anxiety. Finally the omnibus stopped at the block of Stanton’s house. As he walked down the street, Adam noticed how slowly he walked. He mounted the steps, imagining that this was how it would be when he went to the gallows.
“Yes?” the maid said, answering the door.
“I need to speak to Secretary Stanton.”
“That’s out of the question,” she replied.
“This is an emergency.”
“Can’t it wait until morning?”
“Tell him Private Adam Christy is here.”
“Very well.” The maid pursed her lips as she surveyed Adam.
Within a few moments, Stanton appeared in his dressing gown, his eyes glaring.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’ve killed someone.”
Stanton came out of the door, shut it, and hunched his shoulders against the cold night air. He stepped close to Adam.
“Say that again.”
“I killed the butler. He tried to keep me from raping the cook.”
“You’re a damned fool.” Stanton shivered as he looked out at the fog. “Damn you.” He paused. “Damn you.” He looked at Adam. “Flag down a carriage while I get dressed.”
In a few minutes, they were riding down the dirt street. Stanton barked an order to the carriage driver, who nodded and turned north at the next corner.
“Where are we going? The police station?”
“You’re a damned fool.”
Several minutes passed before the carriage stopped in front of a dark, two-story frame boardinghouse.
“Mr. Baker’s room is the first one at the top of the stairs.” Stanton narrowed his eyes. “Go get him.” He put a hand to his mouth to muffle a cough.
Jumping from the carriage, Adam bounded up the steps, entered, climbed the stairs, and knocked at the first door.
“Secretary Stanton wants you.”
Adam could hear a female voice complain and Baker calming her. Baker came out, buttoning his coat, and descended the stairs with Adam following closely. In the carriage Baker leaned into Stanton, who whispered to him as the carriage went to the Executive Mansion. Once they had arrived at the service driveway, Stanton motioned to Adam to get off with him and waved on the carriage with Baker still aboard.
“Where is he going?”
“To get a War Department carriage.”
They entered the service entrance and walked through the kitchen.
“Down there,” Adam said, leading Stanton to Phebe’s room.
Stanton walked in and examined Neal, ignoring Phebe, tied up on the floor. After a close study of the body, he crossed over to her.
“Young woman, if you keep your mouth shut, eyes closed to this, you’ll live. If someone should ask you someday, whatever happened to…” He turned to Adam. “What was his name?”
“Whatever happened to Neal, you say you don’t know anyone by that name. I’ll have a new butler here tomorrow. He’ll be the only butler you remember. If you don’t, you die, and disappear as quickly as Neal. Do you understand? Nod if you understand.”
Phebe slowly moved her head up and down, her eyes filled with tears.
As Adam pulled Neal’s body into the hall, Baker bounded in from the kitchen. Baker lifted the corpse, threw it over his shoulder, and left as quickly as he had come.
“Go to his room, wrap up all his possessions in a sheet, and take them out to Mr. Baker.”
Stanton coughed deeply, turned, and walked through the kitchen to the service entrance door. Adam went to Neal’s room, lit a candle, pulled the sheet loose from the cot, and began tossing shoes, coats, shirts, pants, and underwear into it. He turned his attention a stack of books on the wash table. Holding them close to the candle flame, he read the titles—Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Constitution of the United States of America, On Civil Disobedience. There was also a diary. Adam turned to the last entry.
“‘I finally confessed to Phebe I loved her,’” Adam mumbled. “‘She rejected me. I won’t give up.’”
“No time for reading,” Baker said, snatching the book from his hand. Placing the last of the items in the sheet, Baker pulled the corners together and tied a knot. Before leaving he turned. “Don’t mess up again, or else I’ll make you disappear too.”
Previously: Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with hints of parody and a dash of social satire on gender roles and class mores. Cecelia throws a society ball, where former lovers Andy and Bedelia meet. Andy and friends try to stop villain Malcolm Tent. Tent woos Bedelia. Andy woos Bedelia. They fight over her.
Cecelia walked over to Inspector Tent and extended her hand so he might steady himself and finally make it to his feet. Once he was eye to eye again, Lady Snob-Johnson withdrew her hand and spoke in her haughtiest tone. “Excuse me, Chief Inspector Tent, but I wish to speak to my daughter and Prince Edward in private. So will you and Miss Smart-Astin kindly leave the room?”
“But of course, kind lady.” He gave her his best deep bow with a flourish, although by the time he reached the nadir of his gracious genuflection he observed her well-endowed posterior heading for the ballroom door.
As Cecelia opened it, a blast of tango music invaded the library which caused both Tent and Bedelia to brighten significantly. They quickly assumed their dance positions and proudly spouted in unison and slithered into the ballroom.
Let’s do the Russian tango! Let’s go as far as we can go!
Oh go girl go! Oh go man go! Let’s do the Russian tango!
Cecelia closed the door and crossed to the lounge. “My dearest Millicent, I owe you an apology. I let my emotions carry me away.” She stopped abruptly when she noticed the writhing on her furniture. “What on earth are you doing?”
“Oh, um. I was just giving Eddie a massage,” she explained as she leapt to her feet, straightening the wrinkles on her lovely gown.
“Is thut whut you wuz doin’? I thought you wuz tryin’ to turn me on. And you wuz doin’ a good job of it too!” Eddie raised himself on his elbows and displayed a crooked grin.
Millicent cut him off and turned to face Cecelia, feigning interest in her comment. “What were you saying, Mother?”
Cecelia looked back and forth from her daughter and Victoria’s grandson and decided discretion was the better part of valor; therefore, ignored the embarrassing activity on her chaise lounge. “I was apologizing for putting you in that unpleasant situation earlier this evening.”
“Think nothing of it. I found it quite exhilarating.” Millicent smiled as she attempted to return her hairdo to its proper manifestation.
“No, I shan’t forget it. I shall try to redeem myself. And I know exactly how to do it. I overheard something you might find interesting.” She took her usual posture when about to impart a particularly juicy bit of gossip. “Well, do you remember when that awful William Canine-erel came in to see Chief Inspector Tent? He was that terrible, dirty, hulking man.” She seemed to be fading into her own realm of erotic fantasy. “You know, just like those hairy, muscular animals that work on the streets. Those ignorant, filthy, sweaty, gorgeous men with their bulging muscles—“
Her daughter’s shocked admonition brought her back to reality. “Oh. Well. Yes. Anyway, he spoke to the inspector and I happened to hear him say that a merchant in Soho—“
Millicent turned sharply to look at Eddie at the mention of the site of the recent crime wave. “Soho!”
“Ho ho!” Eddie stood as a flash of recognition crossed his dull face.
“–was going to make a payment to the inspector tonight and Mr. Canine-erel would bring the packet here.”
Millicent grabbed her mother’s hands. “Mother, this is very important. You must swear yourself to secrecy.”
“Swear on your picture of Lily Langtry.” Millicent looked at the mantle and frowned when she saw that the picture was missing. “Where’s Lily?”
“The Man in the Red Underwear took it away so that nasty Malcolm Tent couldn’t steal it, “Cecelia explained. “Don’t worry. I’m sure he’ll return it.”
“I know he will.” Millicent nodded knowingly. “But for now, swear on the memory of the autographed picture of Lily Langtry that you will keep what I tell you a secret.”
“Is it that serious?”
“Yup, it’s thut serious,” Eddie assured her.
“Very well, then. I swear on Lily Langtry. So ahead.” Cecelia was almost drooling in anticipation. “What is it?”
“Queen Victoria has commissioned Eddie and me to investigate the recent robberies in Soho.”
“Ho ho!” Now why Prince Eddie thought it clever to repeat his nonsensical rhyme no one will ever know. It wasn’t important anyway.
“We have reason to believe Chief Inspector Malcolm Tent is forcing merchants to pay to keep his henchmen from robbing them,” Millicent pronounced.
“I knew there had to be a good reason why I didn’t like that man.”
“And Andy is helping us,” Millicent continued in a whisper.
“Him! I don’t believe it!”
Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on a mission because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer, also a spy, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David becomes king. Wallis divorces, David abdicates and they marry. On their honeymoon they derail a train.
Life could not be better for Joachim Von Ribbentrop. He had the confidence of Adolf Hitler who constantly summoned him to the Wolf’s Lair in Berchtesgaden high in the German Alps. Ribbentrop hoped this time the Fuehrer wanted advice on whether to invite the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to Germany in October. His body warmed at the thought of being close to Wallis again.
His black limousine arrived at the Nazi stronghold. A butler ushered him into a room in the bowels of the basement. The room, well-lit, was filled by a giant table covered with model train tracks crossing miniature Alps, over painted rivers and through carefully constructed villages. Scattered around the scene were army barracks and training grounds and air fields and all manner of military aircraft.
“Come in, Herr Ribbentrop.” Hitler stood in the middle of the square opening in the table.
Ribbentrop clicked his heels and raised his arm. “Heil Hitler!”
“Our Princess Stephanie thinks it would be a good idea to invite the Duke and Duchess of Windsor for a visit. What do you think?”
“I think it is an honor that you would want my opinion.”
Hitler bent over to examine an engine disappearing through a mountain tunnel. “Yes, I know.”
“Well, during my years in London, I entertained the duke and duchess many times in my apartment. Even the newspapers commented on the power of my influence over them concerning relations between Germany and England.”
“Frankly, I question the loyalty of Princess Stephanie. She’s Jewish, you know.”
Hitler brought up her heritage every time he spoke to Ribbentrop who placated the Fuehrer with the same explanation.
“One cannot choose one’s parents.” Ribbentrop hesitated. “As you are aware, she’s the lover of Fritz Wiedemann, your most trusted adjutant. Surely Fritz would not put you in a precarious situation with anyone with questionable motives.” Ribbentrop felt his heart hesitate like a rock was pressing down on his chest.
Hitler walked to another part of the table where the train was about to exit the tunnel. “Recently at a dinner party I sat next to Stephanie and noticed her purse. I commented about the secrets kept in such a pretty little bag. She laughed nervously and pulled out a small stuffed bear. Stephanie said it was a gift from Edward when he was still Prince of Wales.”
“Oh. Well.” Ribbentrop fumbled with his words. “A memento of the chase. Nothing more.”
“That’s what she said.” Hitler walked to the side where Ribbentrop stood. A miniature train rushed across a bridge. “I have another question about the duke.”
“What is it, mein Fuehrer?”
“Last month on their honeymoon, they stopped in Venice coming and going from the Austrian castle offered to them. On their way home they were feted at the Brazilian Legation where he sat next to our friend George Messersmith. At one point Messersmith was called away from the table. An Austrian chancellor’s emissary told him a German train derailed near the Austrian-Italian border. One of the sealed cars was cracked open revealing naval shells for our battleships in nearby Italian ports.”
“I didn’t know that,” Ribbentrop replied.
“Few people did. We didn’t want England or France to know of our buildup on the Mediterranean. When Messersmith returned, the duke asked him about the message and our friend told him all the details. By the end of the evening, the duke had whispered it to everyone in the dining room. The duke has a loose tongue, it seems. Do you think it would be safe to invite them to Germany?”
“More than safe,” he replied with great confidence. “The duke has made no secret of his advocacy of peace with Germany at any cost. He does not want a repeat of the debacle from two decades ago. The incident just reflects his naiveté on foreign policy. He thought it was just party patter. Nothing to worry about.”
“He was a martyr for our cause.” Hitler lifted his chin. “He lost the throne for my name’s sake.”
Ribbentrop doubted if that were the main reason for his abdication, but he didn’t want to impede his goal of making love to Wallis again.
“Then it is settled.” Hitler clapped his hands. “I shall send an official invitation tomorrow. We will treat the royal couple the way they deserve. I shall show them our factories, our armies, our aircraft and our battleships. Then the duke can speak as freely as he wants about the wealth and power of the Third Reich!”
“You can assure the duke he shall be king of England again with Wallis as his queen!” Ribbentrop was becoming aroused.
Hitler nodded. “I can do that. I’ve seen her photographs and the newsreels. She looks like a queen.”
Ribbentrop saluted and clicked his heels. “Seig heil!”
“Children will sing and dance for them!” Hitler paced back and forth in his enclosure. “Women will toss flowers at their feet! And I will show them this!” He motioned toward the model train layout.
“Yes. Hum.” Ribbentrop chose his words carefully. “I don’t remember seeing this the last time I visited.”
“It is a gift from Herr Hermann Goring, the head of the Luftwaffe. I saw it when I visited his country estate. I suggested it would make a most appropriate gift to me. Of course, he immediately agreed. He told me it was worth $265,000.” Hitler frowned. “Now I think about it, why did he give me cost in American dollars and not in deutschmarks? Hmm, I should have that investigated.” He looked at Ribbentrop. “That is all. You may leave.”
“Um. Yes. Of course. Are you sure you don’t have anything else you wish to discuss?”
“No. I have to go to the bathroom, and the only way to get out of this thing is to crawl under the table on my hands and knees. And no one must ever see me on my hands and knees.”
“Of course. I shall return to Berlin immediately.” As Ribbentrop opened the door, he heard a soft child-like voice behind him.
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. Mary Lincoln talks Gabby into attacking Adam. Lincoln intervenes. Ashamed and distraught, Adam gets drunk.
Entering the basement hallway, Adam had another thought. If nothing made a difference, then why the hell not go ahead and be bad? Adam thrust his head forward, pursed his lips, went to Phebe’s room, grabbed the knob and entered. As the door swung open, Adam saw, in the light of hallway whale oil lamp, Phebe lying in bed. Her smooth black skin, lithe figure, full lips, and large eyes—now wide open, startled by the sudden shaft of light—drew him into the dark room. Instinctively, he unbuttoned his shirt.
“What? What is it?” Phebe mumbled, putting up her hand to shield her eyes from the light.
“Oh.” She sat up. “What was that noise? It sounded like yelling and banging about.”
“It was nothing.”
“Anything you say.” She yawned and fell back. “Just let me sleep.”
“You still smell of soap.” Adam shut the door. Walking toward the bed, he paused at its edge, breathing deeply. “So clean.”
“You’re scaring me.” Phebe sat up and pulled the covers up to her chin. “Please leave.”
“You don’t want me to leave. I know. Your eyes tell me you’re happy when I walk in. You always have something to say.” He sat at the bottom of the bed. “You want me as much as I want you.”
Adam leaned forward to grab Phebe, but she rolled out of the bed onto the floor. Grappling with the sheets, he found them empty.
“Dammit! Come back here!”
Adam scrambled from the bed, and by the time he was on his feet, Phebe opened the door, allowing him to see exactly where she was. Lunging, he caught her by the crook of her elbow and swung her around.
“Help!” she yelled. “For God’s sake, somebody, help!”
“Shut up!” Throwing her back on the cot, Adam put his hand over her mouth as he planted his sweaty body over her.
“Help! Help me!” Phebe bit his hand, causing him to pull it back in pain.
“What the hell is going on?” Neal stood in the doorway wearing his nightshirt.
“Neal!” Phebe frantically pulled her head away from Adam, her eyes searching for him. “Please stop him!”
“You sumbitch!” Neal raced to the bed and grabbed Adam’s feet to drag him off onto the floor.
Adam’s face bashed into the hard surface. The acrid taste of blood seeped onto his tongue, which only infuriated him. He jumped up, grabbed Neal by the armpits and threw him out the door, just as Lincoln had manhandled him earlier. Turning his back to Neal so he could focus on Phebe, cowering on the bed, Adam walked toward her.
“Damn you!” Neal screamed as he jumped on Adam’s back.
Instinctively, Adam did as he had done earlier when Gabby had attacked him; he fell backward with a great moan, trapping Neal under him. His head turned toward the door when he heard pounding from the billiards room.
“Stop that!” Gabby yelled. “Stop that hollering! And stop hurting people!”
Adam rolled over and pinned Neal’s shoulders with his knees. He struck Neal with his fists. His eyes were wide and glassy from the alcohol and his anger.
“Stop hurting people!”
Adam felt a sheet fall across his face and settle around his neck. He turned to see Phebe twisting the sheet with all her strength.
“Let Neal go, or by God, I’ll kill you!” she screamed.
“Stop hurting people!” Gabby repeated from the billiards room.
Adam jerked the sheet from her hands and knocked Phebe away. He tied a knot in the middle of the sheet, wrapped it around Neal’s neck, and pulled hard.
“Stop hurting people!”
Adam strained his muscles, pulling the sheet tighter into Neal’s neck. Neal’s veins were bulging, his eyes popping out of his head.
“You’ll never talk back to me again!”
“No, no,” Phebe whimpered from the floor.
“Stop hurting people!”
Neal’s tongue lolled out and spittle dripped from the corner of his mouth. Finally, Adam felt the body go limp.
Phebe crawled over to look at Neal’s blank eyes staring at the ceiling.
“Oh my God! He’s dead! You killed him!”
“Shh.” Adam turned to put his hand over her mouth. His knuckles were bloody, and he wiped them on his tunic. He glanced at Phebe who shivered and cried. “Don’t worry.”
“Murderer,” she said softly.
“Shh.” He looked down and grabbed the sheet.
“Oh my God! No!”
“Shh. I’m going to stick this in your mouth to keep you quiet.”
The knot went into her mouth. Adam took the lower bedsheet, tore it and tied her hands together. Slowly, methodically, he tore another strip from the sheet to tie her feet.
“Stop hurting people!”
Previously: Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with hints of parody and a dash of social satire on gender roles and class mores. Cecelia throws a society ball, where former lovers Andy and Bedelia meet. Andy and friends try to stop villain Malcolm Tent. Tent woos Bedelia. Andy woos Bedelia. She’s popular.
Bedelia stood and turned her back to Andy to avoid the incoming kiss. She was afraid she would like it too much. “No, we weren’t.” Before she could evaluate his situation and how to escape the outcome she actually wanted to happen, Bedelia felt warm, masculine breath on the nape of her neck. Her eyes fluttered.
“Yes, we were.”
Andy put his hands on her slender shoulder, turned her around and went in for the kiss. “And you love it!”
Again Bedelia stepped away, and Andy ended up kissing air. She decided to confront the Man in the Red Underwear with the cold hard facts. “Is it true you plan to steal a packet of important papers from Chief Inspector Tent tonight?”
“The only thing I plan to steal tonight is your heart.” He swaggered toward her.
“I dare you try! I warn you I’m quite proficient in protecting myself with this!” She held up her riding crop.
“Oh.” His voice dripped with drollness. “Do you really think I’d let that riding crop stop me if I wanted to feel those tender lips pressed against mine?”
“How dare you!” Bedelia raised her arm to strike but he grabbed her by the wrist. She struggled only a moment, then dropped her head back, ready to be kissed. “Be gentle, please.”
“Many women would willingly give me their kisses. Why should I struggle for yours?” The Man in Red released his grip, walked to the lounge where he stretched out seductively.
Bedelia looked at her crop, went to the door and shouted into the ballroom, “Does anyone out there want to buy a riding crop—cheap? No? Oh well. Without aiming, she tossed the crop into the crowd.
The same guest who earlier begged for something to eat was beaned in the head and screamed in pain. “I’m never coming to a party in this house again!”
“Sorry.” She closed the door and walked to the lounge. “And what makes you think I want to offer you a kiss?”
Before the Man in the Red Underwear could respond, Bedelia pounced on him and began kissing his lips with extreme ardor. He struggled to sit and up gently push her away.
“Please, please. As I would not steal your kisses, you should not steal mine. I give them to you willingly.”
They stared into each other’s eyes, slowly moving in for a kiss. It was quite tender but also smoldered with such intensity that their lips were in danger of third degree burns. When they finally came up for air, the lovers were ready for some more poetry. Bedelia started.
You are the stars that dot the night.
You sparkle bright, you are the light.
Like diamonds in a wedding ring,
A moon-lit pond that’s glistening.
These are the images I see
In dreams of lovers, you and me.
The Man in the Red Underwear, not to be outdone in the sizzling verse category, offer his own admiration for his love.
You are a candle’s flickering flame,
A gentle glow, always the same.
You give me warmth, you make me cry
For life with you forever new until we die.
They were going in for another kiss when the door to the ballroom flew open and Inspector Tent barged in.
“Aha!” he exclaimed as though catching some street urchin with his sooty hand in Queen Victoria’s cookie jar. He rushed to the mantel to retrieve a sword. After getting his weapon, he took a proper parrying pose.
“Aha!” the Man in Red repeated. For a person who created romantic poetry off the top of his head quite easily, he wasn’t much for riposte repartee. The sword practically flew from the mantel and into his hand.
“En garde!” Tent issued forth in a challenge.
“En garde!” Once again red boy went with the traditional reply.
Bedelia, still seated on the lounge, was aghast. “Oh no! Not that! Don’t hurt him!”
Each man stopped to look at her. “To whom are you speaking?”
“Um, both!” She shrugged and smiled in awkwardness.
“I thought I taught you a lesson earlier!” The Man in Red began with a lunge.
“You know what they say. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!” Tent maneuvered as he deflected the incoming blows until he was facing the open doorway to the ballroom. “Look!” He pointed to the party crowd. “A woman is being mugged!”
“You can’t fool me with that one again.” The Man in Red refused to turn his attention away from the inspector.
However, Bedelia stood, went to the door and gasped. “But there is a woman being mugged in the ballroom!”
That observation stopped the duel in its tracks as the two men joined her at the door. “What?” For two people who didn’t like each other very much, they were learning to speak in unison quite well.
“Oh. No.” Bedelia shook her head. “My mistake. It’s only an extremely voluptuous woman trying to scratch her back. It’s nothing. Continue.”
“Hey! Another sword fight!” a random voice shouted out from the ballroom which ignited a stampede for the doorway, creating a logjam of sorts.
“Dammit! I can’t see!” another voice bawled.
The duelists pranced around the library as the crowd applauded more rounds of thrusting and blocking. The Man in Red abruptly stopped to point at Bedelia. “Miss Smart-Astin! Your pants are unbuttoned!”
“What!?” The dirty old man turned to look, his eyes filled with lustful anticipation.
His red-festooned opponent kicked him in the posterior, knocking the inspector down, causing him to drop his sword. Deftly the younger man swooped the weapon up and for only the slightest of moments held it beneath Tent’s chin.
“You fool me, shame on me. I fool you, shame on you.”
Bedelia double-checked her trousers. “Why, I’m buttoned,” she announced in amazement. Then she approached the Man in Red. “But you didn’t kill him.” By this time she was totally confused, astounded and sexually aroused.
Adroitly he put both swords in one hand, dipped Bedelia with the free arm and kissed her passionately on her pouty red lips.
“The Man in the Red Underwear is no villain. Remember that.” He stood her up and walked toward the open window. He paused long enough to add, “By the way, tell Lady Snob-Johnson I shall return her swords tomorrow.”
The crowd gave him a rousing ovation as he went through the window. The partiers returned to the ballroom where the band was belting out a tune with a syncopated beat. At the same time, however, Millicent led Eddie to lounge, threw him down and pounced on him, smothering him with kisses. Cecelia carefully closed the door and marched toward the inspector who was having quite a time of it getting to his feet. After all he was much older than he appeared to be.
Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on a mission because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer, also a spy, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David becomes king. Wallis divorces, David abdicates and they marry. On their honeymoon they plan to derail a train.
David and Wallis sat finishing their lunch in a small intimate dining room in Schloss Wasserleonburg castle. The bay window exposed the Austrian Alps in its full August splendor. Wallis had been successful in extracting information from Ribbentrop about train activity. Regular deliveries were being made from Salzburg through Villach and across the Italian frontier to the port of Trieste on the extreme northeast border of Italy. Certain rail cars were sealed and marked as property of the Nazi government. David and Wallis relayed the information to MI6, and General Trotter arrived at the castle last week with their orders and preparation. They were to derail the engine and discover what was in the sealed cars. The train would be crossing the Gail River near Arnoldstein about 10 p.m. After a few moments of silent reverence, Wallis reached over to squeeze David’s hand.
“Are you sure we have to go through with this mission?” Her voice was real, for once, filled with apprehension. “Let me go out in the woods and pick the best poisonous vines. Give me a good sturdy hat pin. But carrying sticks of dynamite in a backpack across a mountain to a railroad track, well, it scares the hell out of me.”
David smiled. “Nonsense. Nothing could scare the hell out of you.”
Andreas, the majordomo, entered and bowed. “Was the luncheon to your satisfaction?”
“Of course.” David leaned back in his chair and puffed on a cigarette. His line of vision never left the view through the window. ”The duchess and I were just discussing the beauty of the Austrian Alps. We’ve decided we must be a part of this enchanting forest.”
“Well, not literally a part of the landscape,” Wallis added as she sucked on her own cigarette.
“We would like the kitchen to fix us a picnic supper. We plan to hike down to the Gail River, camp under the stars and return in the morning.”
“Ah,” Andreas exclaimed, “an excellent choice. Many of our guests say a hike to the Gail River is the highlight of their stay in Austria. May we organize your backpacks? Our maids are quite expert—“
“Oh no,” David interrupted. “The duchess loves to pack, don’t you, my dear?”
“Yes, I’m just dying for this adventure.” Wallis crushed her cigarette in what was left of her sunny-side up egg.
David and Wallis spent the afternoon packing. Each had German uniforms. David had an officer’s and Wallis a private’s.
“How come you get to be the colonel?”
“I speak fluent German. It’s my mutter’s tongue.”
“I speak German too.”
“Scheitze. Nein. Weiner schnitzel.”
“That would be fine if we were going to a German beer hall.”
Wallis picked up a revolver.
“And when do I use this?”
“As the Boy Scouts say, be prepared.”
Then she clicked on her torch to make sure the batteries were working. Its light flashed on. “Good. Don‘t stumble through the Alps at night without one.”
Late afternoon they left the castle and entered the Austrian forest wearing fashionable yet jaunty hiking clothes, each shouldering a backpack. As the sun set, David and Wallis sat on a boulder outcrop to eat their supper. They turned on their torches as they returned to the well-worn mountain trail. They had only gone a couple of miles when a grizzled old man pulling along pack mule appeared coming the other way. David waved at him, and he nodded.
“Nothing as invigorating as an evening hike in the Alps,” the duke announced.
“Except for a plunge in the Adriatic,” the man replied.
“I’m starved,” Wallis added. “Do you have sandwiches on you?”
“No.” The old man went to a bag tied around his mule. “But I have something much more satisfying.” He pulled out two sticks of dynamite and handed one to each of them.
“Will that be enough?” she asked.
“You want to derail the train, not blow it to kingdom come. Happy hunting.” The stranger continued to pull his donkey into the darkness and soon disappeared.
“And what are we to do with these?” she asked.
David turned his back to her. “Ever so gently slide it into my pack. “
She followed his direction and then turned so he could put the other stick in her pack.
“Aren’t these things supposed to have fuses?” she asked.
“They’ll be given to us closer to the track.”
A couple of hours passed without much conversation. Soon they heard the sound of rapids from the river. Before they came upon the Gail they saw a portion of a flag hanging from a bush. It was the Union Jack.
“Hello,” David whispered as he took the cloth and stuffed it into his pocket.
“How dreadfully unpatriotic.” Wallis leaned over to look behind the bush where two rolls of fuse wire were nestled. “That’s a lot of wire.”
“Well, you don’t want to be too close when you light one of those things.”
Each took one roll and continued down to the river bank. When they arrived they looked up to see the railroad bridge silhouetted against a half-moon. David and Wallis climbed up to the track where they opened their packs and pulled out the two sticks of dynamite.
They laid the sticks between the two rails, attached the fuses and unrolled the wires back into the forest. Then they opened their packs, pulled out German uniforms and changed clothes. They sat on the ground and waited.
“So how are we going to light these things?” Wallis cracked.
“Don’t you remember the training General Trotter gave us when he visited the castle last week? How fast fuses run and how to calculate igniting the fuse so it explodes right before the engine rolls over it. He went over it several times.” He paused. “You brought your cigarettes, didn’t you? Light the fuse with the lit end.” David smiled at her.
“I could use one now.”
“Don’t you dare.” He looked into her eyes. “Now what can we do under the moonlight while we’re waiting for the train?”
Before Wallis answered, they heard the distant call of a train whistle. They turned off their torches.
“I hope we’re fast learners.” Wallis fumbled for her lighter.
The whistle blew louder. David put his hand on Wallis’s.
Soon they saw the engine light appear in the distance.
They lit their fuses and watch the sparkling line go toward the track. The train was now loud, the cars clearly visible.
“Dammit,” she hissed. “We didn’t light them too soon, did we?”
“No, no.” David’s voice did not convey confidence.
The explosion rocked the earth. The engineer threw on his brakes, causing them to squeal. David and Wallis covered their ears and grimaced at the sound. The train slowed a little but not enough to avoid the gaping hole in the track. It hit the broken rail with a heavy thud; the attached cars derailed and overturned. Nazi soldiers crawled out of the train windows and jumped from the doors. They scrambled about the wreckage like a bunch of disturbed cockroaches. David and Wallis put on their helmets, grabbed their revolvers and torches and joined the hysteria.
They had only gone past a couple of cars when they noticed one that had “Nazi government” emblazoned on the side and whose seal was broken. Wallis pointed her torch inside, lighting the contents. They saw piles of fifteen centimeter naval shells.
“They’re making sure their war ships have plenty of ammo when they move into the Mediterranean to fight the British and the French,” David muttered.
A voice behind them bellowed in German. When they turned around they saw a colonel with his revolver drawn. He spat something at them.
“I am Colonel von Seidleman!” David barked in perfect German. “How dare you leave this shipment of shells unprotected!”
“That was exactly what I was doing! How did you arrive here so fast?” the colonel asked.
“That is my job!” David retorted. “Why weren’t you here sooner?”
“Seig heil!” Wallis spat out.
The colonel spun toward her. “How dare you speak to me in such a tone!”
“Oh, to hell with it,” Wallis said in English as she pulled out her revolver and shot him in the chest.
In seconds, they were surrounded by other German soldiers.
“We recognized this man to be a British spy!” David pointed to the body on the ground. “Who is responsible for this?”
The colonel moaned. David’s eyes widened before he regained his composure.
“Good! He’s alive. Take him off and interrogate him immediately. Let me know what you find out.”
The soldiers picked up the colonel and carried him to the back of the train. David and Wallis turned and walked up to examine the damage to the engine, then disappeared into the darkness of the forest.
“I thought I told you to say nothing,” David asked in a hiss.
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. Mary Lincoln talks Gabby into attacking Adam.
Adam hurried out the front door, past guard John Parker, catching a whiff of the whiskey on his breath, and deciding it smelled good. Kicking the dirt on Pennsylvania Avenue, he meandered several blocks before being drawn by the dim lights and noise of a small bar which he frequented. While acquiring a taste for alcohol, Adam had heard the rumors about Stanton’s malevolent arrogance. It was a good place for Adam to forget how stupid he was.
Inside, he sat on a stool, reached into his pockets for some change and threw some coins on the counter.
“Your usual ale, buddy?” the bartender asked.
“You got it.”
He wanted to stop the arguments in his brain. In his heart of hearts, he knew he loved Jessie Home. She knew who he was, because that was who she was too. Jessie had seen his dark side and did not care. She was going to save his soul. When this hell with Stanton and the Lincolns and the basement ended, she would be there to help him forget it. If he knew this so deeply, he asked himself, why was he drawn to Phebe? It was not like she was a temptress, actively seducing him away from his beloved. Adam did not know if she even liked him. It was not that she was more beautiful than Jessie. Jessie was a light that drew life to her. Any man would gladly want her, and Adam did want her more than he had ever wanted any woman. So why had he kissed Phebe?
“Here you go, general.”
Quickly downing the shot, Adam pushed the glass back toward the bartender.
Phebe smelled of soap, he thought. Adam could not recall what Jessie smelled of. He was too busy being engaged by her eyes, her smile, and her smart conversation. How stupid could one man be?
The pain was not going away. He had to forget. For just this one night, he wanted to drink himself into oblivion, forgetting how stupid he was, how he had almost thrown away the love of his life.
Cringing, he remembered how he had almost killed Gabby, the most innocent, defenseless man he had ever met. He did not want to remember that either.
“Isn’t it late for you to be out, soldier?”
Adam looked up to see Lamon, another person he did not want to think about. He gulped another shot.
“Take it easy,” Lamon said. “Most men sip their whiskey.”
“I can handle it.”
“Sure you can.”
Adam wanted to retort with something smart, but his mind was becoming numb. All sorts of thoughts to put Lamon in his place crowded his brain, and Adam felt he was strong enough to beat the bigger man in a fist-fight too.
“Feel like talking about Mr. Lincoln?”
“Because.” He looked at the bartender. “Another.”
“You better not,” Lamon said. “Your face is as red as your hair.”
“When liquor hits a man like that, he’d better go home and go to bed.”
“Mind your business.”
“I am.” Lamon smiled. “Tell me where Mr. Lincoln is.”
Adam stared at the last shot glass of whiskey and fought the impulse to throw it in Lamon’s face. His head swirled with all the anger he had kept trapped down inside his gut for the past two years. Life was not fair. He was a good boy. He had always done what his mother said, what his father said, what Stanton said, and he was still in the shit barrel.
“Well, when you get tired of being Mr. Stanton’s stooge, talk to me.” Lamon said. “I’m in the district marshal’s office.”
After Lamon walked away, Adam took the glass in his fist and squeezed it, finally throwing it across the room.
“Whoa, cowboy,” the bartender said. “No more for you.”
“Sorry,” he said in a mumble, dropping more coins on the counter as he left.
Stumbling along the street back to the Executive Mansion, Adam became angrier, because all that whiskey had not made him forget a thing. It just made him think about Jessie, Phebe, Gabby, and Lamon more. What the hell, his clouded mind thought, what difference did it make? What difference did anything make? Putting Lincoln in the basement did not make a difference. The war was still going on. Being in love with Jessie did not make a difference. He still longed for someone else. Being good did not matter. People still thought he was bad.
Previously: Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with hints of parody 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. Tent threatens Cecelia’s daughter Millicent. Tent woos Bedelia.
The door opened which broke the romantic atmosphere beyond repair. An oddly dressed man, bent over, entered the room. He bowed deeply, displaying the worst looking white-haired toupee ever worn on an English gentleman.
“Excuse me, sir,” the bent over man wearing the bad wig croaked.
“Yes, what do you want?” Tent had a time of it trying to control his exasperation.
“There’s a gentleman at the door to see you, sir.”
Tent’s eyes widened. “That might be my—what I’ve been expecting.” He turned, smiled and took Bedelia’s hand. “You’ll never know how much I value your intelligence.” He kissed her knuckles. “Your cooperation.” He kissed her wrist. “And your friendship.”
She withdrew her hand before he could kiss any further. Tent took the muted rebuff gracefully and retreated from the room. Bedelia wandered to the other side to stare out a window into the foggy London night. The man in the bad disguise ran behind the screen and began tossing items of his costume up, over and every which way. Bedelia was in the mood for another soliloquy.
Alas, my heart in torn in twain—or is it thrain?
Inspector Tent’s so suave and yet so old.
He’s everything a girl should want but let me be bold.
He’ll be stuck in a rocking chair while I’m still pretty young.
And then there’s my old sweetheart when love had just begun.
He’s handsome, kind and gentle too but one thing I must say.
Lord Andrew Taylor seems to have changed, oh hell I think he’s—
A voice bellowed from behind the screen, “Okay, who left the canapés on the damn floor?”
Bedelia furrowed her porcelain-like brow, shook her head and continued in iambic-pentameter.
I must admit there is a third I might could love.
The Man in Red is heaven from above.
He is so brave, exciting but a criminal.
And I have vowed to bring about his fall.
I need a way to take the best traits of all three.
But then again could one of them love me?
The Man in the Red Underwear made a grand entrance from behind the screen, looking dapper in his red tights and red blouse opened to his navel. It would be more than any girl could bear except for the fact the tray of Lady Snob-Johnson’s canapes were stuck to his left foot
You are fair! A gem so rare! True blue and square!
I love your hair! I am the Man in Red Underwear!
He tried valiantly to recite his themed poetry but the tray ruined the moment.
“It’s you! Bedelia ran to the door and opened it. “Oh chief inspector!”
The man in red underwear followed her, his left foot clanging on the hardwood flooring. “You don’t want to do that.” He wedged himself between her and the door, closing it carefully, not making a sound. “If Chief Inspector Tent came in here now I might have to leave—“ He tried to step toward the window but was stopped because Bedelia stood on the tray. They both looked down. She giggled and lifted her tiny foot.
“Oh, excuse me.”
“And then you’d never know if you could fall in love with a brave, dashing, exciting criminal.” He wore that irritating smile that a man wore when he knew the lady had the hots for him.
“It wasn’t very couth of you to eavesdrop on my private thoughts.”
“Do you expect a criminal to be couth?” He pressed his advantage.
Bedelia turned swiftly toward the liquor cabinet. “Would you care for a drink? No, I suppose it isn’t necessary to offer a drink to a criminal, is it? Then I don’t care if you want one or not.”
“Do you know you’re beautiful when you’re confused?” That retort would have been much more effective without the clanging of the tray on his foot.
“How did you get in here?” She looked around the room. “You didn’t hurt that old man, did you?”
“No, he’s just fine.” To prove his point, he spoke in the old man’s voice. “The Man in the Red Underwear is my friend.”
“A charming scoundrel—“ He looked down at his foot. “Excuse me for just a moment, will you?”
“Of course.” Bedelia made herself comfortable on the lounge as the man in red pulled the tray from his foot.
“Ah, that’s much better. Where was I? Oh yes. A charming scoundrel, you must admit.” He sat on the lounge, leaning forward to kiss Bedelia, but the tray got in the way. “Care for a canapé?”
“Not since you stepped in them.”
“Well, what am I supposed to do with them?” Our hero was getting quite perturbed.
“Why don’t you put them under the chaise lounge?” she offered.
“Splendid idea!” He slid the tray under the lounge and again leaned into Bedelia’s cherubic face. “We were about to kiss, weren’t we?”
My wife Janet died of cancer almost three years ago, but I keep finding her words of wisdom as I go through all of our old stuff. I recently found this and thought it very important for this election. Now you can read her own words:
Former Chicago mobster Al Capone was once quoted as saying, “Vote early and vote often.”
When I hear that statement I always think of my grandmother and her visit from the Secret Service. Why would they visit an old day, you ask? Voter fraud, of course. Grandma lived in a small town in southwestern Virginia and was not in good health. She left home only to go to the doctor or to the hospital. This very nice man from one of the local political parties visited her and offered to help her fill out and mail her mail-in ballot. Needless to say grandma was very flattered that this man cared enough to help her out.
Several weeks later grandma was in the hospital and a nurse informed her that she had two visitors. You can imagine her surprise when two men walked in and identified themselves as Secret Service agents. They had questions how her ballot had been filled out and by whom. Apparently there was some evidence of “volunteers” filling out mail-in ballots to help their party but not necessarily according to the voter’s wishes. Grandma was fit to be tied when they left her room. She told everyone who would listen that she would never trust that man again even if he was the town banker.
This was not unusual in my part of the country, at least according to my family. My mother said she had her own voting experience many years before grandma’s experience. One year a cousin of my mom’s was running for a local office, and she wanted very much to vote for him.
My parents went to vote early in the morning on Election Day, and Dad was informed that he had not paid his poll tax. Mom knew that she paid both at the same time, but had not brought their receipts with her. The poll workers told her that she had paid hers and she could vote. At first she refused if Dad didn’t get to, but he reminded her they had to go to work so she voted. Mom said she was so angry that she voted a straight Party B ticket for the first time in her life.
The next day she ran into a cousin who had been in charge of the polling place the day before. He was angry and demanded to know why she had voted Party B. Since the ballot was supposed to be secret my mother inquired as to how he knew how she voted.
His answer was, “I didn’t let any Party Bs vote yesterday and there was one vote in my precinct so it had to be you.” Mom always said it served him right.
As you can see, there is a pattern to voter fraud, and that pattern is you have to be in charge to make it work. Kentucky writer Jesse Stuart wrote several short stories about politics in his native Kentucky and although they were fiction I always felt they were more history than fiction considering the nature of voting in my hometown.
When I turned 21 I wanted to register to vote. Virginia did not have supervisors of elections at that time. Mom called a Party A friend, and she wouldn’t give her the name of the local person charged with registering voters. So I wound up at the home of a Party B friend and while he and my mother sat in lawn charges down by the river bank talking politics I filled out my registration card.
Because I was in college I request a mail-in ballot. It arrived at my school the same day it needed to be placed in the mail in order to be counted. I walked 18 blocks to get my ballot notarized and back in the mail on time. A friend of my parents was present when the ballots were counted and made sure mine was. She said the people in charge kept putting my ballot on the bottom, and she kept putting it back on top until they counted it. I voted Party B, but Mom said I have probably voted Party A ever since I married and left the state as there is no guarantee that my name was ever removed from the voter rolls.
The funny thing is I have a tendency to vote Party A now anyway. Please remember to vote, and don’t vote often. After all, it is illegal.