Monthly Archives: May 2019

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Seventy-Three

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. The Windsors escape oncoming Nazis. Leon shadows their every move.
Leon took a small inexpensive room down the street from the Ritz where the Windsors had checked in the night before. The mercenary had not worn his white linen suit on this mission. He would not be dining in expensive restaurants nor frequenting any glamorous casinos. The organization told him his task was to keep the Duke and Duchess of Windsor from harm. They were to have safe passage to wherever the British government wished to send them. Leon’s job was to make sure they were not harmed or detained in anyway.
The best method to meet this goal, Leon decided, was to intercept any messages being received or sent by Spanish officials to Germany. He ambled down the street, trying to figure out the best method to achieve his goal. As he searched the store fronts, he saw a familiar figure among the pedestrians. The man’s picture had been on the Madrid morning newspaper.
German ambassador to Spain Ebehart Von Stohrer made a speech praising the Spanish government for not following the lead of England and France in their indefensible oppression of freedom-loving Germany. Leon took particular notice of Stohrer’s face, trying to find a glimmer of reasoning behind his sincerely made idiotic statements.
Leon slowed to stare into the front window of a haberdashery. He always appreciated the latest styles in men’s apparel. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the German go into a cablegram office which puzzled Leon. Most embassies were equipped with their own cable equipment. Why would Stohrer avoid using the embassy apparatus and instead go to an out-of-the-way privately owned establishment? His message must be highly secret and extremely delicate in nature. Only the Duke and Duchess of Windsor would warrant such treatment.
After Stohrer left the cablegram office, Leon lingered by the office until a young man appeared with a broom to push dirt out of the office on the stoop and then out on the street. Leon walked over to him and looked up and down the street to make sure no one was watching.
Buenos dias, chico,” Leon greeted him.
The servant grunted.
Leon slid a knife out of his jacket pocket and stuck it in the lad’s side just deep enough to catch his attention.
Vamanos,” he whispered. “Go inside, throw your broom down and tell your boss you’ve had enough of this lousy job.”
“But he’s my uncle, senor.”
“That makes it more likely he’ll forgive you walking in next week begging for your job back.”
Leon pushed harder on the knife until he felt the tip puncture the boy’s skin. Without a word the servant walked inside. Leon heard the broom hit the floor and then a lot of angry shouting. Eventually the boy stormed out and stomped down the street, his arm pressing close against his injured side. Leon walked the other direction until he reached a small café where he ordered a demitasse of strong coffee. An hour later he walked back to the cablegram office, walked in and removed his cap.
Por favor, senor. I missed my boat this morning. I was a mere swabby—swabby, you know? With the mop and a broom. I need job. Hungry. I am very hungry.”
The office manager lifted an eyebrow and pointed at the floor. “There’s the broom. Sweep.”
When the manager left the office for lunch, Leon quickly sifted through the telegrams until he found the one sent by Stohrer. Even though Leon’s German was rudimentary but he still made out that Stohrer wanted instructions from Joachim Von Ribbentrop in Berlin on how to proceed on the Windsor project. Leon’s advance information was correct. He immediately went into the back store room where he began a grand mess of dusting and mopping so when he manager returned he would not suspect his new assistant had rifled through the private cablegrams.
The next day when the manager went to lunch Leon walked to the basket which held the messages received but not yet delivered. On top was a communication from Ribbentrop to Stohrer.
“Delay their visas as long as possible, hopefully two weeks. That would give me time to arrange a holiday to Madrid and accidentally run into the duchess. I’m sure I can convince Wallis to lure the duke into staying in Spain for the duration of the war.”
If Ribbentrop came to Madrid, Leon swore to himself Ribbentrop would be dead within twenty-four hours.
After work, Leon stood outside the Ritz in the shadows, just in case the Windsors went out for the evening. By happenstance, Leon had special skills to re-invent himself as a waiter or a busboy as the occasion arose. Also he had slightly bucked teeth which most times he successfully hid, but when the situation called for it, he could allow them to explode from his lips, changing his facial appearance drastically.
That particular night the American ambassador Alexander Weddell hosted the duke and duchess to an evening at one of the glitzier eating establishments of Madrid. With a few pesetas and the point of his very sharp knife, Leon was able to become a busboy for the night. He also commandeered the glasses with thick lenses of the frightened servant. His disguise was complete. What he overheard surprised him.
“The stories the French troops would not fight were not true,” the duke began speaking in his casual manner to the American. “They had fought magnificently, but the organization behind them was totally inadequate.”
Weddell’s mouth went agape. “Well, this comes as a surprise.”
Wallis joined in. “France had lost because it was internally diseased and a country which was not in condition to fight a war should not have declared war.”
The duke leaned into the ambassador. “This applies not merely to Europe but to the United States also.”
The rest of the dinner went quietly except for the occasional comment on the quality of the food, until the duke decided to add, “I am convinced if I had remained on the throne war would have been avoided. I am a firm supporter of a peaceful arrangement with Germany. I definitely believe continued severe bombing will make England ready for peace.”
It was at this time Ambassador Weddell announced he just remembered an important meeting back at the embassy and he must leave immediately. He told them not to worry. He had already made arrangements with the restaurant to pay the bill. The Windsors seemed unruffled and ordered rum raisin ice cream.
Leon, on the other hand, made his way back to the kitchen where he returned the jacket and glasses to the busboy and resumed his life-long habit of hiding his buck teeth. He did not understand why the Windsors would make such inflammatory statements in front of the American ambassador. He walked out the door and felt the warm Spanish breeze in his face. Perhaps they were creating an image, just as he created images for himself. Then his mind went back many years when an agent for the organization warned him about becoming emotionally involved with the subjects of his missions. It could prove dangerous. Leon had always laughed off the advice, but on this warm night in Madrid he gave it a serious second thought.

Remember Chapter Thirteen

Previously: Retired teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. She remembers letting it slip to Vernon that she didn’t like Nancy. She helps him with an essay about death.
“And in heaven we’ll praise God all the time for eternity.” He averted his eyes again. “Forever. I mean, even that scares me. No end. Going on forever and ever and ever. In a way, the atheists have it better, thinking there is a definite end someday, but even that scares me. Do we have to keep talking about this? I’m getting sick to my stomach.”

“No. We can go on to the other paper. Tell me about Dante and his seven levels of Hades.” Her tutorial ethics kept telling her she needed to move away, perhaps to the blackboard. But she couldn’t make herself move an inch.

Vernon flipped over a page in the notepad. “Look at this and see if I’m on the right track.”

“If you wish.” Lucinda leaned in even further to read from the pad. “You have grasped the meaning of each level very well. You’ve expressed it concisely and clearly if not elegantly.”

“Heck, I don’t think I could ever write elegant.” He laughed, and the pitch of his voice raised, making him sound more like a child than a young man.

“Are you still seeing Nancy?” She knew none of this was any of her business, but something in the pit of her inner being made her ask.

“Yeah.”

“I’m sure you’re a good influence on her.”

“She says I’ve taught her a lot.” Vernon nodded, his eyes were still fixed on the notepad.

“That’s good.” Lucinda felt her influence on Vernon was being passed on to Nancy which satisfied her need as a teacher to spread her life lessons.

“Of course, she’s taught me a lot too.”

“Oh.” She didn’t like the sound of that.

“Is this sentence okay?” Vernon pointed to a particular paragraph at the bottom of the page. “I got going on it, and it’s awful long.”

“What?” She was finding it difficult to concentrate on the essay because the physical sensations of their closeness made her light-headed.

“Look here.”

As Vernon pointed again to the paragraph, Lucinda leaned over even more, enjoying the warmth of their contact, until she lost her balance. He jumped up to catch her before she landed on the desk.

“Are you all right?”

Lucinda straightened and looked as though she had been caught in an immoral act. “Of course, I’m all right. I just lost my balance for a moment, that’s all. It could happen to anybody.”

“You need to be careful. You nearly fell all over me.”

“I don’t want to remember that!” She recognized the panic in her voice, and she couldn’t control it. “No! It did not happen!”

“Don’t get upset, Mrs. Cambridge.” He wrinkled his brow.

“I’m not upset.” Lucinda shook her head in adamant zeal. “Nothing happened.”

“I thought maybe you couldn’t see the paper good, and you had to lean so far in that you lost your balance,” Vernon explained. “I could put the paper closer to you.”

“Please, I don’t want to remember I did that!”

“Lose your balance?” He chuckled. “I lose my balance all the time.”

Lucinda turned to walk back to her desk, blinking her eyes, trying to return to the present. “Vernon, please go now.” The scent of the honeysuckle outside her boardinghouse window grew stronger. She was almost there. “I don’t want to remember this.”

“Okay.” Physically Vernon was almost gone. His voice grew fainter. “I’ll try to figure all this out.”

“No! Don’t try to figure it out!” She was on the verge of tears. “It was all very innocent.”

“I meant Dante’s Inferno.” The echo of his voice faded.

“Oh.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter One Hundred One

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. Duff holds his last cabinet meeting posing as the president. Duff tells Alethia her friend Rose is dead.
Each ate a quiet supper—Duff in his bedroom, Alethia in hers—then they began packing. Take nothing to indicate they had been there and leave nothing to indicate the same, Stanton had told them. The silence was killing Duff, until he heard Tad’s laughter come down the hall, punctuated by mild admonitions by Tom Pendel. The noise drew Duff to his door.
“Mr. Pendel, thank you for being so kind to Tad.”
“It’s been a pleasure, sir.” He paused awkwardly. “And I hope to continue to do so for the next four years.”
“Of course, you will, Tom Pen,” Tad interjected brightly, going to Duff’s side. “Papa, you’re scaring old Tom Pen into thinking he’s going to lose his job.”
“Please excuse me, Mr. Pendel.” Duff smiled and patted Tad’s shoulder. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Don’t think a thing about it, sir.” Pendel turned to walk haltingly down the hall to the door of the service stairs.
After Pendel disappeared, Tad giggled and put his hand to his mouth. He pushed Duff into the bedroom and shut the door.
“I saved you that time, didn’t I, Mr. Papa?” Tad’s eyes glistened.
“Yes, you did.” Duff tousled Tad’s hair. “In a couple of hours your real parents will return, and all will be as it should be.”
“Papa did a good job when he picked you to replace him. And when he gets back, I’m going to tell him to fire that Mr. Stanton. I don’t like him.”
“I don’t think many people do like him.” He looked toward the door to Alethia’s bedroom. “You should say good-bye to Mrs. Mama. She’s very sad.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m gonna miss her too.” He looked up. “Sometime, if you’re on a street where Mama, Papa, and me pass, I can’t wave to you. You understand why, don’t you?”
“I understand. Now go say good-bye to Mrs. Mama.”
Duff followed Tad to the door and watched him open it and go to Alethia, who was closing her suitcase on the bed. At first he wanted to hear the tender exchange of farewells, but decided his heart, already strained by exceeding sorrow, could not bear it. Instead, Duff went to the window to watch the sun set over the Potomac, the same time of day he and Alethia first had come to the Executive Mansion.
Robert entered the room and looked down at the floor. “So you’re going to the theater tonight?”
“Yes.”
“Tomorrow we can have a talk, all right?” He looked into Duff’s eyes, then shifted his gaze back to the floor.
“Of course.” Duff thought how he would not be the one to talk to Robert. “I don’t think I’ve said this much lately, son, but I’m very proud of you.” Duff was proud of Robert, and he was fond of Tad. He wished they had been his sons.
“Thank you, Father.” Robert’s face brightened.
After a warm hug, Robert disappeared down the hall into his room. Duff leaned against the door and sighed. He heard Tad close Alethia’s door and enter his own room. Duff picked up his suitcase and went to her door to knock. Alethia joined him to walk down the service stairs, then his thoughts were drowned out by the crackling of the straw mats. When they opened the door, they saw Adam standing there to take them to their carriage. He looked completely defeated to Duff, and he wanted to say something comforting, but it was futile because they both were dead men. Going through the service drive door, Adam stopped abruptly, his eyes startled as he stared at the carriage driver, a short, muscular man with dark red hair. When Duff glanced at Adam, he was inching backward to the door.
“Put the luggage in the back,” the driver ordered.
He and Alethia climbed into the carriage and settled down as it pulled away from the service driveway and into the dark street. Remembering his promise, Duff did not look at her, nor speak to her; instead, he focused on the dark horseman.
“You’re not our usual driver, are you?”
The man did not reply.
After several minutes, Duff noticed the carriage turned onto a shadowy, little-used road heading north to the Maryland countryside rather than south to the Potomac. Suddenly, he grasped that this was the time of their deaths. Acting on instinct, Duff quickly turned to Alethia and forced a light kiss on her lips. In the middle of her protest, a shot rang out, and Duff saw a red splotch on her forehead. Looking forward, he heard a loud report, and true silence overwhelmed the carriage.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Seventy-Two

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. David and Wallis volunteer to help France. Leon receives orders to go to France. The Windsors escape oncoming Nazis.
David and Wallis slept late the next morning in their suite at the most luxurious hotel in Barcelona. They felt as if they had earned it. He dressed and left Wallis munching on toast and sipping coffee as he went downstairs to send a cable to the British Foreign Office to inform officials they had arrived safely. They would move on to Madrid where they planned to pretend to be interested in Spanish pleas that they stay there. He was confident the message would be passed on to MI6.
When he returned to the suite, David found Wallis snuggled under the covers. Her half-eaten toast was back on a small plate by her coffee cup on the nightstand. She stirred a bit when he shut the door and opened her eyes only long enough to growl a command.
“Don’t you dare wake me up. I plan to sleep until I have completely forgotten that dreadful drive in the rain.”
With that she rolled over, exposing her boney derriere in her silk night gown. David smiled and poured himself another cup of coffee before settling into a comfortable padded chair. Briefly he watched Wallis to consider what kind of God’s creature was she. No one would ever call her beautiful, but everyone flocked to her when she arrived at a party. She knew all the rules of etiquette and knew when she could break them. She seemed frail and vulnerable, but was capable of abominable violence. Wallis was the opposite of every woman he had ever seduced, and yet he found himself falling in love with her, which was against all the rules of civilized espionage.
After he finished his coffee, David changed back into his pajamas to slip into the bed next to Wallis. He began to feel the toll of the last twenty-four hours. David didn’t know for sure if he could sleep, but he did feel comfortable in the bed next to her. He felt her body warmth. He heard her soft breathing. He smelled her heady expensive perfume. It was though they were married in spirit as well as in law, and they were truly in love. What a comforting sensation, he thought. Soon he was deep asleep.
Two days later they settled into their suite at the Ritz in Madrid. That night they celebrated David’s forty-sixth birthday with petite broiled steaks, fresh blanched peas drizzled with olive oil and baked potatoes. They were on their second bottle of champagne. Wallis lifted her glass.
“Here’s to your entering middle-age.” She had a wicked smile.
“Thank you for reminding me.” His tone was less than enthusiastic.
“Don’t worry about it.” The wickedness disappeared from her lips. “You’re Peter Pan. You’ll never grow up.”
“And how about you?” David looked down to cut his steak. “You’re only a few years younger than I.”
“That’s why I’m having such a good time now. I’ll be an old wreck, but I’ll be happy I went on the ride.”
The Windsors had just started their rum raisin ice cream when a courier presented a cable to the duke.
“Oh damn,” Wallis muttered. “I was enjoying myself until that thing arrived.” She paused as David read it. “Well, don’t leave me hanging. What is it?”
“We’ll be staying in Madrid a little longer,” he replied. “My brother Harry is due to arrive in Lisbon to commemorate Portugal’s 800th independence anniversary.”
“That means we have longer to experience this Spanish cuisine. I’ve heard of this marvelous dish called paella. It’s supposed to be peasant food, but it’s chocked full of pork, chicken, shrimp and sometimes squid.” She paused to consider the sullen darkness which had fallen over him. “What’s with the long face?”
David shrugged. “Oh, it just means more interminable meetings with Spanish officials trying to talk me into staying here for the duration of the war.”
“Is that all? You’re not really upset about not seeing your stolid brother Harry, are you? He’s so boring he puts me to sleep.” Wallis laughed until she noticed David was still glum. She leaned forward. “I’m your chum. You can tell me. I know you really adore George, but I didn’t think you care a hill of beans for the rest of them. Or do you?”
“If you’re my chum, you wouldn’t have to ask that question.”
When the Windsors arrived back in their suite, they found an envelope on their bed. David opened it to find two tickets to the afternoon bull fights at the Plaza Toros Las Ventas.
“We’ve been invited to watch little men in fancy costumes kill animals, my dear,” he announced.
“By whom?”
“Who knows?”
“Obviously by someone with no sense of true entertainment,” she replied. “Back home in Maryland if we wanted to kill a cow we’d just walk out to the field and blow its head off with a shotgun.”
The next afternoon they chose their clothing carefully. Their usual Paris high fashion would stand out even in a stadium filled with 25,000 peasants. Eventually they walked out on the street and hailed a local couple about their age, height and weight to offer them stunning clothing in exchange for their common street wear. The Spaniards were apprehensive at first, of course, but David with his down-to-earth personality and inadequate use of the Spanish language charmed them into venturing in the most expensive suite at the Ritz.
Once the exchange was made, the Windsors had to rush to be at the Plaza Toros Las Ventas in time for the opening ceremonies. As they walked to their seats the municipal band Espana Cani played pasadoble tunes.
“Thank God our seats are in the shade.”
“They‘re more expensive.”
“I don’t care.” Settling in, Wallis looked at David and smiled. “You make a handsome peasant.”
He glanced her way. “So do you.” After a pause he added, “Don’t look at me that way. I’m becoming aroused.”
“Don’t do that, old boy,” a voice interjected from behind them. “Don’t look around. It’s just your kindly old general.”
They both sighed in relief. They didn’t really want to stay to see the killing of a bull.
“You will be exchanging cablegrams over the next few weeks with Churchill over what your assignment will be during the war,” Trotter began. “First you’ll be insulted that you were not brought home for a more active role. Wallis, you must demand that someone sneak into the Riviera to retrieve your green bathing suit from La Croe.”
“That ugly old thing?” She seemed shocked. “I hope nobody does it.”
“Probably not,” Trotter replied, “but it will make a good headline.” He put his hand on David’s shoulder. “You’re going to be the governor of the Bahamas.”
“Hmm, I’ll need a whole new wardrobe,” Wallis murmured. “Nothing in green.”
“And what will our mission be?” David asked.
“An Australian chap by the name of Harry Oates practically runs Nassau. He has ties to the Germans, the American Mafia and who knows who else. You become close to him, see what he knows and if he knows too much—kill him.”

Remember Chapter Twelve

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. She remembers letting it slip to Vernon that she didn’t like Nancy.
Inside she stopped at the bottom of the stairs and considered the effort she would have to exert to return to her room. She thought she heard her bed calling her to come rest awhile, and she obeyed.

Lucinda had just nestled her head in her pillow and endured the squeak of the mattress springs when a knock at the door jerked her back awake.

“Miz Cambridge? It’s Miz Godwin. May I come in?”

“Of course, Mrs. Godwin.” Lucinda lifted herself from the bed and stood, forcing a pleasant look upon her face as Bertha came in.

“They said you was feelin’ poorly. I wanted to check on you.”

“How kind. I’m much better.”

“Good, because I need some advice.” Bertha stepped forward with the urgency of a life insurance salesman at the front door.

Lucinda’s body twitched. “How may I help you?”

“I suppose you’ve heard the fuss about the fire marshal.”

“Yes, some improvements have to be made.” Without thinking, she slumped into her rocking chair.

“Well, Emma is hell bent – excuse my language – on not doin’ a thing. She’s the most stubborn woman in the world.” She smiled as though she had been caught not being a proper Southern lady. “I should know, bein’ her sister.”

“And you want to know if I think you should inform the authorities of her noncompliance?”

Bertha paused, as though her mind had to translate into her Texas vernacular what Lucinda had just said. Eventually, she nodded. “I’d never hear the end of it if she knew I was the one who turned her in. But I don’t want to wake up some night with flames all around me. The way she smokes, I know it’s goin’ to happen.”

“I learned long ago not to make other people’s decisions for them.” Even now she shuddered at the advice she had given Vernon. “You have to look within yourself for wisdom.”

“You’re afraid you’ll lose the roof over your head too?” Bertha asked in sympathy.

“No, that’s not—“

Emma’s voice rang throughout the drafty old house. “Bertha! Come wash these dishes!”

“I’ve got to go.” She headed for the door. “You’re right. It’s my decision.” She looked back and added with what seemed to be sincere concern, “Now you git your rest.”

Before she knew it, Lucinda was back at her desk at the college, and Vernon, dressed in blue jeans and a pull over sweater, entered carrying a notepad and a textbook.

“Vernon. I’m sorry I displeased you earlier.” At that time in her life, Lucinda was not very good at apologies. “I hope any little arguments we have don’t disrupt our friendship.”

“What argument?” he asked as he sat.

“In the hall. You were in your gym shorts and we were talking about—“

“Oh, that was months ago,” he cut her off with a wave of a hand. “I’ve already forgotten about that.”

“Good.” She sighed in relief and focused on his notepad. “What do you have here?”

“It’s that paper you wanted me to do on Dante’s Inferno. And that poem I had to write about death.” He opened the notepad to the page where he had scribbled a few words. He shook his head. “Gosh, Mrs. Cambridge, this is hard.”

‘Well, do you see why I wanted you to write it?” Lucinda relaxed, comfortable in her old element of the classroom.

“Sure, if you go to – um, Hades, that means you must be dead and if we write a poem then we kinda know what Dante must have gone through to write his poem,” he explained with uncertainty.

“That’s right. So, read me your poem.” She leaned forward with anticipation.

Vernon blinked a few times and then began to read, forming each word with care, “One night on a dark country road/ I sped on my way home./ With thoughts lingering about my date/ I didn’t think of what was ahead./ Suddenly before my car/ Was a rabbit frozen with fear/ Fixed in the middle of the road./ The headlight glare caught the shock and fear in his eyes./ Then he died./ And I cried.”

“Very touching, Vernon.” She stood to walk around to his desk and read it again from over his shoulder. “I assume that really happened.”

“Yep.”

“I’ve no quarrel with the free verse with the rhymed couplet. But it is very brief. Perhaps in here – “she leaned over to point at one section “–right before the rhymed couplet you could relate some other experience facing death.”

“I haven’t had any.”

She looked at him. “Surely one of your grandparentshas died.”

“No.” He shook his head, averting eye contact. “All of them are still alive.”

“Oh, there’s someone you’ve known who died.” She became aware of his aftershave, which she recognized as a common brand like her husband had used. “You just don’t remember. And there’s been some experience in your life when you’ve been faced with your own mortality.”

His shoulders shuddered a bit. “But I don’t want to think about it. It scares me.”

“Well, Vernon, dying scares all of us.” She was practically whispering in his ear. “Part of living is overcoming the fear of death.”

“Sometimes, late at night, I think about what it’s going to be like not to exist anymore. Not to feel, be hungry, be happy, look forward to doing things.” His voice took on a mournful, frightened quality.

“Only atheists believe death means not existing anymore.” She pulled away when she was aware she had entered a realm of preaching instead of teaching. She always prided herself on keeping the two issues separated.

“I know that.” He exhaled. “But if I’m not here I’m not existing. Being in heaven is something I don’t know anything about. That won’t be existing like this is existing.” He turned to look at her face. They were very close. “I’m not saying this very well.”

She smiled. “I think you’re saying it beautifully.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter 100

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. Duff holds his last cabinet meeting posing as the president.
As Stanton walked out, Duff heard voices in the adjoining bedroom. It was Alethia and Mrs. Keckley.
“I feel strange today,” she was saying to the dressmaker. “When you return next week, I may have lost weight.”
“Oh.”
“That means you’ll need to go back to my old patterns.”
“Of course.”
Duff sensed Alethia wanted to say something else to Mrs. Keckley but did not know how.
“Thank you for being a friend.” She paused. “A friend is one who accepts you for who you are, and not who you seem to be. You understand what I mean, don’t you, Mrs. Keckley.”
“Of course, Miss Lincoln.”
“You’re a very wise person, Mrs. Keckley,” Alethia said. “I’ve been enriched to have known you.”
“You’re much too kind, Miss Lincoln.” Mrs. Keckley added in a whisper, “And may God bless you, whatever happens.”
“Thank you,” Alethia replied, her voice cracking. “And good-bye.”
“Good-bye, miss.”
The door opened and shut, and Duff came around the corner to find Alethia sitting on the bed, her hand gently touching her cheek.
“I heard what you said to Mrs. Keckley. It was nice.”
Alethia turned her nails into her flesh and pulled down. His larger hand covered hers and pulled it away from her cheek, which was already showing a welt.
“Please, don’t. Come with me for a carriage ride. It’ll do us good.”
Nodding woodenly, Alethia, without a word, Duff down the staircase and out the door to the carriage. She brightened, in accordance with the role she played, to wave and smile at pedestrians who called out greetings. Once the carriage passed from downtown to the countryside, Alethia slumped back in her seat, putting her hands to her forehead.
“Alethia,” Duff spoke in a low tone so the driver could not hear, “I know I’ve hurt you deeply, for which I’m terribly sorry, and I understand you cannot forgive me. The worst part is that I have to hurt you again, and you’ll probably hate me even more.” He paused for a response; when none came, Duff continued, “Your friend, Rose Greenhow, is dead.”
“What?” Her eyes filled with tears. Her head snapped toward his face.
“She drowned when her ship sank off the coast of South Carolina. She was returning from London.”
After moments of searching his face, Alethia collapsed against his shoulder, sobbing. He patted her back and began sputtering words of comfort. Alethia stiffened.
“Don’t you dare,” she whispered furiously. “How dare you try to console me?”
“I’m sorry,” Duff replied.
The carriage continued for miles in silence until they had returned to the city, where they again began waving and calling out to the crowd. After dismounting from the carriage, they entered the Executive Mansion and climbed the staircase. Alethia turned abruptly to glare at him.
“We’ve only a couple more hours together. Don’t speak to me again. After tonight, I’ll return to Bladensburg and open my bakery—I hope to be a better person for the lessons I’ve learned here. And you, I don’t care where you go or what you do as long as you never enter my life again.”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Seventy-One

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. David and Wallis volunteer to help France. Leon receives orders to go to France and says good-bye to his son.
The servants finished packing the limousine while the Windsors bid adieu to the staff. David embraced Monsieur Valat and whispered, “Take care. Thank you for helping Wallis with the recuperating soldiers. As soon as we leave dismiss the staff and lock the residence. I have informed the owner we are not renewing our lease. Then you and your son disappear into the hills. If you can, make it to Switzerland. As a former employee of an Allied officer and a volunteer at a convalescence hospital, you will be viewed with suspicion by the Germans.”
Wallis hugged Jean. “Thank you for saving my life.”
The sun was low in the sky. Valat looked around and frowned.
“Are you sure you do not want to wait until morning?”
“No,” David replied. “The trip to Barcelona will take twenty-four hours. It’s best if most of that time we are traveling in darkness.”
The Windsors pulled away in their car and drove down the winding driveway. After a couple of hours they stopped in Cannes for a supper. They had a salad and soup. Their anticipation of the long drive kept them from a larger meal. David pour the last of the wine into their glasses. After a sip, Wallis leaned in.
“Are you sure all these precautions are worth it?” Wallis asked. “If Joachim’s behavior the last time we saw him is any indication, the Germans have no idea we tried to kill Hitler.” She took out a cigarette and lit it.
“Two points, my dear. One, I’m not concerned about an assassination attempt on our lives. They want to kidnap us so we will be available to place on the throne if their air attacks on London are successful and the country falls. Two, the world must view us as escaping with our lives to keep up the pretense we are the mere abdication couple with no stomach for war.”
She blew smoke his way. “Since when did I give you permission to call me ‘dear’ in private?”
“Haven’t you noticed?” he smiled like an imp. “I always have.”
Amusement danced across her thin lips. “Oh really? You’re right. I hadn’t noticed.” She stood. “And now I have to go to the Johnny.”
“If you must.” David frowned. He didn’t understand why, but Wallis’s use of American slang irritated him. He looked out the window onto the dimly lit street. A motorcyclist sat at the curb staring at him. Normal people might not noticed such behavior, but as an experienced espionage agent David took in every detail.
Wallis returned. “You better go too, unless you want to pee in bushes.”
Damn her slang, David thought; however, what made it so aggravating was that she was right. She goaded him again when she slid in behind the wheel of the car.
“You need to get some sleep.” She turned the ignition. “It’s going to be a long night.”
After midnight, the roads begin to fill with villagers from Frejus, St. Maxine and St. Tropez. They were in a panicked march away from the oncoming German army. David and Wallis settled into a forbidding silence as the traffic crawled to a halt through larger towns like Toulon. At one point an ambulance blocked the road. Two men appeared to be changing all four tires. A woman, wearing a ragged coat stood by the side of the road holding a lantern up to the oncoming traffic. When they reached the woman, she shone the lantern in the car window and motioned them to the side.
“Now what can this be all about?” David muttered.
As soon as he cleared off the road and stopped, the woman limped over to them and opened the car door. She leaned in and whispered, “Where the hell have you been? I’ve been waiting all night for you.”
“Thank God it’s you. Now we can get some information.” Wallis grinned like a school girl.
“What do you have for us?” David asked.
“The Germans are moving faster than anticipated,” she began. “Our sources in Berlin say that Von Ribbentrop has taken all of your statements to the press and interpreted them to be your signal to Hitler that you are willing to become the new king once the British lose the war. That makes them even more eager to intercept you. The Spanish ambassador has assured your passage into Spain at Barcelona, but we think he will try to influence you once you arrive. They even have contingency plans to grab you in Portugal before you set sail.”
“Set sail for where?” David wrinkled his brow.
“How the hell would I know?” she retorted. “That’s between you and MI6.”
Wallis reached out to touch her hand. “I’m glad you’re on our side.”
“I’m on the side of France.” She withdrew into the darkness.
David took over the wheel, and Wallis snuggled in for a nap.
By dawn the Windsors entered Marseilles and realized the gas tank was on empty. The first two stations they passed were still closed which made them nervous. On the western end of the city they found a station just opening and filled the large limousine take, ensuring enough gasoline to reach the Spanish border. They found a small café, and ate a large breakfast. In a few miles the Windsors entered a more isolated countryside; however, the sky darkened with rain clouds. Soon a torrent began and continued most of the day, again slowing their progress. It was night before they knew it. The road narrowed as their car reached the Pyrenees Mountains. Refuges continued to crowd their escape.
A man pulling on a donkey with a child on its back stepped in front of David’s car. He swerved to keep from hitting them, but found himself in the mud unable to pull his car out. The more he gunned the engine the more entrenched it become. He put the car in neutral.
“We’ve got to get out and push,” he grumbled.
Without a word Wallis joined him. Ignoring the downpour, they put their shoulders to the rear bumper to no success. Behind them they heard a noise.
Allez, allez!” a high-pitched male voice called out.
A short man with broad shoulders rode up on his motorcycle and waved to others to join him. Without another word, the stranger and the volunteers he had recruited put their bodies again the car and pushed, eventually placing it back on the road. All the others scurried on their way. David grabbed the stranger’s hand to shake. He noticed the man had a heavy but worn coat, gloves and a knit cap pulled down over his ears.
“We can’t thank you enough.” David patted his back. “It’s as though you arrived by design.”
Pas de quoi.” The stranger laughed. “Indeed, it was by design.”
Wallis squinted at him. His features were obscured by the night. Instinctively she reached to pull off his cap, revealing a strong black face with penetrating eyes.
“You sound like you’re from the Bahamas,” she intoned. “Have we met before?”
“Yes, we have.”
“You saved my life on the Tanganyika Express,” she said in revelation.
“So, are you saying you have been following us?” David couldn’t understand.
“Well, this time just since Antibes.”
“Then why—“David tried to continue.
“You need to be in Barcelona as soon as possible.”
“Can we give you a ride?” David offered.
“I have my own transportation.” He pointed to his cycle. “And it is faster than yours.”
“Just who are you?” Wallis demanded. “Who do you work for?”
Before they could ask any more questions the stranger disappeared into the dark swerving in and out of the hordes of refugees. David remembered the cyclist who stared at them in the Cannes cafe. Knowing he had no time to reflect on the situation, he brushed the thought from his mind. David pushed Wallis to the driver’s side of the wheel.
“It’s your turn behind the wheel.”
They resumed their trek across the mountains to Perpignon where David once again began driving. Once they reached the border crossing, a crowd milled about, discontent murmurs floating around. David went to the Spanish entry office where the immigration clerk told him he had not received any message from the ambassador about the admittance of the former king of England. David tried to maintain his composure.
“You must understand, the German army has instructions to kidnap my wife and me. I am the former king of England.” Even as he said the words he knew they sounded ridiculous.
At that moment, there was a tap on the door to the Spanish side. The clerk opened it and a man stuck his arm in and grabbed the clerk to pull him outside. A moment later he returned. His face was beet red and his eyes wide in fear.
“I—I’m sorry for the delay. You are allowed to enter.”
As they drove across the border the Windsors saw the short man from the Bahamas on his motorcyle waving at them.
Por nada.”

Remember Chapter Eleven

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. Memories of Vernon interrupt an unpleasant lunch.
Lucinda walked around the house to the trellis going up to her bedroom window. Honeysuckle blossoms covered the vine. Leaning in, she smelled the scent, felt her heart begin to beat more slowly and closed her eyes. She cocked her head when she thought she heard a basketball being dribbled on a hall floor, the sound ricocheting off the walls. When she opened her eyes she was back at the junior college and saw Vernon jerking toward her, wearing gym shorts and sneakers, trying to bounce the ball.

“Vernon, what are you doing?”

“Why, I’m dribbling the basketball down the hall.” He stopped in front of her and wiped the sweat from his face. “The new coach, Coach Cummins, says to dribble the thing up and down the hall the whole gym period until I get so I don’t kick it when I run.”

“If you’re in Mr. Cummins’ class that must mean this is the fall of your sophomore year.” Lucinda considered how quickly time passed when it became a memory.

“That’s right. I did a whole lot better the spring semester. You even gave me a B.”

She smiled. “I didn’t give you a B. You earned it. I’m very proud of your progress, Vernon.”

The front screen door flung open. The noise drew Lucinda back to the present. Nancy marched out with Shirley in tow.

“You’ll have to behave in the beauty shop this afternoon. I’m not leaving you here around that old busybody who’ll fill your head with nonsense.”

“Omigosh, that’s Nancy!” Vernon announced excitedly, his voice sounding like it was an echo from a well.

“Yes,” Lucinda replied without emotion.

“She still lives here?”

“Yes.”

Shirley broke away from her mother and run over to give Lucinda a quick hug. “I gotta go to Mama’s beauty shop this afternoon.” She looked up into the old woman’s face. “Now you take a nap this afternoon, okay? You don’t look good.”

“Shirley! You come back here right now!” Nancy screamed as she walked down the sidewalk. “If you’re not by my side when I reach the street you’re gonna be in trouble!”

“Yes, Mama.” She gave Lucinda another quick hug. “See you tonight, Mrs. Cambridge.” She ran to catch up to her mother.

“Who’s the little girl?” Vernon asked. His voice was still faint.

“Her daughter.”

“So Nancy got married?” The question rang stronger.

“Um, Vernon don’t worry about Coach Cummins. Just do the best you can.” Lucinda watched Shirley and Nancy walk around the corner and disappear. When she turned back to Vernon they were in the college hallway once more.

“You bet I’m not going to worry about it.” He was solid and sweaty. “I may not be able to bounce this stupid ball, but I can beat up anybody in that class, including the coach. Look at that muscle.” He flexed his bicep.

“Now, now, Vernon, you’re always talking beating up people, but I’d say you’ve never even been in a fight, have you?” She allowed her eyes to linger on his arms.

“Well, no.” He ducked his head. “I’ve never got that mad at anybody yet. But if I ever do get that mad, they better watch out.”

“I hope you’re never that angry. In fact, I’m sure you’ll never be.”

“I guess you’re right.” He tried to dribble again but with no better results.

Lucinda looked around to see if any students or teachers walking past them noticed their conversation. “How did you spend your summer?”

“I had a great time.” Vernon’s face brightened. “Nancy and me, we went—“

“And I,” she corrected him. “Don’t forget your grammar while you’re remembering your summer.”

“Oh yeah.” He paused to clear his throat and concentrate on what he was saying. “Nancy and I went swimming a lot and saw some movies. Gosh it was wonderful.”

“Did she go home for the summer to Pilot Point?” she asked.

“Sure, but I drove over to see her.”

“You drove all that way just for a date?” She could not resist letting a touch of censure color her voice. “Surely your parents didn’t approve of that.”

“I bought the gas with my summer job money,” he replied defensively. “Besides, it ain’t — isn’t any of their business.”

“If you spend your money foolishly you won’t be able to go to the university next year.” She was relentless in her chastisement.

“I’ll have enough.” Shifting his weight from one foot to the other, Vernon’s attention drifted.

“And I hate to see a fine young, honorable man like yourself deceive his parents over a girl like Nancy Meyers.” Looking back upon the incident Lucinda realized how petty and self-serving her manner was.

“I’m not deceiving no — anybody. I tell them I got a date and they don’t ask who or where. And they don’t say anything when I get in late.” He cocked his head in curiosity. “And what did you mean by a girl like Nancy Meyers?”

“Your mother and father haven’t inquired about your dates?” She continued with questions she clearly knew were none of her business to ask.

“Mama’s just happy I got a date and you know my father. He doesn’t care.” Vernon frowned. “And what did you mean by a girl like Nancy Meyers?”

“Oh, I’m sure your father cares.” Lucinda found safety in her attempt to defend his father. After all, honoring your father was one of the Ten Commandments.

“No, he doesn’t — and what did you mean by a girl like Nancy Meyers?” His tone was now markedly testy.

“I didn’t mean anything by it.” She feigned surprise that her remarks were taken the wrong way. “I’d think, however, that a young woman would consider the expense she’s placing on a young gentleman to have him call on her from such a distance.”

He lowered his gaze to study the basketball in his hands. “You don’t like Nancy, do you?”

“Let’s just say I like you better.”

“You’ve never liked Nancy.” It was as if a gate had been opened, and Vernon’s emotion came out. “I could tell, even that first time when I told you about the dance.”

This memory was getting entirely too uncomfortable. Lucinda looked up and around. “There was the bell. I’ve got a class. And you have to shower and do whatever else young men do after perspiring.”

“I didn’t hear a bell,” he replied sullenly.

“If I want to remember a bell, I’ll remember one. This is my memory, after all.” She turned to go up the porch steps, leaving Vernon in past.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Ninety-Nine

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’s girlfriend Jessie becomes ill and dies.
Good Friday—the last Friday—arrived with slivers of morning light coming through the curtains into Duff’s bedroom, awakening him to sadness and fear. Alethia’s withdrawal saddened him; he had hurt her deeply and was sorry for it. He did not know the manner of death Stanton had planned for them, but he knew it would be tonight. A soft rap at the door interrupted his thoughts.
“Come in, Tom Pen,” he called out.
The old man entered and with humble deference deposited the morning newspaper at the foot of the bed.
“Thank you, Tom Pen.”
“You’re welcome, sir.” He looked down.
“You’re a good friend to Tad.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“And a good friend to me.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Tom Pendel kept his eyes averted as he left the room. He knew Duff was not the real Lincoln, but Duff was not going to dwell on what the servant might think. The dead did not care what the living thought.
Opening the newspaper, Duff noticed one small item on the front page. Rose Greenhow had drowned in late March off the coast of South Carolina when her ship sank, aborting her triumphal return from England where she had been the belle of London society after her book was published. Gold coins sewn into her–skirt, meant to redeem Southern soldiers from Yankee prisons–had dragged her to the bottom of the ocean.
At ten o’clock, he went to his last Cabinet meeting. Duff was never comfortable maneuvering through the Byzantine debates, walking the tightrope of following Stanton’s orders yet maintaining an appearance of independence. From time to time, he relished the chance to defy Stanton or embarrass him in front of Cabinet members.
Looking up at the door after hearing a soft knock, Duff saw General Grant and smiled. He felt at ease with the general, whom he had met several times in the last two years. They shook hands.
“General, good to see you.”
“Thank you, Mr. President. Have you heard from Sherman?”
“No. I’d hoped he’d contacted you.”
“Not a word.”
After his march to the sea, Sherman and his army had turned north to cut a swath through the Carolinas. No one had heard anything from him since.
“I’ve no doubt he’s successfully raising hell,” Grant said.
“General,” an old, cracked voice called out. “Have you heard from Sherman?”
Duff smiled when Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles walked in. The old man had been his mainstay and comfort through the years.
Other Cabinet members arrived in quick succession. Secretary of the Interior John Usher: Duff did not like him as well as Caleb Smith, who had died early in the term. Usher had accompanied him to Gettysburg, and Duff had sensed a tinge of irony in Usher’s compliments on the address. Perhaps he just had not liked the address—no one much did—and his cynical tone had not meant he knew Duff was an impostor.
Arriving next was Hugh McColloch, who had replaced Salmon Chase, now Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Duff had found Chase too smug and implacable, but he appreciated McColloch’s colorless and efficient qualities.
He also liked the honor, high-mindedness, purity, and dignity of the new postmaster general, William Dennison, who had replaced Montgomery Blair. Duff had admired Blair’s openness, but it had disappeared after the incident in which his niece was caught with bottles of quinine sewn into her skirt. Dennison slipped into the room and sat down.
Coming in rapid succession were James Speed, who had replaced the aging Edward Bates as attorney general; Frederick Seward, son of Secretary of State Seward who was recovering from a carriage accident; and Secretary of Interior James Harlan, whose daughter was marrying Lincoln’s son Robert.
Duff regretted the retirement of Bates, a gruff defender of the Constitution; he did not know enough about Speed yet to have an opinion. Sighing, he was relieved Frederick had come for his father, because Seward always scared him with his solemn owl face. Duff was pleased to see Harlan; after all, he was going to be family—what was he thinking, Duff scolded himself. Who was in the Cabinet and who was not was no longer a concern to him, because he was a dead man.
With all the Cabinet members present except Stanton, Duff pulled the cord to call Noah Brooks into the room to take notes. He hoped the meeting would be over before Stanton arrived. This last day would go better without him.
“Now that we’re all here—”
“Not all,” Brooks interrupted. “Mr. Stanton isn’t here.”
“We’ve a quorum,” Duff replied. “We must consider reconstruction.” He felt he owed it to Lincoln to push his plan as long as he was in the Executive Mansion.
Before Duff could go any further, he heard a coughing at the door. Stanton entered the room. Sighing, Duff sat back and gave up hope to help Lincoln’s efforts for an easy transition to one nation. Again he reminded himself: business of state would no longer concern him after tonight.
“Any news of Sherman?” Welles asked.
“No.” Stanton sat at the table. “But it’s of little consequence. Lee surrendered. The Confederate government is on the run. The war’s over.”
“But—” Welles began.
“The war’s over.” Stanton slapped his hand on the table.
“There’s no need to bang on anything,” Vice President Andrew Johnson said, his Tennessee accent dipped in bourbon, as he entered and sat at the table. “You need to learn manners, Stanton.” He crossed his arms across his big chest as he stared at the war secretary.
“And you need to learn to stay sober,” Stanton replied through clenched teeth.
Several Cabinet members shifted in their chairs, Duff noticed; he heard some whisper about why Johnson was even there. Lincoln’s first vice president, Hannibal Hamlin, had never attended Cabinet meetings.
“Sir,” Welles addressed Stanton, “it’s of great importance. If General Sydney Johnston vanquishes General Sherman, then all hell will break out. The South will be resuscitated—”
“Mr. Welles,” Stanton interrupted, “you see defeats where there are none. It’s foolish to waste our time worrying about something that cannot happen. We’ve more substantial problems to deal with.”
“One of those problems is why you insist on running this meeting.” Johnson’s voice was barely below a bellow.
“That’s enough,” Duff interceded. He liked Johnson very much. He might be a drunk, but he was honest to the core.
“Yes, sir.” Johnson hung his head. “I know I don’t belong here.” He recovered his spirit and pointed at Stanton. “But I can still smell a skunk.”
Stanton cleared his throat, took a notepad from his pocket, and took over the meeting. Duff clenched his jaw and sat glassy-eyed through several hours.
“Mr. President, that’s all I have to report,” Stanton’s declaration roused Duff from his stupor.
“Thank you,” he murmured.
The meeting was over. His duties were ended. As the group milled out of the room, Duff felt himself being spun around by Johnson, who gave him a big bear hug.
“I’m sorry I embarrassed you, Mr. President,” he blubbered. “I’m on your side, you know. It’s just I hate Stanton so much.”
“I know, I know.” Duff pulled away. “Go drink some coffee. You’ll feel better.”
As Johnson staggered from the room, Welles came to put a warm, comforting hand on his shoulder.
“It’s over, Mr. Lincoln. I see the weariness in your face. Remember, your second term will have no war. Reconstruction will provoke intense political debate, but it’ll be in peace.”
“Thank you, sir.” Duff looked down in melancholy.
“Stanton is taking far too many liberties,” Welles added in a whisper. “I get nothing clear and explicit from him, a lot of fuss and mystery, shuffling of papers and a far-reaching gaze.” He leaned into Duff’s ear. “Remember, you’re the president. You’ve the power to remove Stanton from office. Exercise that power.”
Tears formed in Duff’s eyes, so he nodded, turned away, and walked down the hall to his bedroom, where he put his large hands to his face. By force of will, he commanded his tears to halt. Stanton entered the room and closed the door.
“I’ve arranged a carriage to take you to the river port.”
“Very well.” His voice was hollow.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Seventy

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. David and Wallis volunteer to help France.
Leon and Sidney raced on the beach of Eleuthera not aware of the increasing war clouds gathering over Europe. Euphoria filled Leon’s lungs which gave him strength to focus on the palm tree down the shore a distance. He could tell he was getting older and more easily winded, but he wanted to stay ahead of Sidney as long as he could. His son was thirteen years old now and stronger and swifter than he was at that age. He didn’t dare to look over his shoulder or else he would see how close Sidney was. As soon as Leon passed the tree he threw his arms.
“I win!” Bending over, he gasped. He couldn’t have gone another step.
Sidney whizzed passed him and kept going several yards down the beach.
”I win! I win!”
Fortunately, Leon regained his breath. “No! The race was to the palm tree!”
“That was your race! My race was to run further than you!”
Leon smiled. “That’s not fair.”
“I don’t care. I still won.”
Walking toward his son, Leon wagged a finger. “I’m going to have to teach you a lesson.”
Sidney grabbed his father’s arm and twisted it up behind his back, causing Leon to fall down. Sidney put his sandy foot on his chest and looked down and smiled. “You’ve already taught me.”
“And very well,” Leon agreed.
Sidney extended his hand to help his father up. They began to walk back to their hacienda.
“When will I meet my contact?” he asked.
“Not for a long time,” Sidney replied. “You are very strong. You know how to fight. But your mind has not grown enough to make the right decisions on a mission.”
“I know the rules,” his son insisted. “You must always remember you do this to fill your family’s bellies.”
“Yes, but that means more than hunger.”
“I know. Protect their lives.”
“And your family is more than just the people who share your blood. Right now you think your only family is your mother and me. But you have more people who are family.”
“Who are they?”
“You will learn soon.”
Sidney was silent for a moment. “Is Jinglepockets family?”
“Of course he is.”
“What about Pooka?”
“No!”
“All right. She’s not family, but I would not kill her because she is a woman, right?”
Leon chuckled. “I don’t know. I might make an exception in her case.” He looked up, and they were almost home. The dead plant in the pot was askew. “Run ahead and tell your mother we are back from our walk.”
When he was alone, Leon looked up and down the road carefully to see if anyone was watching him. He lifted the plant and took out the note.
“Rialto. 8 p.m.”
That evening in Nassau Leon, dressed in his white linen suit, walked into the casino. The room was full. He looked for the blonde card dealer. He smiled. She wore a bright red jacket with no blouse under it. He walked over to her.
“Deal me in. I feel lucky tonight.”
“Not that lucky.” She pushed cards his way. “You look hungry.”
Leon looked down and saw a note attached to one of the cards.
“Ask for table fifteen and order the grilled salmon.”
As Leon waited for his dinner to be served, he felt the chair behind him bump his back.
“Your new assignment is to protect the Duke and Duchess of Windsor as they motor from Antibes, France, through Spain to Portugal.” It was the man with the southern accent. “We believe the Germans either want to kill them or kidnap them, so Hitler can put them on the English throne. Our client does not want this to happen. Be at the Miami airport tomorrow morning. A ticket will be waiting there for you to New York LaGuardia. There you will be given a ticket to a location in France where you will be told where to start shadowing the Windsors.”
The server brought the salmon plate to Leon.
“Go now,” the man with the southern accent ordered. “The salmon is for me. I haven’t eaten all day.”
Leon walked past the poker table.
“Bonne nuite, monsieur,” the blonde dealer called out.
When he arrived at his Eleuthera hacienda at midnight, Leon found Jessamine in tears. Feeling perturbed he had to stop to comfort his wife instead of preparing for his late night cruise to Miami, Leon breathed out and put his arms around her.
“What’s the matter?”
“Pooka came by tonight and told me she had a vision you were going away and would never come back,” she whispered between the sobs.
“That old witch. I told you not to listen to her.”
“But you are leaving tonight, aren’t you?”
“Of course.”
“So—“
“So it is nothing. I go on my trips all the time.” He kissed her. “Now help me pack.” He looked at the top of the stairs where Sidney was standing. “Come down. I want to talk to you.”
His son passed Jessamine on the stairs.
“So what do you think about all this?” Leon asked.
“I think it is my job not to think about it,” the boy replied.
“Good answer.” He looked back up the stairs before staring into his son’s face. “But you will have to have an opinion about everything eventually. Always be sure to make it your own decision. Don’t be influenced by your mother, by Pooka, by any beautiful woman who tries to sway you, not even by me. You must make your own decisions. That is the only way you can be sure to keep your family’s bellies full.”