Monthly Archives: April 2019

The Laugh

When the kids were young and mayhem reigned supreme in the house, I sometimes begged my wife to allow me to go camping by myself for a weekend for a little peace and quiet.
My favorite spot was out in the woods by the Withlacoochee River. My little pup tent took no time at all to set up and a quick trip among the trees provided enough wood and kindling for the fire. Sometimes I could hear other campers in the distance but most of the time I savored my solitude in the silence. It was about midnight several years ago that my contemplations were interrupted by several howls of laughter.
Looking about, I tried to determine where the noise was coming from. The laughter stopped, only to be followed by the crunching of leaves and twigs. I felt my heart in my throat. My mouth went dry. I cursed myself for not owning a gun even though I didn’t know how to use one. Maybe one of the larger logs in the fire would suffice as a weapon. I heard the laugh right behind me and jumped.
“What you all fidgety about, man?”
From the shadows ambled a bear of an old man with a long gray-streaked beard which I supposed had been dark amber when he was young. He had a limp which favored his left foot which looked like it had been mauled by something with sharp teeth. He plopped to the ground up across the fire from me and let out such a giggle-tinged grunt that I could no longer be afraid of him.
“Think there be skunk apes here about?” he asked more as a joke than a question.
“Well,” I replied, “I’ve never seen one.”
“Ever thunk they be ghosts of critters long gone? That’s how you folks can sometimes see them, but never catch one or see a track. Maybe they just love these old swamps and don’t want to go away.”
When he smiled, I noticed his teeth look like yellowed stalactites and stalagmites in a yawning cavern. His tongue darted out like a pink slime creature venturing from the abyss of his gullet.
“That’s an interesting theory.” I covered my mouth with my hand to keep him from seeing the flicker of a smile. “Have you ever seen a skunk ape?”
He let go with another cackling laugh. “You’d be surprised by what I’ve done and seen in these swamps.”
“Is that so?” I replied with my hand still across my lips. I began to think my kids weren’t so peculiar after all.
“You ain’t scared, are you, young fella? There ain’t no need to be.”
“That’s a relief.”
“I can tell you don’t believe in skunk apes, ghosts or nothin’ else that lurks about in the darkness.”
“I don’t mean any disrespect, sir, but, no, I don’t believe in skunk apes, ghosts or things that go bump in the night.”
“Then more fool you!” The old man threw back his head, howled in laughter for several moments before evaporating into the darkness.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Ninety-Seven

Previously: Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. After two years of deceit, love and death, the war is over. Stanton forces Adam into a final conspiracy. Adam meets Booth and his gang.
The next morning when Adam delivered the breakfast tray, he kept his eyes down when serving the Lincolns. Hoping his face was not red from shame, Adam tried to move on to Gabby as quickly as possible.
“You’re not still worried we’re mad at you, are you?” Mrs. Lincoln asked with a note of concern in her voice, her hand touching his arm.
“No, ma’am,” he replied. He knew she would be a widow on Friday. “I know. I appreciate it.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Lincoln was behind the French lace curtain, sitting up on his cot, a place from which he had rarely stirred since the end of the war.
“That’s all right, Mr. President.” Adam went to the curtain, looked in, and tried to smile. “I know you don’t hold any grudges.”
“You know that’s not what I meant.” The deep shadows under Lincoln’s sunken eyes frightened Adam. “I know what’s going to happen. Don’t bear the guilt. I know who’s responsible.”
Adam blinked and opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He turned toward Gabby’s corner. The janitor was already awake, his knees pulled up under his chin.
“Good morning, Mr. Gabby.” Adam put the plate on the floor in front of him. “Fried eggs, just the way you like them.”
“Private, what’s going to happen to me, now that Cordie’s dead?” His large eyes were filled with tears.
Squatting in front of Gabby, Adam began his explanation slowly, since he had no idea what would happen to Gabby, to himself, or to Jessie. He did not want to lie to the old man again. No gloomy predictions of living on the streets, which possibly could happen, because Adam did not want to scare him any more than he already was; but he could not tell him he would have a warm place to live and plenty to eat, either.
“I wish I could assure you everything will be fine, but I can’t,” Adam said. “But I won’t let you down. I’ll do everything I can to help you.”
“I promise.”
“Now I feel hungry.”
“What do you want done with the rest of your sister’s things?”
“I don’t need them.” Gabby’s attention was drawn to the eggs. After a big swallow, he looked up. “Ask the ladies at the hospital. Maybe they need some clothes.”
“Yes, Mr. Gabby.” He smiled. It was another chance to try to change Jessie’s mind. “That’s a good idea.”
After Adam retrieved the tray and cleaned the chamber pots, he caught an omnibus to the Surratt boardinghouse on H Street. Bounding up the stairs with a large burlap bag, he entered Cordie’s room, gathered her clothing, and tossed it in the sack. He was about to leave when Reverend Wood blocked the door.
“I didn’t like that feller last night.”
“I don’t like him, either. But we don’t have to like him, as long as we get what we want.”
“What’s that?” he asked, nodding at the bundle under Adam’s arm.
“The old woman’s clothes.”
“Mama could wear those. If only I could get them down to Florida.”
“I’m taking them to the hospital. For the nurses.”
Adam quickly left. Sighing with relief when another omnibus arrived, he ran down the boardinghouse steps to H Street. As the omnibus rattled down the street, Adam tried to think of a new way to win back Jessie. Hugging the burlap bag, he wanted a happy future. The omnibus turned south on Thirteenth Street. As he covered his nose when it crossed the open sewer by the Mall, Adam wondered if the most direct words would be best—I love you more than life itself. He had to think of the right thing to say. When the omnibus stopped at Independence Avenue, Adam stepped off to run down the street, past the red towers of the Smithsonian, to the rows of low barracks of the hospital.
Immediately upon entering the ward, Adam scoured it, trying to locate Jessie; instead, Dorothea Dix’s pinched face was in front of him.
“You’re the young man who’s always around Miss Home.”
“Yes.” He gulped before continuing. “Miss Zook’s brother wanted me to bring her clothing here for the ladies who need it.”
She opened the burlap sack to examine the dresses.
“Very good. It was very kind of her brother. Miss Zook was a good person. I miss her.” Miss Dix looked into Adam’s eyes. “What are your intentions toward my Miss Home?”
“Most honorable, ma’am,” he replied.
“I thought so. Go find her and take her home. She hasn’t been well since Miss Zook died. I told her to rest, but she won’t listen to me. She never listens to me.” She paused. Adam thought she was about to cry. “I don’t want to lose another dear one.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
Miss Dix turned away quickly and began fussing over a wounded soldier. Adam scanned the room for Jessie’s red hair. Almost ready to give up, Adam heard a loud shout from a far corner. His throat constricted as his eyes focused on Jessie’s frail body, on the floor in front of frightened young man on a cot. Adam ran to her, knelt by her side, and felt her moist, hot forehead.
“She was replacing my bandage when she fell over,” the soldier said. “I hope she’s all right.”
Swooping her up into his arms, Adam walked to the back room where Cordie had died. Behind him was Miss Dix.
“I told her she should go home to rest. Now she can’t be moved,” she said. “Put her on the cot.” She hovered over Jessie, feeling her forehead and taking her pulse. “This isn’t good. I think it’s influenza.”
His eyes widening, Adam found he couldn’t speak.
“Can I help?” the odd-looking man asked as he appeared in the door.
“Get me a bowl of water and a stack of cloths,” Miss Dix replied.
“May I stay awhile?” Adam asked.
“Yes, please. Wipe her brow. I have to attend to the wounded.”
After she left, Adam sat on the edge of the cot, waiting for the odd-looking man to return with the bowl and cloths.
“Jessie? Can you hear me?” He paused. “I love you.”
“What happened?” Her green eyes fluttered open and focused on him.
“You fainted. Miss Dix thinks you’ve got influenza.” He took her moist white hand and squeezed it. “And I’m going to take care of you.”
Once her bleary eyes saw Adam’s hand over hers, Jessie pulled away and rolled onto her side. The odd-looking man entered with the bowl of water and cloths.
“How is she?”
Adam looked into the odd-looking man’s clear blue eyes and saw intelligence. Stanton believed himself to be smart, but Adam did not see anything like that in his eyes. He saw imagination in Booth’s eyes, but not intelligence. He sometimes sensed a deeper intelligence in Gabby’s eyes, but it was blurred by terrible torture and bewilderment. Yet this man had pure intelligence.
“Awake but she doesn’t feel like talking,” he murmured.
Perhaps this man’s pure intelligence could help him, Adam thought, but he did not want to tell him anything that could endanger his life. He had endangered too many lives as it was.
“I’ll be back later. She’s in good hands now.” The man smiled and left.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Sixty-Eight

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on a mission because of David, better known as 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. Woolworth heiress tells her son she wants to buy a king.

David and Wallis kept busy the first half of 1939 going back and forth from La Croe and their chateau in Paris. They hosted or attended small dinner parties whose guest lists included German sympathizers, usually British industrialists and bankers who realized their fortunes rested in cozy relations with the Third Reich. They avoided large lavish affairs where intimate conversation was logistically impossible. One such automobile magnate and his German wife revealed during a dinner at the Windsor’s Parisian chateau that they had recently returned from Berlin.
“We were at a reception for Herr Hitler and Fraulein Braun,” the husband said.
“Eva was quite forlorn,” his wife interrupted. “It seems her personal maid ran away in the middle of the night right before Christmas and has not returned. Eva said the woman had been so kind and loyal. A long time employee. Her departure confused Eva because she was under the impression the woman would have done anything for her.”
The Windsors smiled.
On September first of 1939 Germany invaded Poland on the pretext Poland made a peremptory attack on a German fortification in a peremptory attack. The German proclamation claimed a legal right to protect its own citizens against unprovoked aggression. Gossip at the Windsors’ dinners was that the invaders were, in fact, Germans dressed in Polish military uniforms. David and Wallis feigned disinterest. During the spring all of David’s official pronouncements urged conciliation with Hitler’s government. He even sent a telegram to Hitler to reconsider his actions to which the Fuhrer replied any war would not be his fault.
Three days later during a pool party at La Croe David received a telephone call that Britain had declared war on Germany. In the coming weeks the Duke of Windsor took several calls from London encouraging him to play an important role war effort by acting as morale officer to the troops. He had always been good at that sort of thing during the First World War.
By September 12 David and Wallis board the British destroyer HMS Kelly at Cherbourg to cross the channel for talks about his role in the war with the Foreign Office. Lord Louis Mountbatten and Winston Churchill’s Randolph were already on board. Winston insisted Randolph be included in the trip to give him experience in statecraft. Mountbatten, in serious tones, explained to David rumors of his being appointed as a morale officer were just rumors. Randolph just sat there, smiling and nodding, as though such a behavior could make such a disappointing announcement more pleasant. Instead, Mountbatten said, David would be assigned as the British consulting officer to French General Maurice Gamelin at the Maginot fortress along the border with Germany. Wallis, Mountbatten continued, could do anything she wanted as long as she kept her mouth shut and her face out of the newspapers.
“And for God’s sake, no more damn lavish dinner parties,” Mountbatten insisted. He then told them the rest of their visit to England was to be one long photo opportunity with them smiling patriotically with the high and low alike.
Randolph continued to smile and nod.
When they returned to their cabin they found General Trotter lounging in an uncomfortable chair.
“Now I suppose you want to know what you really are going to do in France,” he announced in his informal, MI6, way.
David and Wallis sat and listened. David would, indeed, be attached to the French Maginot line but he would ask to use one of their smaller aircraft for leisure flying over the countryside. MI6 intelligence had received information that Germany planned to bypass the massive French fortification and invade Holland and Belgium to enter France undeterred. Instead of flying over France, David would fly reconnaissance over Belgium. When he detected German troop movement, he should send coded messages through an American intelligence officer disguised as French peasant. Wallis will turn La Croe into a convalescent home for officers. Any information she might gather from the soldiers she would pass as a French peasant.
“How will I know it is him?” Wallis asked.
“She has a gimpy leg.”
“Fascinating. She travels fast with a gimpy leg,” she murmured.
When the Windsors arrived in London, they had to rely on old friend Lady Alexandra Metcalf to pick them up and take them to her house where they stayed for the duration of the visit. Wallis kept busy playing with the Metcalf children. David had an uncomfortable meeting with his brother the King and sat politely during several conferences in the War Office where he acted appropriately surprised when told about his assignment to Vincennes. David and Wallis were back on the destroyer Express to Cherbourg. Once at the British command, Maj. Gen. Sir Richard Howard-Vyse ordered David, the only British officer allowed at Maginot, keep his eyes and ears open so he could send back information on the condition of the French installation.
“You mean be a spy?” David’s mouth dropped open.
“Yes, that is the general purpose, Your Royal Highness.” The general was droll.
“Oh my. I don’t think I’ve ever done that sort of thing before.” David’s voice went soft.
“Yes, we know. Well, do the best you can.”
David kissed Wallis good-bye and sent her on her way to La Croe where she began preparations to turn the estate into a convalescent center. The War Office gave David strict orders to keep Wallis from the front lines.
Once David arrived at Maginot, he met Gen. Gamelin who with great pride gave him a tour of the facility, from its sun-ray rooms and movie theater to the cannon fortifications.
“It is the last word in defense,” Gamelin boasted. “We’ll dig in, just like the first war.”
The aging general reminded David of his own father. It was not a compliment. Seven months passed with David efficiently fulfilling his duty as outlined by Gen. Howard-Vyse. He listed the number of soldiers, rifles, and cannon but had trouble coming up with an exact count of aircraft. Some of the older models used in the first war, such as the Morane fighters, were unmarked. David was concerned with Gamelin’s explanation when questioned about the aircraft capability.
“You don’t want all the planes marked,” Gamelin huffed. “Then the enemy will know exactly how many craft we have. We used the exact same policy in the first war. Don’t they teach military history in British schools?”
By the end of the general’s tirade, David had come up with an ingenious plan of his own. “You’re quite right, General Gamelin. I am most trained in statecraft, not aircraft; however, I do know how to fly a fighter in the classification of the Morane. Would it be all right if I took it up for a bit of sightseeing tomorrow?”
“Sightseeing?” Gamelin sneered. “I suppose that’s all you’re good for. At least it will keep you out of my hair for a few hours.”
Early the next morning, David prepared for his flight. A young peasant woman limped up to him holding up an apple from her basket.
“Monsieur, une pomme, s’il vous plait?”
David smiled and pulled coins from his pocket. “You speak French with an American accent.”
“I have been told that before, monsieur.”
“Come back tomorrow and I’ll buy another apple from you.”
She curtsied and limped away. David took a bite out of the apple as he climbed into the old fighter. His ascension went smoothly. He assumed the mechanics did their job well. As soon as he had cleared the airspace around Maginot, David veered left toward the lowlands of Belgium. They looked so calm. Not at all aware of the hell of warfare that was about to descend upon it. All the intelligence David had studied showed the Germans were going to avoid the Maginot line completely. On this particular clear day, he saw no evidence of troop movement.
David allowed his mind to drift a moment as he enjoyed the freedom of solo flying. It was as though he was being lifted up and over all the cares of his life. He knew it was necessary for his family to hate him for the abdication in order to maintain his cover with MI6. But all the snubs did hurt, he had to admit to himself.
Before he knew it, David looked down and recognized the landscape of Holland. He had flown too far. As he began his maneuver to return to France David noticed the sky was turning black with approach of large German aircraft, out of which came paratroopers. The invasion of Holland had begun.


Everyone told me the best place to make out with your girlfriend was on Radio Hill Road.
“You got to see the lights of downtown from Radio Hill Road.” Use that line to persuade her. After about a minute and a half you slip your arm around her shoulder. This action should cause her to look from the lights and smile at you. Then go in for the kiss.
I knew the radio station was on Radio Hill Road but not much else; if you didn’t need to be on the radio, why bother to go out there? At 16-years-old, I had a high squeaky voice, and when I was nervous I tended to get loud. So, the night before my big date, I drove out there to familiarize myself with the best place to park. No lie, the view impressed me for a small town in Texas. I even practiced lowering my voice. That sounded creepy so I ditched the idea. Only a few second later, however, I saw a bright object in the sky, lingering over downtown. At first I dismissed it as an airplane, but this body had no extra blinking colored lights and seemed to linger before turning sharply and shooting directly over my car at a speed unattainable by any ordinary airliner.
Had I just encountered a space ship from another planet? Here I sat all alone on Radio Hill Road, and little green men knew it. I was ripe for the picking, just a laser beam away from being transported up for some exploratory surgery. Fumbling with my keys, I finally started my car and started down the hill when I passed a pair of headlights come in the opposite direction.
“Ahh!!” I screamed like a little girl. No. A little girl could not be that loud.
“What the hell’s wrong with you, kid?”
This teen-aged boy’s eyes widened, startled by my outburst. The girl sitting next to him began giggling. I felt bad that I had broken their mood. No necking for them tonight. Not only was I afraid of what I had seen in the sky, I also feared the story of my scream would be all over school on Monday morning. At the intersection of Radio Hill Road and the county highway heading back toward town, I stopped to gain my composure. I could never tell anyone about this. Everyone in school thought I was weird enough already without this new incident. Maybe the couple in the other car didn’t recognize me. After all, it was dark.
Tap, tap. A noise drew my attention to the car window. A little green man snapped his long skinny fingers which caused my window all by itself. I screamed again. This was it, I thought. I was the object of an alien’s next science experiment. Maybe it was all for the best. My social life at high school was over.
“Pardon me, young human.” A surprisingly deep voice came from a slit in the green head. “I didn’t mean to make you scream. Could you please direct me to the nearest United States of America Air Force Base? I’m meeting with your leader tomorrow morning, and I’m lost.”

Remember Chapter Eight

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. Later she remembers how she tried to teach Vernon how to dance.
“Let’s try again,” Lucinda said to Vernon. “One, two — two, three. One — forward right — two, three — side right. One, two — back with your left — three . . . .”

Lucinda could not believe she was actually teaching someone to dance. A million years ago in another lifetime when she was a gangling teen-aged girl with undeniably bulbous eyes she announced to her mother that she was going to ask her father when he came home from his job that night to teach her to dance. The school was holding the homecoming ball in the gymnasium on Friday night, and she had decided this was the year she was going to attend and be held in a boy’s arms. Her mother’s mouth flew open, and then she informed her daughter she would do no such thing. Her father worked too hard all day to have to put up with some silly little girl with impure intentions involving reckless young men. So Lucinda’s mother took it upon herself to teach the girl how to dance a proper waltz. It was a short lesson, but Lucinda felt confident she had learned the basics. After all, Lucinda was a bright student. In the end, however, it was all for naught because Lucinda spent the entire homecoming dance standing under the basketball netting with a handful of other girls deemed too irretrievably plain to ask to participate. A couple of the girls decided to dance with each other, but Lucinda sensed that was somehow intrinsically wrong.

“Very good, Vernon. Now let’s repeat those steps a few more times, and I think you will have it.”

She allowed herself to close her eyes and pretend she was back in the school gymnasium at the homecoming dance, the band was playing, and Vernon Singleberry had rescued her from a long evening of embarrassment. The bedroom door creaked, and when Lucinda’s eyes opened, she found herself back in the boardinghouse and staring at her landlady Emma Lawrence who had a cigarette hanging from her lips.

“Hey, I think I’m getting the hang of it,” Vernon said just as he disappeared into Lucinda’s past.

“Dancin’ by yourself?” Emma took her cigarette from her mouth and flicked ashes on the rough wooden floor. Her faded print dress hung oddly on her undistinguished frame.

“Just — just remembering some — some happy times,” she replied and then laughed which she thought sounded hollow and frightened.

“Hmph.” Emma arched her unattractive bushy eyebrows. “You seen Cassie?”

“She brought me some boxes a few minutes ago.”

Emma blew smoke in Lucinda’s direction. “There’ll be a charge for them boxes, you know.”

“Of course.”

“Fruit boxes like that don’t come easy, you know.” She waved at the corner where the boxed books sat.

“Of course.”

An obvious sneer dominated her wrinkled face. “You can finish your dance.”


“I always knew you had no common sense.” Emma turned and left the room, shutting the door with more force than was necessary.

Lucinda closed her eyes, lecturing herself that it would be foolish to cry because of what an unpleasant person like Emma Lawrence said.

“I’m getting better.”

Thank God, she thought. Vernon was back. She opened her eyes, and there she was back in her classroom and in her student’s arms. She winced as his large left foot landed on hers. “Not quite. You stepped on my foot again.”

“I told you I was uncoordinated.”

“You’re getting better though.” She smiled. “At least you can say it correctly.”

“Oh, Nancy will never go out with me again.” Vernon turned away in despair.

“If you’re lucky,” she muttered.


“Oh, nothing.” Lucinda sat at her desk, unconsciously rubbing her chest.

“Maybe I’d do better with the modern dances where you don’t have to be so close.”

“Then you’ll have to find someone else to teach you. I don’t know them.” Her jaw dropped slightly, indicating her disapproval. “Frankly, I don’t think they’re very moral.”

“Mama says the same thing.” Vernon sat at a student desk. “Of course, mama thinks slow dancing is sinful too.”

“Oh no. Waltzes are too graceful to be sinful.” A brief image of a Viennese ballroom crossed her mind.

“You know, what always confused me about that is the dance where you’re far apart is supposed to be bad while when you’re actually touching each other, well, that’s supposed to be okay.”

“So you agree with your mother, that all dancing is wrong?”

“Heck no.” Vernon flashed a big country smile. “I think all dancing is great — if you can do it. For a long time I said I didn’t dance because I thought it was wrong, but it was really because I was so clumsy. But I can’t really see being dishonest about it anymore. Don’t you think being dishonest about how you feel is a worse sin than dancing?

Lucinda stood to go to the window. Fresh green leaves covered the trees. Soon the Texas heat would wither them almost unto death, but not quite. Alive but without life. “You amaze me with your theology, Vernon.”

“But you didn’t answer my question.”

She turned to smile. “I didn’t know you wanted an answer.”

“Don’t you think people should be honest about their feelings?” He did not know the searing truth in his question.

“Sometimes it’s best to keep your feelings to yourself.”

Anyway, I don’t want mama to know, but I think when I get out on my own — you know, after the university and I get a job in computers—“

“Computers? You’ve decided on computers?” She was relieved to talk about other matters.

“Yeah, didn’t I tell you?”

She walked back to her desk, returning to her professorial attitude. “No, you hadn’t. But you were telling me what you were going to do after you got your degree.”

“Yeah, well, once I got a job and a place of my own to live in Dallas or someplace neat like that—“

“Please watch your slang, Vernon,” she interrupted. “Dallas is not neat, per se.”

The Hunt for Sam Bass’s Gold

Hogg Nubbins had been a cowpoke for most near all his life. He wasn’t much good for anything else. He couldn’t read or write, not that he was interested in reading anything that would give him ideas. If he could write he wouldn’t know what to put on the paper. Hogg had just one goal in life: to find Sam Bass’s gold.
Riding up and down the Chisholm Trail in Texas all he ever heard was the Ballad of Sam Bass. Other cowpokes said the song was written to lull the cows into walking the same direction and to keep the cowboys from falling asleep. It was quite a yarn, that Ballad of Sam Bass.
Sam had one hell of a life, yessiree. Born in Indiana, he came to Texas as a young man, filled with piss and vinegar, and set out to make himself some money. This was all in the song. The guys on the trail filled in facts left out because the songwriter ran out of notes. Sam and his buddies started robbing trains and banks all the way from Central Texas to the Dakotas and points in between. One time they robbed a train, beat a man to a pulp before the guy gave up and opened the safe.
“Sixty thousand dollars,” old Pete, the chuck wagon boss, said. Pete was a youngin’ when they finally shot Sam to death at Round Rock, Texas, so he should know. “All in mint twenty dollar gold coins. The biggest train robbery ever.”
The ballad said Sam was like some kind of Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, being loyal to his friends and all.
“The only poor people Sam ever gave money to was bartenders and whores,” Pete snorted.
“The whole sixty thousand dollars to bartenders and whores?” Hogg asked, his mouth falling open.
“Oh hell, there ain’t enough whores in Texas to spend sixty thousand dollars on,” Pete replied. He doused the campfire, and that was the end of the story.
The next morning on the trail the cowpokes around Hogg started singing the Ballad of Sam Bass again. He went back to thinking about that sixty thousand dollars. Damn, he thought, if he had that much money he might buy himself some of those fancy false teeth he heard talked about. Hogg didn’t have a tooth in his head. They had all rotted out by the time he was thirty.
That night as he gummed his chili and corn pone Hogg asked Pete, “Well, if Sam Bass didn’t spend all sixty thousand dollars on whores what do you think he done with it?”
“He hid it,” Burly piped up. Burly was almost as old as Pete, but he was still spry enough to ride a horse and herd cattle. “That’s what I always heard.”
“Where?” Hogg was getting excited now. If somebody can hide a bunch of gold coins then somebody else can find them.
“Sam’s last words were, ‘I bet those folks in Cooke County will be huntin’ a long time for that gold.’ So it must be in Cooke County,” Burly said.
“Where’s Cooke County?” Hogg asked.
“Aww, that’s bullshit,” Pete said as he spooned out the last of the chili. “Sam’s last words was ‘The world is bobbing around me.’ And I had fellers who was right there when he died tell me that.”
“It ain’t no bullshit at all,” Burly shot back. Pete and Burly hated each other for years. Some said they once fought over a woman. Others said they were just a couple of sonovabitches that couldn’t get along. “It didn’t have to be the absolute last thing Sam said. Hell, it took him a full day to die after they shot him. He probably said a lot of things before he actually died.”
“I still say bullshit.” Pete looked at the cowpokes around the fire. “Anybody want the last cornpone?”
“Now where is this Cooke County?” Hogg asked again. He figured he could spend the gold coins on whores just like Sam did.
“Everybody that got a lick of sense knows that Sam Bass hung out in Cooke County as much as he hung out anyplace else in Texas,” Burly continued in a loud defiant voice. “I know for a fact Sam and his gang hid out in Cove Holler. That’s in the southwest corner of Cooke County, and hardly nobody lives there.”
“Only a idiot would hide out in Cove Holler. It’s so thick with oak and walnut trees and vines and brush the sun can’t shine through at noon day,” Pete countered.
“Well, nobody said Sam was the brightest man around,” Burly replied sullenly. “And the holler is all riddled with limestone caves, just the place to hide a bundle of gold coins.”
“Where is this Cooke County?” Hogg asked for the third time. If anybody could find Sam Bass’s gold, Hogg knew he was the man to do it.
“Hogg, you must be the dumbest sonovabitch I ever done seen. Cooke County is three counties due west of here.” Pete doused the campfire, and the conversation ended right there.
When Hogg mounted up the next morning he kept looking due west toward Cooke County and then at the cattle. He had been herding cattle all these years, and what had it ever got him? A calloused ass and a wallet full of nothing. All he had to do is ride west and keep asking folks along the way where this Cooke County was.
“Hogg! Get movin’! We gotta get across the Red River by night fall!” Burly shouted.
Hogg looked west and then at the cattle one last time, and then he lit out full gallop heading west. The gallop eventually became a trot, and he started laying out his plan to find Sam Bass’s gold. He didn’t want to be none too eager to talk about it, Hogg told himself. When he stopped for the night he ought to be real casual about his conversations with folks. Didn’t want nobody to know what he was up to. That Cove Holler seemed to be the place to look, all right. After a couple of days he found himself in Gainesville, the Cooke County seat. He settled into a chair at the local boarding house dining room. Hogg tried to start up a conversation.
“Nice little town you got here.”
“Wouldn’t know. I’m just passin’ through.” The man had on a fine suit of clothes and had his hair slicked down with something that smelled mighty sweet.
“Then you wouldn’t know about Cove Holler.”
“Everyone in North Texas knows about Cove Hollow,” the man replied with a sniff. “The worst land in the whole territory. Not worth a dime.”
“That’s what I heard too,” Hogg said. “Lots of underbrush and limestone caves. Sounds like a place you wanna to keep away from. Just where is it so I can go in the opposite direction?” Hogg thought he was being very clever.
The fancy dude with the perfumed hair gave him perfect directions—southwest of Gainesville along a long ravine. The nearest ranch was miles away.
When he woke up the next day Hogg checked out of the boarding house and went southwest until he found the beginning of the ravine. When he couldn’t ride any further into the thick underbrush Hogg tied up his horse. The prickly bushes and vines surrounded by oak and walnut trees made walking slow going. He didn’t know exactly where he was or how he would find his way out. All he knew was that he was on the hunt for Sam Bass’s gold.
Soon the foliage thickened so the sun was completely blocked. Only mottled areas of dim light appeared here and there. Hogg squinted from side to side and saw hints of limestone caves in the distance. Suddenly his foot slipped and he fell straight down. At the bottom of the hole Hogg took a moment to regain his senses. He must have fallen into one of them limestone caves. There was so little light he had to wait until his eyes adjust a bit. Then he began to reach his hands out to touch something. Mostly limestone. Smooth, moist limestone. Then he felt something else. Leather. Hogg eagerly grabbed at it. A leather bag. No, two leather bags. No, more than that.
Hogg clumsily clawed at the belt tying one of the leather bags shut. Opening it he frantically stuck his fingers inside. He felt coins, lots of coins. Hogg pulled them out of the bag and peered at them. They were gold coins. Twenty dollar gold coins. And they still looked as new and sparkly as the day Sam Bass took them off the train.
Laughing loudly he quickly opened the other leather bags. They were all filled with gold coins. Enough gold coins to get him some good false teeth and all the whores he’d ever want.
“Glory hallelujah!” Hogg shouted. He looked up. “I found …” Hogg stopped as he stared at the steep slippery limestone shaft above him. He finished in a whimper, “…Sam Bass’s gold.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Ninety-Six

Previously: Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. After two years of deceit, love and death, the war is over. Stanton forces Adam into a final conspiracy. Adam meets Booth and his gang.
At midnight Adam stood under the Aqueduct Bridge waiting for the others to arrive. He decided not to be concerned with whether he was happy, sad, frightened, or disgusted. All he wanted was to endure the next few days. He heard footsteps behind him.
“Where’s your man?” Booth asked.
Adam turned to see the actor, the hulking, dull-eyed man, and two other odd-looking fellows, a witless, clean-shaven youth, and a whiskered man whose irregular gait bespoke drunkenness.
“There he is.” He nodded at a shadowy, short, stocky figure striding toward them.
“Is this it?” Baker asked in a clipped tone.
“This is—” Adam began.
“Don’t tell me,” Baker interrupted. “We’re planning to kill the president of the United States, dammit. I don’t want to know any of your names.” He cleared his throat. “Now. Tell me something that convinces me you’re smarter than you look.”
“Sir,” Booth said, pulling himself up to his full stature, “you’re no gentleman, and not welcome to our noble endeavor.”
“This noble endeavor is murder,” Baker replied. “True gentlemen don’t kill, so get that idea right out of your head.” He paused to light a cigar. “So, what are your plans?”
Adam watched Booth pinch together his thin lips.
“In the last few weeks we’ve considered kidnapping Mr. Lincoln.”
“What the hell for? The end of the war has been in sight since the first of the year.”
“As leverage for release of prisoners.”
Adam could sense Booth trying to maintain an air of confidence, but faltering.
“Are you so stupid that you think prisons will house and feed rebels any longer than they have to?”
“Of course not,” Booth sputtered.
“Forget the Confederacy,” Baker continued. “The Confederacy is dead. Cry your eyes out. Light some candles. Get over it.” He puffed on his cigar. “But you can kill the bastards who killed the Confederacy.”
“Hear, hear,” the youth said.
Ja,” the bearded man added.
“Yeah, let’s blow their heads off,” the tall, stupid one mumbled.
“But the Confederacy—”
“To hell with the Confederacy!” Baker said, derisively. “Are you stupid? The Confederacy is dead. All we have left is revenge.”
“Yeah,” the stupid one repeated. “Let’s get revenge.”
“Very well,” Booth acquiesced. “Revenge.”
“Who do we hate the most?” Baker asked.
“Lincoln,” Booth replied, spitting. “I hate the bastard.”
“The Lincolns are going to Ford’s Theater Friday night.”
“I know that theater well,” Booth offered.
“They will have only one guard, and he will be drunk.”
“I can handle the details,” Booth replied.
“Good.” Baker nodded curtly. “Now, what about Vice President Andrew Johnson?”
“We decided on Port Tobacco.” Booth gestured to the bearded one.
Ja, I rented a room in the Kirkwood House, directly above Johnson.”
“Come here,” Baker ordered.
Port Tobacco stepped forward, his head down. Baker leaned into him and sniffed.
“Just as I thought. You’re a drunk.” He looked at Booth. “He won’t do. Johnson must die.” He pulled his revolver and pointed it at Port Tobacco. “He must die. He knows too much.”
“No! No!” Port Tobacco’s eyes widened. “I stop drinking. I kill Johnson! On mutter’s grave! I stop! I kill Johnson!”
“For God’s sake,” Booth said with a hiss.
“Incentive.” Baker put away his revolver.
Sheitze.” Port Tobacco stepped behind the others.
“Seward. He must go.” Baker looked around for a volunteer.
“Who’s that?” the stupid one asked.
“Secretary of State, Reverend Wood,” Booth said.
“What’s that?”
“You’re a moron, aren’t you?” Baker asked as he spat on the riverbank.
“I can’t help it.” Reverend Wood’s eyes went down. “I got kicked in the head by a horse once.”
“I’ll help him,” the youth offered.
Baker eyed him. “You look as dumb as he is.”
“I work as a druggist’s aide,” the youth said. “And I know things. Secretary of State is a top aide to the president. He deals mostly with other countries.” He looked at Booth. “Ain’t that right?”
“Of course, you’re right.” Booth looked at Baker. “We can work together without all the insults.”
“So you think you can lead him to the Seward house?” Baker asked.
“Yes, sir,” the youth replied.
“That leaves Stanton,” Booth said.
“Don’t worry about Stanton,” Baker replied. “I’ll kill him.”
“You feel warmly about it?” Booth smiled.
“You hate Lincoln,” Baker said. “I hate Stanton.”
“Then it’s settled,” Booth announced with finality. “Sic Semper Tyrannous.”
“What’s that?” Baker wrinkled his brow.
“It means, ‘Thus ever to tyrants.’ It’s the motto of Virginia.”
“Virginia,” Baker mumbled.
Adam could see the wheels turning in his mind. Baker tapped his foot in the water lapping the Potomac shore.
“Ah yes, Virginia. Do you know an actress called Jean M. Davenport?”
“Why, yes.” Booth looked taken aback. “I’ve performed with her many times.”
“You talked with her once at a party about accomplishing a great daredevil act, like kidnapping the president.”
“How did you know that?”
“Now you know you can’t keep secrets from me.”
“We’re united in a noble cause, sir,” Booth asserted.
Baker puffed on his cigar and squinted at Booth through the smoke. “Get out of here.”
Booth and his friends dispersed into the dark mist. Baker threw his burnt cigar onto the muddy shore.
“This is dirty business,” Adam muttered.
“This is war,” Baker retorted.
“The war’s over.”
“There’s always a war.”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Sixty-Seven

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. They plan a gay Christmas on the Riviera but someone is trying to kill Wallis who kills her attacker.
Jessie Donohue lounged poolside at Cielito Lindo, her ocean front estate in Palm Beach, Florida, the week after Easter in 1937. Puffing on a cigarette, she reached for her glass of champagne on the nearby glass-topped table. She was vaguely bored and still nursed a grudge that her blue sapphire was gone forever. She had everything a woman of immense means could want, but she still needed something else to fill the hole left in her heart by the missing sapphire. Even blazing her way through the Spanish Civil War just to lose thousands playing poker and witnessing a murder didn’t stir anything in her breast. She still needed something to make the blood course through her veins like hot lava, but Jessie had patience. Eventually she would discover what she wanted and have it, no matter how long it took to get it.
Just then Jimmy crashed through the patio door and stormed over to her. Jessie glanced up and smiled. He looked adorable in his navy blue striped shirt and cream colored shirt opened three buttons more than decent society allowed. But he was twenty-four year old man and carried the look very well. Or at least his mother thought so.
“Oh Jimmy, what have you done now?”
“It wasn’t me.” He circled her chair. “It was those asses at the Bath and Tennis Club.” He paused to look at her glass. “Where is the bottle whence came that champagne?”
“Oh dear, you’re trying to sound Shakespearean.” She smirked. “You must be overwrought.”
Jimmy dragged a wrought iron chair over and sat. “I’m not so angry for myself but for Timmy.”
“Who’s Timmy?”
“Remember? My sleepover from last week. He’s a towel boy at the club.”
“You have to get more specific than that, darling.” She sipped the last of her champagne. “The champagne bucket is in the tea pavilion. When you go pour yourself a glass, be a dear and refill mine.”
“Mother! I’m in the middle of a story!” Jimmy’s tanned cheeks reddened.
“Well, you’re the one who asked about the champagne!”
“We’re in the middle of a serious socio-economic discussion here!”
“Oh, I didn’t realize it was that important. Please continue.”
“I was in the middle of brunch when a servant wandered through the dining room ringing a bell and holding up a sign, ‘Paging Mr. Niger.’ I don’t mind a bit of ribbing every now and then, but poor little Timmy! It was so unfair to him! It’s like towel boys aren’t supposed to have feelings too!”
Jessie reached out and patted his hand. “You know how broad minded than I am, but there is such a thing as discretion. You can have an affaire d’amour with anyone you want but please don’t pick the kitchen help from a restaurant we frequent.”
“He’s not kitchen help. He’s the towel boy.”
“Whatever. Now fetch me my champagne.”
Jimmy did as he was told, but his mother knew he wasn’t pleased about. To tell the truth, she hadn’t been pleased with her son since he was little and covered her face with slobbery kisses. Why do children have this annoying habit of growing up? Her older son Wooly grew up and became more interested in girls than his mother. Well, that didn’t bother her too much: Wooly was such a dullard. But Jimmy. The sun rose and set each day solely to cast light on his brilliance.
Upon his return he stuck the champagne glass into his mother’s hand. A few drops dribbled onto her bathing suit. Jimmy plopped into the wrought iron chair with his own drink and grumbled.
“Anyway, none of this would have happened if you had given me that extra two hundred thousand dollars. My Broadway show would have been a smash and I’d made history being the youngest producer in history and too busy to mess with busboys.”
“I thought you said he was a towel boy.” Jessie loved to catch Jimmy in a mistake. “Also, it wasn’t a Broadway show. It never made it past the West End in London.”
“That’s what I mean. It was a great show with Ruth Etting and Lupe Velez. All I needed was just a few more dollars to pay them.” He turned to look at his mother. “You know they’re all a bunch of hypocrites. They rave about how much they love to perform, but let one little check bounce and they refuse to sing a note!”
Jessie patted his hand. “But I missed you, my baby. Why would I pay perfectly good money to make myself even more miserably alone while you go off with those wretched theater people?”
Jimmy sipped his champagne as he looked out at the Atlantic. “Mother, do you think there’s going to be a war?”
“Frankly, I don’t. It’s just another way to stir up common people to vote for Franklin Roosevelt. What a loathsome man. Anyway, it’s not going to concern you, my pet. You will never have to serve in the military.”
“I don’t know,” he replied, measuring each word with due consideration, “I think I’d like to fly airplanes in the war.”
“I told you, there’s not going to be a war!”
“I ran into an old buddy of mine from Choate—you know, one of those dismal schools I got kicked out of—at an Elsa Maxwell party—“
“You mean Elsa’s in town and I wasn’t invited to her party!”
“Remember what you said about her dress in Cannes? She hasn’t forgiven you for that yet.”
“Petty bitch,” Jessie grumbled.
“Mother, please let me finish my story. I was talking to Jack Kennedy. You know his father was our bootlegger during Prohibition. Well, he’s come up in the world and is now the ambassador to England, and he says there is going to be a war.”
Jessie sat up to pat Jimmy’s tanned cheek. “Well, if there is a war, I’ll buy you a nice big airplane and you can fly it up and down the coast pretending you’re in the Army.”
“But I want to do something with my life.” Jimmy stood, taking his half-drunk glass of champagne back to the tea pavilion.
“You do things with your life,” she shouted after him. “You make me happy. And you make all our friends laugh.”
He came back, sat and looked into his mother’s eyes. “Don’t you ever want something so bad it hurts inside when you can’t have it?”
Putting her dead cigarette in her champagne glass, Jessie turned serious. “Yes, I want my blue sapphire back.”
“The blue sapphire was just a rock. A lot of people have fancy rocks.”
A thought flashed through her mind. Jessie often ridiculed the nouveau riche for buying the attentions of exiled European royalty, but now she realized that was what she wanted.
“I want you to get me a king. It would be such fun to own another human being, not some lowly servant, but a genuine member of a royal family.”
Jimmy raised an eyebrow. “Do you want him gift wrapped and slid under your door by Friday?”
“No, my dear. I have patience. You’re like your father. He didn’t have patience.” She smiled. “You are young and pretty. You have years to lure any one you wish.”
“But you’re not young.” Jimmy smirked.
Her smile faded. “You know what they say. Only the good die young. I shall live forever.” Jessie leaned in to grab the back of Jimmy’s head. “Jimmy, did you have anything to do with the theft of my jewels? You were very close to your father. You’re very much like him, in fact.”
“No, I didn’t.” He reached around to the back of his mother’s head to pull on her hair. “But never forget who killed father. And, yes, I was very fond of him.”

The Dream

I have a lot of dreams.
This is mostly because I have Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep disorder. Put simply, I stay in the dream stage and never go into the deepest level of recuperative sleep. Sorry to bore you with my medical history, but it’s plot exposition, and I thought it best to get it out of the way up front.
One recent night I had this vision of a young boy in a tee shirt and blue jeans. He had a long angular face—soulful, sad. He seemed to be sitting on an L-shaped shadow. Then he spoke.
“Mom is worried about you.”
The pronouncement was so shocking I bolted awake and immediately tried to figure it out. My first thought was it was my interpretation of my son’s concern for my health. Before he leaves for work he reminds me where his work number is written down and tells me to be sure to call if I start to feel ill.
But how would he know if his mom was worried about me too? She died three years ago. And why would I see him as a child in my dream? He’s 45 years old. And he didn’t look anything like the dream boy when he was that age.
Then I remembered the framed photographs hanging in my childhood home. My picture was there, as well as my two brothers. The fourth photo was of the oldest brother who died six years before I was born. He was about seven years old. He wore a white shirt and bib overalls. As I thought more about it, his long face in the photograph did look very forlorn.
That meant when he said, “Mom is worried about you,” he was talking about our mother who died when I was fourteen years old.
The pieces were coming together for me. For traditional dream interpretation I am the one who is worried about myself, and I chose family members who had already passed to express my subconscious concerns.
For one who has an active imagination, however, I wonder if it weren’t a dream at all. Maybe it was an actual message from the other side saying I’ve got dead folks who are worried about me. It’s nice to know somebody up there cares.

Remember Chapter Seven

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. Later she remembers how she tried to teach Vernon how to appreciate his father.
Breaking Lucinda’s thoughts, Cassie came in with a couple of cardboard fruit boxes. “I found them boxes you wanted, Miz Cambridge.”

“Hmm?” She fluttered her eyes.

“The boxes for your books.”

“Oh, thank you, dear. How kind.”

“Where do you want them?”

Lucinda stood to go to the other boxes, bending down to turn them on their sides, but found she was too weak to move them. “Here. Would you help me turn them on their sides? Like shelves.”

“Sure, Miz Cambridge.

Lucinda and Cassie knelt by the books and boxes, arranging them as library shelving. As much as she tried, she couldn’t shake the memory of Vernon. “Cassie? Do you remember Vernon Singleberry?”

“Vernon? Why sure.” Cassie continued to put the boxes on their sides. “He was always kinda funny actin’, wasn’t he?”

“Not really. I—“

“Wasn’t that somethin’, what happened to ‘im? That reminds me. Nancy and her little girl are goin’ to be here for lunch today.”

Lucinda decided Cassie was not the right person with which to share her thoughts at this moment. “Yes, I know.”

“Shirley is so cute.” She giggled.

“Yes, she is.”

“Ain’t it a shame?” Cassie clucked her tongue and sighed, “Love child.”

“Mrs. Cambridge!”

Vernon’s voice caused her to jump and look up. She was back in her classroom. She couldn’t help but smile as Vernon, wearing an ironed short sleeved shirt, jumped around the room.

“I can’t believe it! I got a date for the spring dance!”

At first Lucinda studied Cassie’s face. It was obvious she didn’t hear what the old teacher was hearing. Lucinda stood, leaving Cassie to her task, which evidently engrossed her very much.

“So it’s spring now,” Lucinda whispered.

“This is a really great day for you to remember!”

“Of course, it’s spring, Miz Cambridge.” Cassie it seemed, was not as oblivious to the situation as Lucinda thought. “Didn’t you know that?”

Lucinda turned back to Cassie and smiled. “What, dear?”

“I got all these books stacked up the way you wanted.” Cassie stood with a grunt.

“Thank you, Cassie. That’s very sweet of you.”

Vernon was still jumping around the room like a puppy dog expressing its joy that its owner had finally arrived home. “And I’ve got a girl!”

“Are you all right, Miz Cambridge?”

Lucinda looked back at Cassie whose face was scrunched up with concern. “Yes, dear. Thank you, dear.”

“You already thanked me.”

“I did?”

“You better take a nap before lunch,” Cassie advised her.

“That might be a good idea.”

Cassie went to the door, turned back and smiled. “Remember, we’re havin’ chicken and stars!”

After Cassie disappeared down the hall, Lucinda was very pleased to give Vernon her complete attention. She never knew anyone who could be so overjoyed by something as simple as a date to a school dance.

“I can’t believe I finally got a girlfriend — well, one date, but at least it’s my first date,
and she’s wonder—“

“Slow down, Vernon, you’re running your sentences together.” She slipped into her rocking chair. Suddenly she was back in her classroom, sitting at her desk trying to act prim and proper. She inhaled. Yes, she could even smell the freshly mopped floors. “And be careful. The janitor mopped the floors before classes began this morning. I don’t want you to slip and fall.”

He froze in mid-whirl, focused on Lucinda and nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll be careful.”

“That’s better.”

Vernon inhaled intensely before resuming his ballet of joy. “I mean, I asked her out, of course, but she was really hinting for me to ask her by asking if I was going to the dance and saying—“

“Slow, slow.”

He nodded again and sat in the chair closest to Lucinda’s desk. A look came over him as though he were trying to recall a Shakespearean soliloquy to deliver. “She said she didn’t know who she was going with. Billy Bob had hinted he might ask her. But she said she didn’t really want to go with him.” In fact, he spoke so slowly and with deliberate conviction, Vernon’s Texas drawl almost faded away.

“I don’t blame her. Billy Bob Longabaugh is a cretin.” Her mouth tightened with disapproval.

“Now I don’t know if Billy Bob was really going to ask her or not — you know what I think?” He cocked his head as though looking for approval for his theory of social interaction among aboriginal peoples.

Lucinda smiled, becoming caught up in Vernon’s exuberance. Her mind thought of her days as a young woman, wishing she had been able to whip up such emotion in young men. Quickly she chastised herself for being so imprudent and returned to her function of educator. “No, what do you think?”

“I think she said that so I wouldn’t think she was desperate to go out with just anybody, that she really wanted to go to the dance with me.” He stated his conclusion impassively, but could not contain himself, leaping from the chair and exploding around the room. “With me! With me!”

“Close your mouth and count to ten before you start hyperventilating.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Vernon stopped and frowned, trying to remember his numbers. “One, two . . . .”

“I’m really very pleased you finally asked a nice young girl to a school dance.”

“. . . three, four . . . .”

“You know I’ve been after you all school year to expand socially as well as academically.”

“. . . five, six . . . .”

“I know it’s hard for a shy person. I was terribly shy and had a hard time getting dates for proms and the such . . . .”

“. . . seven, eight, nine, ten. I don’t care if I do hyperventilate! I can’t believe a girl as pretty as Nancy Meyers would be interested in me. I . . . .” His voice trailed off when he noticed the change in expression on Lucinda’s face. “You don’t look very happy for me, Mrs. Cambridge.”

“I am, Vernon,” she replied in her soft tone reserved for reciting poetry.

“That didn’t sound very enthusiastic.”

A wry smile crossed Lucinda’s wrinkled face. “I’m an old woman, Vernon. If I get as enthusiastic as you do, I’d have a heart attack.”

“Oh.” He ducked his head. “Then maybe I shouldn’t ask what I was going to ask.”

“Go ahead.

“Well, there’s one problem to all this business about taking Nancy to the spring dance. I don’t know how to dance.”

“And you want me to teach you.” With all of the will she had developed in decades of teaching, she kept her face expressionless.


She stood to walk towards him. “I suppose I can’t neglect that part of your education.”


Lucinda and Vernon stood opposite each other. Her heartbeat quickened as she became aware of his height, broad shoulders and large, rough hands. She could not help but tense her body.

“Anything wrong, Mrs. Cambridge?”

“Oh. Um. No. I was just trying to decide how to start,” she lied. After a pause, she continued, “All right. Let’s start with a waltz. Now, put your left hand at my waist and extend your right hand out and I’ll take it.”

“Like this?” Vernon put his left arm around her. Lucinda gently pulled away.

“I said at my waist, not around my waist,” she whispered.

“I’m sorry.”

Placing a bright smile on her lips, Lucinda tried to recover her propriety. “That’s quite all right. Now put your left hand on my hip.”

Vernon followed her instruction circumspectly.

“That’s right,” she said with encouragement. “Now extend your right arm.” Lucinda took Vernon’s right hand.

“Am I doing it right so far?”

“Yes, you are. Now take one step forward with your right foot, then a step back and behind your right with your right foot and a step back and behind your right with your left and repeat. One, two, three, one, two, three . . . .”

“Now you’re running your sentences together.” He grinned impishly.

“It’s really quite simple.” She chose to ignore his comment. “We’ll go slowly. Now right foot forward.”

They began to move slowly, awkwardly.

“Here we go,” he said in the same manner he would say it if he had been on a rollercoaster as it pulled out of the station.

“Then left foot forward — but not on my foot.”

“Gosh, I’m sorry.”