Monthly Archives: March 2019

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Sixty-Four

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. They fail to kill Hitler. Ribbentrop still loves Wallis
A short dark-haired woman was the last to board the Blue Train at Calais. A quibble about her passport had delayed her crossing the border with Belgium. Such times troubled with omens of war often inconvenienced Europeans, but this particular incident troubled the woman for some reason. However, it was doubtful anyone would even have noticed her. Her clothing was dark, non-descript. Put a white apron on her, and one would assume she were a maid. She was neither too heavy nor too thin. Nothing particular about her face would draw a passerby’s attention. She had no luggage except for a small valise she hugged tight to her bosom.
In his last communique General Trotter instructed David and Wallis to have a carefree Christmas holiday close to home because MI6 reported the political climate most certainly forecasted war in the coming year. On the early evening of the Dec. 23, 1938, David and Wallis boarded the Blue Train at Versailles for Antibes with their two cairn terriers. For the sake of privacy they booked six compartments even though they planned only to use only the one in middle. That way they could discuss coming strategies without anyone overhearing a thing. Once they had settled into their compartment and the porter had put away their luggage, David and Wallis burst into giggles which was unusual for them.
“Why are we laughing?” Wallis daubed happiness tear drops from her heavily-mascaraed eyelashes.
“I suppose because we can.” David made an extra effort to contain himself because ever since his childhood he had been instructed such behavior was unbecoming.
“It’s Christmas, and for the first time in a long time, we are allowed to be children.” Even though such profound words were coming out of her mouth, she couldn’t help but smile. Wallis soon came back to serious social considerations. Looking at her watch, she said, “dinner is about to be served in the main dining car. I think we should go now, have a tray of cakes and biscuits with a bottle of champagne before retiring. I’m really dreadfully tired.”
David smiled and leaned in. “We could always be served in our compartment.”
“Now you know all the other passengers will be quite miffed if we don’t dine with them and shake all their little hands. We have a reputation to maintain.”
“But first the little ones must be attended to,” David added. He put on his overcoat and hat then lifted the terriers.
Wallis leaned back and pulled out a cigarette to light. David bussed her cheek. He knew she loved their pets as much as he did, although he suspected she resented the impression they seemed to come on a higher pecking order than she. In the corridor, David motioned to an attendant that he wanted to stretch his legs—a polite way of saying the dogs were ready to do their business.
“The train should stop every half hour or so to avoid accidents, shall we say?” he added.
Within minutes, he was walking his dogs on leashes on a grassy area beside the train. His intuition was correct: both dogs relieved themselves quickly and started back to the train. Once the duke was on board the train continued its journey southeast through the country. When David came back to the compartment he saw Wallis had changed into a sleeker dress than her traveling clothes; after all, she had her audience to consider. They left the terriers in the compartment and entered the dining car to polite applause. As was his nature, David shook hands with his left hand even though he was right handed. He took one side of the car and Wallis the other. Soon they were seated and eating their meal.
Wallis bit into a leaf of lettuce as though she were trying to kill it. “Did you see the cheek of that bitch?”
“I stuck my hand in the face of this—this woman, at least I thought it was a woman, and she ignored it. In fact she more than ignored it. She turned her head away to look out the window, like there was anything to see. Pitch black.”
“Poor little Wallis. Everyone else looked up with adoring smiles and extended their hands like they were going to touch the hem of the Pope. But one person didn’t seem interested—“
“It was more than merely non-interest.” She cut into a medium rare filet mignon with hostility. “She had a hidden agenda. Probably thinks Bertie and Elizabeth are wonderful and I’m the devil.”
David gave Wallis his rakish smile. “I shall have her arrested immediately. What color was her hair?”
“She wore a dreadful dark woolen cap.”
“What did her clothes look like?”
“Her face? Fair? Wrinkled?”
“You’re not paying attention. She turned her head away. She could have been Attila the Hun for all I know.”
“Don’t you suppose she’s just a mousey little woman returning home to her husband children after visiting her mummy, and she’s terribly shy?”
Wallis paused. “And how could such a wretchedly poor person afford to ride the Blue Train?”
“Perhaps mummy has all the money in the family and that’s why she has to visit so often, to pick up another allowance check.”
“You are such a louse.”
After the Windsors left the dining car, the other guests began to gather their things to return to their compartments. No one noticed the short woman put on her overcoat and clutch her valise as she exited to the kitchen car. She immediately put her cap, coat and valise in the servants’ closet. Before closing the door she took an apron from her coat pocket and put it on. She was now ready to disappear among the mass of servants. Amazingly, she was capable of looking busy while doing nothing. She overheard the head chef instruct one waiter to prepare a dessert cart for the royal couple to be delivered exactly at eleven o’clock.
“And it must have a chilled bottle of our finest champagne.”
Upon hearing the request, she unconsciously rubbed her hands together.
At 10:45 p.m. from a frosty window the woman watched David take his two terriers on leash for a short walk. She went to the servants’ closet to retrieve her valise and from it pulled out a filled syringe. She looked through the kitchen until she found the cart with cakes, biscuits and the bottle of champagne. She checked the note on the tray saying it was for the Windsors, looked around to make sure no one was paying attention and stuck the syringe into the cork. She threw the syringe into a kitchen garbage can, retrieved her cap, coat and valise and went back to the frosty window where she saw the duck climb back on the train with his dogs. She scurried down the stairs and disappeared in the cold night.
Feeling quite relaxed, David returned from his late night walk with the terriers just as the attendant rolled the cart into the compartment. By this time Wallis had changed into a silken night gown and robe and had arranged comfy pillows on the seat. David placed the terriers on Wallis’s lap and put away his coat and hat. The attendant pulled the cork from the champagne bottle and poured a sample into one flute and offered it to David for his approval. The duke swirled the champagne in its glass, held it to the light, sniffed it and was about to sip when he frowned and sniffed again. He extended the flute to Wallis.
“Smell this.”
She took one whiff and poured the contents into the ice bucket. The attendant’s eyes widened.
“Madame, monsieur, what is wrong?”
David reached over to retrieve the cork from the cart to examine the top of it. He motioned for the attendant to lean over.
“Do you see that?” The duke pointed to a small puncture next to the hole the corkscrew had made. “Do you know what that might be?”
“No, monsieur. I saw nothing. The cart was prepared when I brought it to your compartment.”
“Do have any idea what that might be?”
The befuddled servant shrugged. “Some kind of bug?”
“Mon dieu, I do believe he’s that stupid.” Wallis sighed in exasperation.
David continued his interrogation. “Do you know what cyanide is?”
“It’s something to kill bugs with, is it not?”
“Have you used it before?”
“Many times, monsieur.”
David lifted the champagne bottle. “Smell this.”
The attendant sniffed and dropped the bottle into the bucket. “Mon dieu, and that was our best bottle of champagne!”
Wallis lifted her bare leg and pushed the cart into the server. “I’ve lost my appetite.”

I Get Lost Easily

(Author’s note: this story was written as an exercise in using wildly different phrases. They were the titles of the plays on the schedule at the local community theater: Oklahoma, Moonlight and Magnolias, I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change, and Born Yesterday. See if you can find them all.)
I have to confess. I get lost easily. Very easily.
My wife and I joked the best way to learn your way around in a new big city was to get lost on its streets for several hours. However, when our son was being born, getting lost was no laughing matter.
I had just started a new job at the Oklahoma City newspaper as a copyeditor on the night shift. My wife was due any moment; in fact, she was past due, and I was getting worried.
“Maybe I shouldn’t go to work tonight because you’re in extreme pain which comes and goes, but mostly coming.”
“Don’t fret,” she said. “I can always call a taxi and phone you from the hospital.”
The trouble with that was I hadn’t been to the Oklahoma City hospital yet, only the doctor’s office. So wouldn’t you know it, at about 10 p.m. I get a call from my wife saying she was in the emergency room, and the baby was due any second. I went to the old, balding man who was in charge of the copyediting desk that night. I told him I had to go. I was about to become a father.
He arched his eyebrow and rolled his stubby cigar around his lips. “I don’t understand. Are you the doctor?”
“No, I’m just the father. But my wife told me to get to the hospital as soon as possible.”
“Oh hell. I had five kids, and wasn’t there for any of their births, and they turned out okay. My ex-wife and them live in California now, and they get to go to Disneyland all the time.”
“I don’t know if I could concentrate on editing stories and writing headlines because I’m so worried about my wife.”
“Oh hell, get out of here. Nobody nowhere wants to work no more.” That was a triple negative which was why he was the boss. He got his journalism degree somewhere in Texas which explained a lot.
All I knew was the address. My wife told me it was at the corner of Moonlight and Magnolias. You couldn’t miss it, everyone in the doctor’s office assured her. Well, she might not miss it, but I was so sure about myself. I was almost late to my wedding because I couldn’t find the church. She married me anyway but informed me on our honeymoon she had high expectations.
“I love you,” she said. “You’re perfect. Now change.”
The changes had been painfully slow, but nevertheless they had been forthcoming. They were not forthcoming fast enough, however, the night my son was born. I couldn’t find Moonlight or Magnolias anywhere. I stopped at a couple of convenience stores. The man behind the counter at the first one said in broken English he only knew how to get from his mother’s house to the store where he worked. The woman at the other store put her hands on her hips when I told her my wife was about to have a baby and I didn’t know how to get to the hospital.
“What’s wrong with you? Everybody knows where the hospital is.” She paused to cock her head. “Are you a Yankee?”
I didn’t know what to say. Maybe being a Yankee would make me more sympathetic, or it might make her get out her gun and shoot me. That might work because someone would have to call an ambulance to take me to the hospital at Moonlight and Magnolias.
“”Yes?” I replied timidly.
“Oh hell. That explains everything.” She came around the counter, took me by the hand, walked out the front door and pointed down the street. She talked very slowly. “The hospital is only three blocks away. And be sure to go in the emergency room entrance.”

Within minutes I was at the information desk and explained to the clerk that my wife had arrived at the emergency room earlier in the evening and was about to have our baby. I told her I would have been there sooner but I got lost.
“I get lost easily,” I said.
She pointed to a big clock on the wall, and its hands pointed to 12 and 45. “I don’t know anything about your baby. The shift changed at midnight, and he was born yesterday.”

Remember Chapter Four

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda suddenly starts having memories of her favorite student Vernon. He needs help on his first college essay.
“Well, let’s return to this paper. ‘What I Hope to Accomplish in Life.’”

“I don’t know,” he announced confidently, which Lucinda considered ironic in context of his statement.

She considered a different approach. “What do you want to do more than anything else in the world?”

“Git away from the farm.” His assertion of the negative intent was very positive.

“Not git, get,” she corrected. “Anyway, that’s terribly vague. Now think of something definite.”

“Make a whole lot of money?” With each reply he became less confident.

She nodded. “Earn a large income. But how do you expect to go about earning this large income?”

“Somethin’ — something — legal and honest, of course. Mama will want to talk about it at church.”

“You’re not focusing your mind on the problem, Vernon. You’re concerned with the auxiliary points, income, respectability. But the main problem is that you apparently don’t know what you’re good at.” In her mind she was mortified that she just verbalized a dangling participle, but since she was sure Vernon didn’t know what a dangling participle was she dismissed the thought immediately.

Vernon took a long time thinking about her challenge, his face scrounging up. Finally he looked up and said, “I’m good at math.”

“You are?”

“I get a big kick out of algebra and geometry. I’m goin’ — going — to take trigonometry and physics before I move on to the university.”

“Oh, Vernon, that’s it. The way your eyes lit up when you were talking about mathematics.” She reveled in the breakthrough. “That’s your field. I’m surprised your high school math teacher didn’t encourage you to major in some field of mathematics.”

“Oh. We didn’t get along,” he said in a sad confidential way. “Coach Ruggers didn’t like it when I found mistakes in the problems he did on the board.”

“I see.”

“He kept telling me I wasn’t as smart as I thought about figgers — I mean, figures.” He sounded a bit deflated.

“I hate to disillusion you, but teachers aren’t always right,” she informed him, thinking of all the coaches she had observed in classrooms through the years.

“But you are, Miz Cambridge.” He looked at her and smiled. “You’re always right.”

Lucinda diverted her eyes to look out the window. “No. I wish I were.”

“Well, get on with my paper — please, ma’am.” A surprisingly serious tone entered his voice.

“Yes.” She read the next sentence aloud. “I’m going to college so I won’t have to go into the Army.” Lucinda paused to appraise him. “Oh dear, Vernon, don’t tell me you’re a draft dodger.”

“Heck no, Miz Cambridge,” he replied. “I’d be going to college even if there wasn’t a war going on. But it’s kinda useful, isn’t it? As long as I take a twelve-hour semester load I don’t have to go to war.”

“But don’t you want to serve your country?” Reproach shadowed her face.

He paused a moment before admitting, “I just don’t want to die. I — I’d rather serve my country some other way, by living.”

“Vernon, just because you’re drafted doesn’t mean you’d be sent to Vietnam.” A knowing smile crossed her lips. “And just because you went to Vietnam doesn’t mean you’d be killed.”

“Oh no, I’d be killed. I’ve always felt that way.” He shook his head.

“Well, it’s silly to feel that way.” Her head tilted up in assurance.

“It ain’t — isn’t silly. It makes good sense. The way I look at it, war is like playing football, it’s sorta a game of strategy and running and — well, athletic things. And I’m not at all athletic — at least not when it comes to sports and things. So, I figure just like I’m the first to get struck out in baseball I’d be the first to die in a war.”

“No, I guess it’s not silly.” She realized she was not entirely forthcoming in compassion, a quality she always thought she had in abundance. “It may not be right, but it’s not silly.”

Vernon looked up and around the room. “Oh, there’s the bell.” He stood awkwardly and gathered his books together.

“I didn’t hear a bell.” Lucinda started doubting her senses again.

“Sure there was a bell. I only get to spend an hour every other day with you.”

As Vernon walked away, the room slowly faded into her boardinghouse room.

“But I’m enjoying my memories of our times together now. Why must you go away?”

“I don’t know. It’s your memory, not mine.”

“Very well.”

Vernon paused to look back. “Oh. What did I get on that first paper?”

“An F.”

“Oh.” He sounded very disappointed.

“Don’t worry. You’ll improve.”

“That’s good. See you next time.” With that Vernon disappeared into the past, leaving Lucinda alone in the present.

And Just When I Thought All the Scars Had Healed

The other day the telephone rang. I didn’t recognize the number so I figured it was someone else trying to sell me something I didn’t need.
“Is Janet Cowling there?” a woman’s voice asked.
This is one of those button pushing questions that sends me through the roof because my wife Janet died three years ago.
“My wife died three years ago! Why don’t you people go to the trouble of updating your call lists? Have you no shame? Have you no decency? What are you trying to sell me anyway?”
The woman’s voice became tiny. “I’m not trying to sell anything. I worked with Janet in the probation office in Belton, Texas, thirty years. I was her secretary. I was just thinking about her recently and wanted to talk to her.”
All of a sudden I was reduced to the size of a piss ant. No, piss ants towered over me.
“Oh my goodness,” I gushed. “I’m so sorry. It’s just I get these calls asking for her and that make me angry.”
“I get those too and I get angry too.” She was being very nice to me, and I felt like a heel. “It hurts me to hear that she is gone.”
“She had breast cancer,” I explained. “She went through chemotherapy, double mastectomy and radiation treatments. She had about two weeks she felt well enough to drive herself to go Christmas shopping. She came hope and wrapped presents. She kept saying, ‘This is so much fun. This is so much fun.’ The next morning she awoke with a blinding headache and dizziness. She couldn’t even stand up. I took her to the doctor and found the cancer had metastasized to her brain. She died three weeks later.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that. She was so sweet to everybody. Another girl in the office, Lorena, had asked about her too.”
As a side note, Janet always thought Lorena hated her because she gave her so many probation reports to type.
“I remember one time we had lunch at our desks,” the woman continued, “and we decided to go down to the candy machine and get a chocolate bar. It was so good we decided to get two more. We ended up eating a total of six chocolate bars!”
That sounded just like my Janet. Even though she was an officer she never had any pretense of adhering to some unwritten rule that officers couldn’t be friends with the secretaries. And she loved her chocolate bars.
“I thought it was awful the way some people treated her,” the woman continued. “But she never got upset.”
This was true also. There was a lot of office politics over who would get the next promotion. Janet had the best skills so she became the butt of jokes to make her look worse. Sure, she would be disappointed but she never let it get her down nor did she take it out on anyone.
Of course, I felt a need to apologize again. She was very gracious. After she hung up, I realized why my temper had such a short fuse that day. Recently, my 18-year-old Chihuahua Tootz died. She was the last pet Janet and I had. Each evening when Janet came home from work Tootz would sleep on her lap. We brought her to bed with us, and she always snuggled up next to Janet.
Tootz’ death was just one more connection to my wife of 44 years that was gone. Grieving came back for a short visit. My main weapon fighting the mourning process is to remember there can be no grieving without great, deep longstanding love and joy. And I would not give up one moment of love and joy to avoid the grief.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Ninety-Two

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Duff and Alethia become Lincoln impostors. After two years of deceit, love and death, the war is over. Duff tells Lamon the Lincolns are in Baltimore and urges him to take Alethia away.
The next morning Adam balanced the breakfast tray with one hand as he unlocked the billiards room door. He heard Mary Lincoln fuss about packing.
“I know that woman ruined all my dresses,” she fumed, “and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s stolen all my finest toiletries and unmentionables.”
“Excuse me.” Adam entered, keeping his head down and going to the billiards table.
“You would come in as I was talking about my unmentionables.” She lifted her nose and sniffed. After a pause she added, “Thank you for retrieving my items for me as I required them during our time down here.”
Adam watched out of the corner of his eye as Mrs. Lincoln plopped things into a box. She paused to consider the bottle of laudanum in her hand.
“How many bottles of this have I used since living in the basement?”
“I don’t know, ma’am,” he replied
“The partial bottle you brought down here the first day, and this one,” she said, answering her own question. “It’s close to empty now.” Pausing, Mrs. Lincoln looked at Adam, her eyes softened. “A bottle used to last a month. Who would think I’d need only two bottles in two years.” A smile flickered across her face. “Perhaps I’m stronger than I thought.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Adam hoped that was the proper response; with Mrs. Lincoln he rarely knew. It apparently was appropriate, because she nodded, sat, and sipped her coffee.
As he had for most of his time in the basement, Lincoln stayed behind the French lace curtain. Adam’s routine was to leave his plate on the billiards table so Lincoln could retrieve it when he wanted. Yet on this morning, Adam felt the urge to speak to Lincoln, so he took the plate to the edge of the curtain.
“Mr. President.,” Adam cleared. “May I bring in your breakfast?”
“If you like,” Lincoln replied.
Lincoln, dressed in a shirt and trousers, was sitting on the cot when Adam brought the plate in and placed it beside him.
“Thank you, Private Christy.” He looked at Adam, who was standing on one foot and then the other. “Something on your mind?”
“Yes, sir.” His eyes looked away.
“Sit down, please.”
Settling on the edge of Lincoln’s cot, Adam tried to compose his thoughts so that the president would not think he was a bigger fool than he already believed himself to be.
“Mr. President, I wish to take this opportunity to express my sincere apologies for carrying out Mr. Stanton’s orders.”
“Well said.” Lincoln sipped his black coffee. “Please don’t continue. Your innocence was as plain as the spots on a speckled pup the first day you pulled your revolver on me.”
“Thank you, sir.” He paused, trying to compose his thoughts further. “Life will be better now the war’s over.”
“Well,” Lincoln said with a drawl, his eyes darting up with sad amusement, “don’t expect too much.” After chewing on a dry piece of toast, he swallowed. “Let me give you some advice. Don’t look outside yourself to find happiness.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Do you know what that means?”
“No, sir.”
“Good. Your honesty is intact.” Lincoln sighed in resignation. “The war’s over, yes. The conflict continues. The Union will go on, yes; but we won’t.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Ah.” Lincoln looked at Adam. “Don’t give up your honesty. You know exactly what I mean; it’s just that it’s too awful to accept.”
Adam’s face flushed, and he could not speak.
“I’ve scared you,” Lincoln said. “Don’t be afraid. Why be afraid of things you can’t change?”
“Yes, sir.” Adam stood, nodded, and left through the curtains, where he faced Mrs. Lincoln quietly eating her eggs at the billiards table.
“I hope your breakfast is to your taste,” Adam hesitantly offered.
“It’s fine.” Mrs. Lincoln paused to chew daintily. “It was always fine.” Patting her lips with her napkin, she put it down and pushed the plate away. “I complained to punish you. I focused my anger on you.” She looked at him with compassion. “Mr. Stanton’s the one I should have abused; but, unfortunately, he wasn’t here and you were.” Mrs. Lincoln reached out to pat his hand. “I’m wicked,” she said in a whisper. “I knew very well your mother died when you were a child. I played upon your soft disposition to get what I wanted, and when that didn’t work, I hurt you as your mother’s death hurt you.”
“Thank you, but I should have behaved more like a gentleman.”
“Your sins are trivial compared to mine. Please let it go. We’ve the rest of our lives now to be good people.”
Adam furrowed his brow.
“You frown?”
“Mr. Gabby’s sister died last night at Armory Square Hospital. Her last words were for him.”
“Oh.” Mrs. Lincoln’s hand went to her cheek. “How sad. I’d never seen such devotion between brother and sister.” She looked into his eyes. “I could tell him for you.”
“I thought he wasn’t talking to you.”
“We settled all that last night. Just as you and I have settled our differences now.”
“I appreciate your offer,” Adam said, “but I promised her I would tell him.”
“I understand,” she replied.


Sometimes sleeping late can cause a lot of trouble.
You see, my cocoon was just so comfy that I didn’t want to come out. I was having this wonderful dream of floating over a garden of roses, chrysanthemums and Mexican bluebells. The aroma made my head spin, and the nectar lured me into the caressing petals. The foliage surrounded me with Mother Nature’s love, and I wanted to stay there forever. As I dreamed of flying through the garden, I became aware that my wings bumped into stems which threw me off course. Before I knew it, I could hardly move at all without hitting something inflexible and rough.
Then I realized I wasn’t bouncing from plant to plant at all. It was dark. I was still in my cocoon, and my new wings couldn’t move in the cramped dark space. Instinct told me to kick and scratch as fiercely as I could. Finally, I broke through the cocoon wall and found myself in a beautiful garden, just like in my dream. After flitting from flower to flower, I sensed a distinct chill to the air. When I looked up I saw that the sky was clouding over, and the wind was blowing hard.
I’ve got to get out of this place. As beautiful as it was, I sensed it was going to become too cold very quickly. Looking around, I saw no other butterflies. This wasn’t right. Something was wrong. My instincts told me I was alone and in trouble. I wasn’t dreaming of this garden but another garden, far away where the temperatures were warm and the sun shone all day. But I didn’t know the way, and there was no other butterflies left to guide me.
Before I allowed myself to think the worse, a gentle hand swooped me up and placed me in a box with holes in the sides and several branches of leaves and flowers. I sensed I should have been scared but the flowers’ bouquet lulled me into a trance of serenity, almost like the dream I had while in the cocoon. I felt jostled about and cringed at the noise around me. A soft voice sang me to sleep and once again I was flying in the beautiful garden.
What seemed like a peaceful eternity passed. Coming out of a deep slumber I became aware of the lid of the box lifting, and I saw warm, welcoming skies above me. Without hesitation I flew up and out of the box to find yet another garden. This one was filled with other butterflies, all swooping and soaring around the flowers.
“Where have you been?” they asked. “How did you get here?”
“I overslept, and I don’t know how I got here. Do you believe in miracles?”

Remember Chapter Three

Previously: retired college teacher Lucinda suddenly starts having memories of her favorite student Vernon.
“Can I sit down now?” Vernon’s voice was a bit whiny.


“It’s time for class. Can I sit down now?”

In her mind’s eye, she had returned to her classroom, to which she resigned herself with a sigh. “If you wish.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Vernon plopped into the desk chair, again spilling his books. He bent over to gather them together as efficiently as possible.

“Don’t you remember what happened?” Lucinda reluctantly referred to an incident which had haunted her thoughts for ten years.

“No. I’m a memory. You remember me. I don’t remember.” Vernon laughed. “I guess you could say I’m transitive — or is that intransitive? Or somethin’ like that.”

“I think you mean an intransitive verb, but that’s not a very good metaphor.”

“Oh well, I never was any good at grammar anyhow.” He pulled a paper out and extended it to her. “Do you want to look at this now?”

“I wish there were some way I could make myself forget all this,” she muttered.

“Why, Miz Cambridge? Don’t you like me?” His hand dropped.

“I liked you very much, Vernon.” She allowed herself to smile. You were one of my favorite students. It’s just that—“

“Wow! You mean I was one of your best students?”

“No, you were one of my worst students. But you were one — no, my all-time favorite. You were so fresh, open and sweet.” Her eyes strayed to the window. It was such a pretty day.

“But dumb,” he added glumly.

“Don’t dwell upon the negative, Vernon.”

“Gosh, I’d think you’d enjoy rememberin’ somebody as nice as me.” From anyone else, that would have sounded boastful, but not from Vernon.

Lucinda gazed with tenderness at the gangly boy, reaching to stroke his hair, but pulled away at the last moment. “Yes, it would be a pleasure to recall the good times like these.”

“Good. Here, look at my homework. I tried real hard on it.” He extended his hand again.
Lucinda took it and began reading it. She focused on each word. “Hmm, English composition. So this is your freshman class at the junior college.” She looked up. “How far are we into the semester?”

“This is the first week. You spent the first class talkin’ about what it means to be a writer. About some folks got it and some folks don’t. Like Mr. Hemingway there, he had it when he was young and then he blew his brains out when he didn’t have it no more.”

“Anymore,” she corrected him. “And I hope I didn’t use such a vulgar expression as blow his brains out.”

“But you jest said blow his brains out. I heard you.”

“In the privacy of my own room. In the classroom—“

“Oh, in the classroom you said he died of shotgun wounds to the head,” he interjected.

“That’s better.” She looked at the paper again. “So this is your first assignment.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“It’s atrocious.” Lucinda was never good in editing her comments. “Now where did you say you went to high school?”

“Forestburg High School. Home of the fightin’ Tigers,” he replied with the fierce pride of a recent graduate.

“If you’d done more learning and less fighting you’d know more.” An eyebrow arched.

“Heck, what’s so bad is that I didn’t even do that much fightin’. The coaches all said they didn’t want me on none of the teams because I was too uncordinated. But that wasn’t it. I was clumsy.”

“The word is uncoordinated, and that’s what it means — clumsy.” Lucinda slipped back into her classroom style, and it felt very comforting.

“See, I was right. I’m dumb.”

“No, Vernon, you’re not dumb at all.” Her lips pursed. “It’s just when you pick your college major, don’t choose physical education or English.”

“Hey, well, it’s not like I’m not strong. I’m strong as a bull.” He held up his arm and flexed his biceps. “I help daddy on the farm every day and liftin’ them bales of hay made me strong as a bull.”

“I’m sure you’re very strong.” Her eyes glanced away.

“I could beat the –“ he stopped remembering his manners ”– tar — out of them durn football players if we went out back and went at it, but those stupid footballs or basketballs or baseballs don’t fit right in my hands.” He held them up, and they were big and gnarly. “Know what I mean?”

“Yes, I know what you mean. I was never good at sports when I was a girl.”

“Aw heck, Miz Cambridge, girls ain’t supposed to be good at sports.” Vernon laughed.

“Vernon, if you expect us to be friends you must change your attitudes about women.” She arched that eyebrow again. “Women — at least some women — can be very good athletes.” She paused and then added, “And don’t say ain’t.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry, ma’am.” He hung his head like a whupped puppy.

“That’s another reason I liked you so very much. You were contrite so easily,” she whispered.

“That’s because my mama wanted me to be a good Baptist boy.” His boyish grin returned.

The Chihuahua Who Saved Noel Coward

Author’s note: This story uses stronger language than I usually use. However, it is in memory of my 18-year-old Chihuahua who crossed the rainbow bridge last week. It’s vulgar and sweet all at the same time.
He strolled through the Plaza Hotel lobby looking quite natty in his brown tweed suit, bowler cocked slightly on his balding head and swinging his cane. With a flourish he signed the register.
Nov. 17, 1958. Noel Coward. London, England. Penthouse Suite.
His plans were to spend the rest of the afternoon in his suite, attend the world premiere of Mrs. Stone!, his musical adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. He would then host a cast party in the penthouse. The guests would beat a hasty retreat after reading dreadful reviews from all the major newspapers of New York. Noel Coward, one of the most successful writers of British comedy, then would go to the balcony, finish drinking the last of the champagne and step into the void of midnight.
“PeePee! PeePee! Come back here!”
Coward winced as he recognized the inimitable screech of his leading lady, Ethel Merman. He turned to see a Chihuahua scurrying across the marble floor followed by Ethel, her bosom flouncing and her bracelets clanging. Before he knew it, he felt scratching at his trousers.
Save me from that bitch! Please! Please! Please!
Coward was convinced; his extreme depression over the audacious failure of his play had pushed him over the brink. Why else would he consider suicide or think he heard a Chihuahua talking to him?
Pick me up, you idiot!
Resigning himself to madness, Coward picked up the dog which immediately starting licking him in the face.
Thank you! Thank you! I always knew you were a nice man!
“Noel! You caught that naughty little dog!” Ethel said as she walked up, her arms outstretched.
“Of course, Ethel, darling,” Coward said with a purr. “Anything for my star.”
Don’t hand me over to that bitch!
Ignoring the dog’s pleas he gently placed the Chihuahua into Ethel’s arms and bowed with grace.
Damn you! I hate you! No! No! I love you! Take me back! You’re the one I want! I hate you! I love you! I could love you if you give me a chance! Is any of this working on you?
Coward imagined everyone else in the lobby thought the dog’s pleading sounded like the typical yipping of a Chihuahua. It probably was, he told himself as he turned to the clerk and finished signing in.
I’ll get you for this, bitch! Yeah! I talking to you, bitch! No! No! I don’t mean it. You’re a wonderful humanitarian! Kind to old women, children, beggars and little dogs!
Soon Ethel and her Chihuahua were in the elevator, and Coward sighed in relief. A few moments later he took the same elevator to the penthouse suite and settled himself at the baby grand piano with the score of Mrs. Stone! in front of him. Most of the music was all right, passable, but the final song was no damn good. Mrs. Stone throws her room key down to the street where a shadowy young man picks it up and comes up to the apartment to do who knows what to her. Ethel, in a terrible blonde wig, blasted away every rehearsal trying to sell it. He knew she realized even she could not give that song away with free tea and crumpets.
He played the melody over and over again, trying to figure out what was wrong. It had to be sad but not maudlin. It had to express the emotions of an over-the-hill movie star who was never going to be loved again. And the lyrics. They were impossible. They were dripping with self-pity. Who wanted to listen to that?
A soft scratching at the door interrupted his thoughts. When he opened it, Coward saw Ethel Merman’s dog, staring up at him with his enormous Chihuahua eyes.
I forgive you. With that he pranced into the room. Nice digs.
“So pleased you approve,” Coward replied acidly as he shut the door and walked back to the piano. He sat down and returned to playing his music, hoping an idea would spring into his mind.
You know that song is really crappy?
He stopped abruptly and picked the dog up and stared him in the face. “Now see here,” he paused. “What the deuce is your name?”
PeePee. That’s because I’m the best hung Chihuahua on the eastern seaboard.
“Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but Ethel named you Pepe, a common Spanish name. In her infinite stupidity she mispronounces it.”
No way! Oh. Hmph. That sounds like something that stupid bitch would do. Damn. I feel like a fool.
Coward could not stand to see the little dog so disappointed. He hugged him close to his cheek and placed him on the piano bench. “But, it could mean the other thing. Actually, you do have rather impressive equipment for a dog of your breed.”
Thank you. PeePee licked his hand. You’re a very nice man.
“I really don’t understand why you don’t like Ethel,” Coward said. “She’s quite sweet. And she truly adores you, don’t you know.”
I know. She’s all right. But look at these honking ears I got on me. The way she jangles those bracelets. And that damn voice of hers! It’s enough to split my eardrums!
“Well, I have to give you that.” Coward returned to playing the piano. “So you think my song is crappy?”
You bet. It’s supposed to be about this old broad who ain’t getting laid, right?
“How perceptive.”
Okay, this old broad wants it bad enough to throw the key down to any guy on the street. The last thing she’s going to sing about is love. Poor me, nobody loves me.
“And your point is?”
She don’t want love. She wants to get laid. Sex, that’s what she wants!
“And what, pray tell, would you know about sex?”
Hey, I’m PeePee, the best hung Chihuahua on the eastern seaboard. What do I not know about sex? When the old broad takes me to Central Park and puts me on the ground, I have my choice of the bitches.
“Not all, I’m sure.”
Yeah, I mean all. Those Great Dane bitches can’t get enough of PeePee.
“Great Danes, oh, come now.”
Listen, you get a running start, jump, grab hold of the tail with both legs and, humpity, humpity, humpity, it’s showtime.
“Very well, since you’re the expert, what would you recommend?”
First off, get real with the words, man. She don’t want love. She wants sex. Hot sex. Sweaty body to body action.
“Very well.” Coward took a pen and started scribbling some new lyrics. He stopped and looked at them. “You know, this isn’t half bad.”
What do you expect? Hey, I’m PeePee. Now the music. Start out easy and soft, you know, like foreplay, then it gets faster and harder. Maybe ease off a little then. Make ‘em want it. Then slam bam thank ya ma’am. That’ll get butts out of the seats clapping.
Coward wrinkled his brow as his hands furiously pounded the keys. “I think you’re right.” After a few moments of passionate inspiration, Coward notated his new song on composition paper. Only a loud rapping at the door interrupted him.
“Noel! Is PeePee in there?”
Oh God, it’s the bitch.
“Just a minute, Ethel,” he called out as he finished his scribbling. “Come in, darling.
“PeePee! You bad little boy!” She marched to the piano and picked up the dog.
“Ethel, my dear, you must look at your new final number.”
“New song? On opening night? You must be crazy!”
He played it through a couple of times as she read the lyrics. Coward knew he had won her over when he saw tears forming in her eyes and she clutched the dog.
Watch it, bitch! You’re squeezing too tight!
“Oh Noel,” she gasped. “It’s a miracle. I haven’t sung anything this good since, I don’t know, when I was first on Broadway.”
“Don’t ruin the moment by comparing me to Cole Porter, darling.”
She put the dog down. “Go run and play, PeePee. Mommy and Daddy have got to practice this song.”
They rehearsed the rest of the afternoon until she was comfortable with every nuance and key change. Ethel gave Coward a big hug, picked up PeePee and left. He walked to the penthouse balcony and smiled. He might not have to jump after all.
That night, Coward watched from the wings. No one left at intermission. That was a good sign. The audience loved the choreography. They even laughed at the jokes. And the songs were, as he anticipated, bearable. The finale was upon them. Ethel, in her blonde wig, went to the window, threw down the key and turned to the audience. Then the music began. For once in her career, Ethel did not belt out a song. She barely croaked. Coward watched the audience members sit up and lean forward.
“Nobody loves me, so what?
Nobody wants a movie star that’s old, that’s what.
So I don’t care, I don’t want love.
I want sex!
I want to feel hot flesh next to mine!
I want sex!
I don’t want love!
I want to feel his sweat!
I want to feel his body pressing against me!
From now on this is the way it’s going to be!
Forget about love!
I want sex!”
For a moment the theater was quiet, and then it erupted in applause. Everyone was screaming and jumping up and down. The stage hand was about to bring down the curtain when Coward grabbed his arm.
“Don’t you dare.”
Ethel Merman, the queen of dramatic curtain calls, did not smile broadly and extend her arms to accept the audience’s adulation. She just stood there and cried. And cried. And cried for fifteen minutes. The crowd loved it. It loved her. Finally, someone screamed out, “Author! Author!”
Ethel rushed to the wings and dragged out Coward and planted a big kiss on his lips. Then she smiled and gestured to the old man of British comedy theater. Okay, he thought to himself, jumping from the balcony at midnight definitely was no longer on his schedule. Suddenly PeePee ran onto the stage barking. The audience even applauded him. Ethel bent down to pick him up, kissed him and handed him to Coward.
“He’s yours now,” she whispered. “After all, you gave me my career back. The least I can do is give you my dog.”
PeePee licked Coward’s face as he took him from Ethel.
“Thank you,” he said, nodding to her. Then he looked at PeePee. “And thank you.”
Don’t thank me, man. I had this planned all along.
“No, really. Thank you for saving my life.”
Hey, I’m PeePee, the best hung Chihuahua on the eastern seaboard. That’s what I do.
Coward held PeePee up with both hands toward the audience which screamed even louder. He then held the dog close to his cheek.
Why what?
“Why did you choose me?”
PeePee sniffed him.
You have the scent of a slight incontinence problem. I like that in a man.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Ninety-One

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Duff and Alethia become Lincoln impostors. After two years of deceit, love and death, the war is over. Duff confesses to Alethia that he is married.
Lamon raced up the Executive Mansion steps, past the drunken guard, and up the grand staircase, eager to confront the man who pretended to be Lincoln. Less than an hour earlier, a deputy marshal had burst into his office with the news that Lee had surrendered to Grant, and Lamon wanted to find out the truth that Stanton had kept from him for more than two years. Opening the president’s bedroom door, he saw the man stretched out on the bed, a gangling arm across his face.
“Sir?” Lamon said. “I just heard the war’s over.”
The man sat up, revealing red, moist eyes, and replied, “Yes, everything’s over.”
“No, sir. Everything won’t be over until I see Mr. Lincoln again.”
“Everything’s over for me.”
“You have to help me.”
“What do you mean?”
Lamon shut the door and sat on the bed next to him and whispered, “You can tell me the truth. Mr. Stanton can’t hurt you now.”
“The truth.” He bowed his head. “The truth doesn’t solve anything.”
“The truth will solve everything. Look. I know you were lying about all this business being Mr. Lincoln’s idea.” Lamon waited for a response. “Are you still scared?”
“No, not really.”
“Then why not tell me where Mr. Lincoln is?”
“You don’t know?” The man looked up.
“No. If I can rescue Mr. Lincoln, we can stop Mr. Stanton before he does anything else,” Lamon said. “You want to help us, don’t you?”
“We’re beyond help.” He sighed.
“All right.” Lamon paused to control his emotions. He wanted to throttle the man, but knew that would do no good. “I know after two years it seems like everything’s hopeless. That’s what Mr. Stanton wanted you to think, but we can still help each other.” He searched the man’s face. “Mr. Lincoln could die if you don’t help.”
“What? How do you know this?”
“Know? I don’t know anything. But my gut tells me if Stanton was crazy enough to do all this he’s crazy enough to kill Mr. Lincoln.”
“Then Mr. Lincoln is going to die despite what I can do. I’m already dead.” He put his head in his hands for a moment and then looked up, his hands cupped in front of his mouth. “But we all don’t have to die.”
“That’s right.” Lamon’s eyes widened as he leaned forward. “Nobody has to die.”
“Mr. Lincoln is in Baltimore?”
“And Mrs. Lincoln,” the man added.
“Where in Baltimore?’
The man blinked several times.
“Where in Baltimore?” Lamon repeated.
“Fort McHenry.”
“They’ve known all along?”
“I don’t know.” The man turned to smile. “I’m only the double.”
“I’ll leave right now.”
Lamon stood, but the man grabbed his arm.
“Take the woman with you.”
“What woman?”
“Her.” He nodded toward the other bedroom. “I want her out of here tonight. I don’t trust Mr. Stanton.”
“Very well.” Lamon said. “Do you want to go too?”
“No.” He let Lamon’s arm go and looked down. “I have meetings to attend. There’s a candlelight parade tomorrow night. The people still need to see the president.”
“Good man.” Lamon patted the man’s back. “I’ll make sure she’s safe.”
“Thank you.”
Lamon left and went next door and knocked. The woman softly told him to enter, and he did. He found her sitting in a rocking chair, staring out the window.
“Mrs. Lincoln?”
“May we speak?”
“Of course, Mr. Lamon.”
Her voice sounded lifeless. Lamon walked over to her and went down on his haunches. Her face was expressionless.
“You can leave, miss,” he said in a whisper.
“What?” She continued to look out the window.
“I know you’re not Mrs. Lincoln,” he said as kindly as he could, sensing she was emotionally fragile. “I know Mr. Stanton put you here.”
She looked at Lamon.
“How long have you known?”
“Since the beginning. Mr. Stanton told me it was Mr. Lincoln’s idea, but I didn’t believe him.” Lamon paused for her response. She was as forlorn as the man. “Miss, I know this has been very stressful for you.”
“Not all of it.” She smiled slightly. “Tad is a delightful child.”
“I’m leaving for Baltimore tonight.” He leaned toward her. “I can take you with me. There’s no reason for you to stay any longer.”
“I can leave now?” She straightened her back. “Mr. Stanton said I could leave tonight?”
“No, the man—Mr. Lincoln’s double—suggested it. He’s worried for your safety. Mr. Stanton knows nothing of this.”
She fell back in the rocker, the air seemingly leaving her body, and looked back out the window.
“I don’t care what he wants,” she said in a rueful whisper.
“I don’t care what Mr. Stanton wants either,” said Lamon. “He’s had what he wanted for the last two years. Now it’s what we want.”
“No, I mean…” Her voice trailed off as her hand went to her cheek. Her eyes seemed to focus on a distant object. “I don’t want Tad to be left alone.”
“His parents will be back soon,” Lamon said, “and the man is still here.”
“The man is still here,” she repeated blankly. “No, I don’t want him to be left alone. He’s been through so much, and he’s come to depend on me. I can’t let him down.”
Sighing, Lamon stood and put his hand on the rocking chair.
“As you wish.” He smiled. “I must say, miss, I’ve been wrong about you and the man.”
“Wrong?” She looked up.
“I didn’t think much of you for replacing the Lincolns,” he explained. “But now I see both of you are fine people.”
“Both of us?” She smiled queerly. “Fine people?” Her eyes returned to stare unseeingly out the window. “Thank you.”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Sixty-Three

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. They fail to kill Hitler. Leon has become an expert assassin.
The Windsors spent the winter holidays in Paris cultivating a group of friends who held positions where they would be privy to sensitive government information. No one was better at pulling bits of gossip out of people than Wallis. David always leaned back in a comfy leather tufted chair puffing on a cigarette while smiling like he would rather be someplace else.
Winter slowly melted into spring which made house hunting much more entertaining. Wallis found spring in Paris enchanting, summer sweltering, autumn just shy of enchanting and winter pure hell. David usually accompanied her when inspecting houses to rent. He wanted every house to look like Fort Belvedere, which Wallis knew would be impossible to find in France. Mostly he wanted a garden to till. Gardening always relaxed him. And Wallis found herself enjoying watching him flex his muscles as he pulled weeds, hoed the soil and sawed away dead limbs.
The realty agency contacted the Windsors in late May with a place in Versailles that sounded promising. Chateau de la Maye belonged to the widow of French politician Paul Dupuy. They had met Dupuy and his wife at a New Year’s Eve celebration. Their long conversation about the coming war with Germany on the balcony of the Hotel Meurice must have exposed him to the pneumonia that killed him. David and Wallis were invited to the funeral but declined because during their conversations they discovered he was a Nazi sympathizer. They didn’t want to waste fake tears for him.
The house on the other hand, was intriguing. It featured a large garden, swimming pool, tennis courts and a nine-hole golf course, all of David’s favorite things. On the afternoon they were to tour the house, David received a phone call from the British Embassy requesting his immediate presence.
“Odd,” he told Wallis as he put on his overcoat, “I could swear the person on the phone had a slight German accent.”
“Darling, most well-bred Englishmen do.” And then she did something she rarely did—she kissed him on the lips.
She didn’t dwell on it during her limousine ride to Chateau de la Maye where the agent awaited her. Wallis knocked on the door. When it opened she stepped back. It was Joachim von Ribbentrop.
“What the hell are you doing here? Won’t Herr Hitler miss you?”
Ribbentrop flashed a smile which deepened the dimple in his chin. “He sent me personally to apologize to you for his lapse of judgment in the choo choo room when you and the duke visited.”
“Unnecessary.” Wallis brushed passed Ribbentrop.
“Herr Fuhrer hasn’t even been in the choo choo room since you left.”
“I’m here to see the house. How many bedrooms does it have?”
“Who cares?” Ribbentrop replied in breathless anticipation. “I can’t remember the last time I gave you a carnation.”
“Neither can I. By the way, when you called David saying he was needed at the embassy, you let your German accent slip in. He noticed.”
“I was excited about our rendezvous.”
“There is no rendezvous. I’m looking to rent the house.”
“I think of no one but you.”
She happened to be wearing one of her suits with a fur collar. Wallis turned her head so her eyes fluttered through the fur.
“Do you love me and adore me?”
“More than life itself.”
She smiled. “I may hold you to that someday.” Wallis looked around the room. “Lovely foyer. When will the authentic realty representative be here?”
“One hour from now.”
“In that case, we might as well go upstairs to inspect the bedrooms. What do you think?”
Ribbentrop left forty-five minutes later, which gave Wallis time to put herself back together before the real estate agent arrived.
The chateau came as furnished, which irritated Wallis. She didn’t like Madame Dupuy’s taste and was peeved she could not decorate it to her own style. Another negative was that it was in Versailles, some distance from the heart of Paris, where all the best gossip existed. She signed only a six-month lease.
Two weeks later, Wallis and David took the Blue Train to an estate near Antibes on the Mediterranean coast. It was a twelve-acre estate with a large landscaped park. Driving through the gate, visitors could not see the house, gardens and sea view until after turning a corner. The name of the villa was La Croe, and they loved the estate. It was a three-story building just waiting for Wallis to redecorate it into their own royal palace. They signed a ten-year lease, and to celebrate their good fortune, they dined at on the terrace of an Antibes cliffside restaurant. The maître‘d lead them to a table where they could enjoy the full view. On the table was a vase holding a single carnation.
They had not quite taken their first sip of champagne when Ribbentrop arrived, wearing his vanilla ice cream colored suit.
“You don’t mind if I join you?” He slid into a chair at their table before they could voice any objections. “What a pleasant surprise.”
David stared at the white carnation. “Well, at least a surprise.”
“Herr Fuhrer read you were looking for a home on the Riviera, and personally sent me on a mission to find you and apologize for the awkwardness of his farewells upon your departure.”
“Tell him to think nothing of it.” David leaned back and puffed on his cigarette.
Ribbentrop wrinkled his brow. “He also wanted to convey his apologies if you were in any way offended by the way he had—shall we say—decorated the choo choo room.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t quite remember the details of what you quaintly call the choo choo room.” David puffed on his cigarette and blew smoke through his nose.
“Herr Hitler has a whimsical sense of humor and he placed figures of you and the duchess on the balcony of Buckingham Palace dressed in the regalia of king and queen. He hoped you did not take away any untoward implications.”
David took the white carnation from the vase and sniffed it. “No scent.” He nonchalantly handed it to Wallis. “What is it you always say about white carnations, my dear?”
“Tacky. Any man worthy of romantic consideration would send a white rose.” She tossed the carnation over the balcony.