Monthly Archives: July 2019

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Six

Darting through the rain, Stanton made it to Seward’s front door and entered a madhouse. Soldiers milled everywhere. Blood stained the banister leading to the upper floors. One man lay in a pool of blood with a doctor kneeling over him.
“What happened to him?” Stanton asked.
“He’s been slashed the entire length of his back,” the doctor replied. “From the looks of it, perhaps two inches deep.”
Seward’s sixteen-year-old daughter Fanny wiped tears from her eyes as she descended the stairs and staggered to Stanton, falling into his arms.
“It’s my fault,” the girl muttered. “It’s all my fault.”
“What do you mean?” Stanton asked without tolerance for her obvious emotional grief. He held her quivering shoulders at arm’s length.
“If I hadn’t opened the door to papa’s bedroom, the man wouldn’t have gotten in.”
“What man? What are you talking about?” Stanton forced his eyes to widen in shock. “What did this man do?”
“The man who stabbed papa,” Fanny replied, still blubbering.
“Get hold of yourself, child,” Stanton ordered.
“What kind of insensitive fiend are you?” bellowed a tall man with white hair who had just entered the foyer.
Stanton looked over to see Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, another cabinet member whom he loathed.
“Fanny just witnessed the stabbing of not only her father but also her brothers and two other men. Of course, she’s crying,” Welles said as he stood next to Stanton, towering over him.
“I’m just trying to learn the facts of this case,” Stanton replied in a huff. When taller men stood close, he always felt inferior which made him livid. In addition, when his emotions took over his asthma erupted. Stanton stifled a wheezing cough before returning his attention to Fanny. He tried to soften his tone. “Please tell me what happened.”
Fanny Seward breathed in and held it as though to compose her thoughts. “There was this loud knocking at the door. Billy answered it—“
“Who’s Billy?” Stanton interrupted.
“Billy Bell, our Negro doorman, he answered the door, and this huge man said something about having medicine—“
“What do you know about this doorman?” Stanton interrupted again. “Has he been in the household long?”
“For God’s sake, let the girl finish,” Welles said with exasperation.
“He said he was from Dr. Verdi,” Fanny continued in a soft, meek voice. “But Dr. Verdi had said nothing to us about more medicine. So Billy tried to tell him to go away but he wouldn’t. Freddie—“
“Who’s Freddie?” Stanton asked. He then remembered Seward’s son Frederick. He attended the afternoon cabinet meeting to represent his father. “Yes, I know, your brother. Go ahead.”
“Freddie heard the commotion and came out of papa’s room to find this man grappling with Billy and forcing his way upstairs.” Fanny paused to put her handkerchief to her wet eyes and look at Welles.
Welles put his large arms around her shoulders. “There, there. You’re doing just fine.”
“The man insisted on seeing papa in person, but Freddie said he was asleep. Then I came out of the room, not knowing what was going on, and said papa was awake and wanted to see Freddie.”
Stanton could not control his asthma any longer. He emitted a long and loud cough. As he wiped his mouth he mumbled, “Well, go on, go on.”
“Then this man pushed passed us all and rushed into papa’s room. It was awful.”
“Both Seward boys, Frederick and Augustus, were stabbed as was a male army nurse and the State Department messenger here on the floor,” Welles filled in as Fanny broke down weeping.
“If I hadn’t opened the door right at that moment the man would have never gotten in. It was all my fault.”
“My dear, this man was insane.” Compassion filled Welles’s voice. “From what all the servants told me, he was a monster with the strength of ten men. Nothing could have stopped him from his foul deed.” Welles glanced at the Secretary of War. “Tell her, Mr. Stanton. It wasn’t her fault.”
Stanton grunted, but he was not interested in Fanny or her story any longer. His attention went to the third floor. Stanton walked up, at first putting his hand on the banister but removing it quickly when his fingers felt a moist tackiness. His nostrils flared with the acrid smell of blood. Stanton looked down to see the banister smeared with blood, now turning a dark brown. When he reached the third floor, he saw Frederick Seward sitting on the floor in a daze, blood flowing from his head. His brother Augustus stood by his side nursing three gashes in his arm. Stanton ignored them and marched into Seward’s bedroom. The male nurse, who had bandages on his neck and head, attended the doctor who bent over the bed. At first, Stanton thought they were just looking at a bundle of bloody sheets until he saw Seward’s head, framed by a leather brace. As Stanton focused on the face, he noticed Seward’s teeth and jawbone exposed through the sagging, slashed cheek.
When Stanton leaned over the bed, Seward’s eyes focused on him. “What have you done?” he whispered.
“Did you recognize the man who attacked you?” Stanton ignored Seward’s question.
“What have you done?”
“Did he say anything to you?” Stanton spoke in a louder voice.
The doctor tugged his arm. “Do this questioning elsewhere, at another time. We have people bleeding to death here!”
“Do you know who I am?” Stanton asked with indignation.
“I don’t give a damn who you are,” the doctor growled. “Get the hell out of here!”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Eighty-One

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails a mission because of David, better known as the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer is also a spy. MI6 makes them a team. David becomes king. David abdicates, they marry and he becomes Bahamas governor. Leon dies. His son Sidney mourns his death but joins the ‘organization’.
On the boat trip from Nassau the next morning to Eleuthera after the dinner party at Harry Oakes’ mansion, Sidney sat in contemplation as he watched Jinglepockets steer his fishing boat with one hand in his pockets tickling coins with his fingers. After long thought, Sidney broke the silence.
“You have taught me well, Jinglepockets.”
“You have learned well.” The old man kept his eyes straight ahead. “Which, in the long run, is more important.”
Moments passed before Sidney whispered, “You know, I have to leave now.”
“Yes, I know.” Jinglepockets’ voice was serene. “Just like your father left Joe.”
“My father loved Joe. He had nothing but good things to say about him.”
Jinglepockets glanced over his shoulder. ”Then you don’t know the story.”
“What story?” Sidney leaned forward.
The Eleuthera coast began to peek over the horizon.
“After your father began taking his long mysterious trips, Joe continued to give him free boat rides back home. One time you father stepped onto the pier and tossed a gold coin to Joe and smiled.”
“That was a nice thing to do, wasn’t it?” Sidney scrunched up his face. He didn’t understand what Jinglepockets was trying to say.
“Less than a week later Joe took to his bed and died.”
“What did he die of?”
“Heartbreak? Are you saying my father giving Joe a gold coin killed him? I think my father did a good thing, to show his gratitude for all Joe had done for him.”
Jinglepockets looked straight ahead. “How do you put a price on years of friendship? One gold coin equals years of loving someone as family?”
“But my father said you must fill the bellies of your family.” Sidney began to feel defensive for Leon.
“Yes, you fill their bellies because they are family and you love them, not pay them off like they were a servant.”
The pier appeared closer and closer.
“This I must think about for a long time,” Sidney whispered.
Jinglepockets laughed. “Don’t think too hard on it. Your father was a young man. Like you. In many ways still a child. And Joe was a proud man. Perhaps too proud.” He tied up the boat when they reached the pier. Giving Sidney a hand onto land, Jinglepockets smiled.
“Me? I like to hear the sound of coins clanging against each other too much. So when you come home after you become a rich man like your father, feel free to toss a gold coin or two my way. Each member of the family is different. Just remember old Uncle Jinglepockets is just a little bit greedy.”
When Sidney arrived at his family home, he noticed the dead plant was askew in its pot by the front gate.
What? Another assignment so soon? Now I understand how my father felt.
Sidney lifted the pot to find a note.
“I’m waiting on the beach behind your house.”
When he walked around the wall Sidney saw her, the blonde who had broken into his home and who had introduced him to the world of the organization. She lay prone on a beach towel wearing a tight red swimsuit.
Sidney sauntered down the sands to the edge of the shore and plopped next to her. He was not sure whether he liked her or not. He didn’t like people who didn’t introduce themselves as etiquette dictated. She slipped an envelope toward him.
“This is for last night. Don’t look at it but just put it in your pocket.”
Sidney did as he told. He watched the Atlantic waves. “You’ve never told me your name.”
“And I’m not going to.”
“Why not? You know my name.” He felt himself becoming peevish.
“That’s because you’re below me on the ladder of the organization—several rungs below. So take my advice. Do what you’re told and you’ll get paid.”
“Did my father know your name?”
“There you go asking questions again. That’s not good for your health.” She leaned back to feel the sun on her face.
She’s older than she tries to look. She must have joined the organization when she was very young, just like me.”
“So how did the job go last night?” she asked.
“The two men were fat, old, loud and talked with their mouths full.”
She smiled and looked at him with condescension. “And I suppose you have perfect table manners, being from Eleuthera.”
“Yes, I do.” His answer came quick. “My father slapped me upside the head if I talked with food in my mouth. He knew I would have to blend into society if I were to become a mercenary.”
“That’s such an ugly word, mercenary.” She returned her gaze to the water. “You’re an independent businessman dealing in making things—unpleasant things—happened. So enough small talk. What did you think of the other guests?”
“I think I liked this count. I can’t remember his name…”
“Alfred de Merigny. Memorize it. He’s important. Why did you like him?”
“Because he had the courage to ridicule the old men.”
“And the duke and duchess, what did you think of them?”
“The duke was brave too. He asked very pointed questions about the casino and the race problem in Nassau. Both the old men fumbled their answers.”
“And the duchess?”
“She was the only one who noticed me,” Sidney replied. “She acted like she had met me before. Maybe she had encountered my father somewhere.”
‘Yes, maybe.” She looked in her beach bag. “Do you have any cigarettes?”
“I’m only sixteen.”
The blonde laughed. “That doesn’t make any difference.”
“I’m not going to smoke.” It was a solemn pronouncement.
“That’s what you say now.” Derision tinged her voice.
“I saw what smoking did to my father. By the time he died I could outrun him.”
“You can’t outrun a bullet.”
Sidney considered the remark heartless. “Then you are not a true mercenary.”
He watched her eyes narrow into little slits.
“Did they talk about the Burma Road boys?”
“And the Bay Street boys as well.”
“Your mission has slightly changed.” Her voice hardened. “We want you to infiltrate the Burma Road boys. This will be very tricky. Mostly we want to know what they are thinking. You will have to become friends with them, a confidante. But ultimately you have to deter them anyway you can from a political uprising. Riots will destabilize the region. We are in agreement with the British Empire on this one point. We want the Bahamas to remain a safe haven for our activities. Also, the Duke of Windsor may try something stupid, like being a hero on the street and catch a stray bullet. This ties into your original assignment.
“Of course.”
“You have no qualms betraying your own kind?” The blonde raised a plucked eyebrow.
Sidney had not thought of that dilemma. He would have to think about it, so he decided on evasion for now.
“The organization is my own kind.”

Remember Chapter Twenty-One

Previously: Retired teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. Lucinda remembers Vernon decided to marry Nancy but instead was drafted. Her last advice to him was less than kind. She has another confrontation with Nancy.
Lucinda covered her face with her hands after Nancy left. She could not stand another confrontation. When she opened her eyes, she saw Vernon, dressed in military fatigues and a helmet. He stood in front of her with a blank expression on his face.
“Vernon! I’m so glad you came back. I wanted to—“
Vernon fell forward, revealing the back of his helmet blown apart and a red mess that was once his brain. Lucinda screamed loud and long. Bertha rushed in the door, grabbed Lucinda and hugged her as she dissolved in tears.
“You poor baby!” Bertha cooed. “What’s wrong?”
“There! There! On the floor! Can’t you see him!?” Lucinda pointed to the form only she could see on the floor. “All that blood? The back of his head! Just blown away!”
“You poor thing!” Bertha patted Lucinda’s head. “I didn’t know you suffered from the hysterics too!”
The very thought that she was not always in complete control of her emotions jolted Lucinda back to reality. Taking several deep breaths, she averted her eyes from the vision of Vernon on the floor. The tears finally stopped. “I’m all right now. Thank you, Mrs. Godwin.”
“Thank goodness. I don’t think I’d have the nerve to slap you into calmin’ down.”
“No.” Lucinda forced a smile. “You won’t have to slap me.”
“Jest what on earth happened to make you have a fit like that?”
Lucinda stood, closed her eyes momentarily then walked to her rocker where she sat. “I was remembering a student of mine.”
“Oh, I know what you mean. Young people today.” Bertha’s eyes widened. “I jest don’t know where we went wrong. They’re so disrespectful and—“
“Oh no,” Lucinda interrupted. “This young man wasn’t bad at all.”
“That’s unusual.” Bertha’s eyebrows went up.
“He was sweet and kind. Not the brightest in his class but the hardest working.” Lucinda dared not to look down. “He was the kind of student that made teaching all worthwhile.”
“Well, what about him upset you?”
“I remembered a spring day, near the end of the semester, many years ago.” She decided confession might be good for her soul. “This very special, very wonderful young man came into my office and announced he had been drafted and was going to serve in Vietnam. He was obviously scared.”
“At least he wasn’t of them draft dodgers.”
“He needed me to say something, to make him feel better, not to be scared anymore.” She smiled in remorse. “And all I said was to worry more about driving home that day than dying in war.”
“But that’s true.”
“There is truth, and then there is reality.” Lucinda leaned back in defeat. “He was dead of a mortar blast to the back of the head less than a year later.”
“At least he died for his country.” Bertha persisted in her perky optimism.
“That’s what he said, that he was going to die for his country.” Lucinda had never allowed herself to be so harsh in self-judgment “And all I could say was something trivial, something so heartless.”
Bertha scooted across the bed to be closer to the teacher. “Now don’t you fret about that and make yourself have fits.”
“But it’s hard not to be.”
“I know a woman who had the same thing happen to her, or jest about. Her husband had a heart condition, and they lived right behind their daughter and her family.”
“Bertha! Come here!” Emma’s voice echoed up through the stairwell.
“One day while the wife was mowin’ the lawn — the man couldn’t, you see, because—“
“Shouldn’t you answer your sister?” The last thing Lucinda wanted was to have Emma bursting through her door in an outrage.
“Oh, if she wants me bad enough she can come git me. Anyway, he couldn’t mow, you see, because of his heart, but that day he followed her every step while she mowed. She said that made her nervous.”
“Bertha! Help me move this sofa so I can clean behind it!”
She continued to ignore her sister. “After supper that night he wanted to go through the back gate and visit—“
“Won’t she hurt herself lifting the sofa?”
“Oh no. Emma’s strong as an ox,” She replied with a sneer. “Anyway, he wanted to go through the back gate and visit the kids. Well, she said she was too tired from mowin’ and that they’d go another night. Sure enough, he died of a heart attack that night, and she felt jest terrible ‘cause she didn’t fulfill his last wish.”
“Bertha!” Emma sounded angrier.
“There was the kids—“
“There were the kids.” Lucinda could not help but correct Bertha’s grammar.
“That’s right. There was them kids close and he couldn’t see them one last time because of her. Why, she jest about drove herself nuts thinkin’ about it. One day while I was over havin’ coffee—“
“Bertha! Where are you!?” Emma was on the verge of erupting like Mount Vesuvius and scorching everyone within her grasp.
Bertha went to the door and shouted, “I’m in the teacher’s room calmin’ her down after a fit!”
“I didn’t have a fit.” Lucinda tried not to sound too offended.
“Hold your horses!” She returned to the bed and sat. “Where was I? Oh yes. We was havin’ coffee, and she jest bust out cryin’ and told me how she felt and — I don’t know why I thought of this but I did and I’m so proud — I asked her if she knew her husband was goin’ to die that night.”
“If I git a hernia it’s your fault!” Emma continued her rant from downstairs.
“Oh git a hernia! I don’t care!” There was a rough angry edge to Bertha’s voice. A sweet smile covered her face when she resumed talking to Lucinda. “Anyways, she looked at me funny and said no. Then I said then you didn’t deprive him of that visit on purpose, did you? And she said no. If you had known it was his last night you’d gone to Timbuktu for him, wouldn’t you? She said yes. Well, I told her no one knows when you’re goin’ so you can’t cry over what you might have done if you had known. You know, she agreed and started feelin’ better right off.”
“But, my dear, don’t you think we should always be mindful that what we do today will be with us all our tomorrows?”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Five

Previously: Just before shooting Lincoln, Booth thinks of the events leading to this moment.Stanton henchman Baker is busy disposing of bodies.
Now he belongs to the ages.”
Yes, that was what Secretary of War Edwin Stanton would say to the waiting crowd of reporters when he announced the death of President Abraham Lincoln. It had dignity and gravitas; it would do nicely. Stanton repeated it in his mind as he tried to drift off to sleep for a few moments at his home on K Street, just blocks from the Executive Mansion. His wife, Ellen, was already asleep, breathing in a soft, easy rhythm.
For the first time in more than two years, Stanton was able to relax. But sleep was harder. He sighed, thinking back to his decision to place Lincoln under guard in the Executive Mansion basement in September 1862. After a summer of disastrous defeats for the Union army, Stanton concluded that the fate of the country had to be wrested from the bumbling fool who sat in the president’s office. Under Stanton’s firm leadership—through the guise of the Lincoln double he had installed upstairs—the war would be over by Christmas.
However, Christmas came and went, and yet the war still waged on. Soon Stanton found himself going to the basement to ask Lincoln’s advice on which general to appoint to lead the Army of the Potomac and what strategies to pursue. It was humiliating. Stanton found himself under stress. The war shook his once mighty self-confidence. He had created a terrible quagmire because of his arrogance, and he did not know how to get out of it. The end of the war finally, inexorably came, and Stanton faced the impossible question of what to do with Lincoln now.
Things had a way of working themselves out, he told himself as he nestled down into his pillow. All Stanton had to do was exert pressure on the soldier who had murdered the butler and the young man capitulated, agreeing to find assassins to kill Lincoln, Vice-President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward. Stanton’s bagman Baker killed the impersonators and the soldier. The mob would take care of the assassins. It was a plan; it was clean; and it was coming to fruition.
Once Baker dispatched the duplicate Lincolns and the Vice-President, U.S. Rep. Schuyler Colfax, speaker of the House, would be sworn in as president. Colfax was a simpleton, Stanton reasoned, and Stanton could easily manipulate him as he had the Lincoln impostor. His entire misbegotten attempt to control the outcome of the Civil War would remain a secret throughout the ages. Of this he could be sure. Stanton sighed.
Stanton had never felt in control of his life. Asthma gripped his body as a child and would not let go. His parents, devout Methodists, prayed over him, and he miraculously survived. Stanton was painfully aware that some dark, outside force made all the decisions. Death hovered over him. Because so many people in his life died, Stanton had a roiling anger in the pit of his stomach. The list was relentlessly personal—his father, his first sweetheart, his first wife, his two children and any dreams of being respected as a leader of his country.
Perhaps now he could be in charge of his destiny, he thought, as his eyelids began to feel heavy. A sudden rap at the downstairs door jarred him back to consciousness. From downstairs, Stanton heard faint mumblings at the door. His butler talked to someone who was urgent in his message. Stanton heard the butler climb the stairs with dreadful news of assassination.
“What’s going on, dear?” his wife, Ellen, asked, not bothering to roll over.
“I don’t know,” he lied. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.”
“Very well,” she said, and she drifted back off to sleep.
Stanton got out of bed, put on his slippers and reached for his robe. After he put it on, he brushed his hair back with his hands, reached for his pebble glasses, and placed them on his pocked nose. His first instinct was to go for the door, but he decided it would be more prudent to wait for the butler to come for him. Stanton sat in a nearby padded chair and listened for a light rap at his bedroom door. A smile came to his cupid’s bow lips.
“Yes, what is it?”
“A young man downstairs, sir. Most distressing news. Needs your immediate attention, sir.”
Taking his time, Stanton rose and went to the door. “Distressing news? What is it?”
“I think he should tell you,” the butler said. “Dreadful, dreadful news.”
“Oh, dear.” Stanton went to the front door where a young man in civilian clothing, stood, shivering from the night rain. Stanton recognized him as a family acquaintance, Joe Sterling. “Mr. Sterling, what news do you bring?”
“The President was shot while at the theater. I’m afraid he’s dead, sir,” Sterling said.
“Do you know who shot him?”
“Yes,” the young man replied. “They said it was a man named Booth. He sprang to the stage from the President’s box with a large knife and escaped in the melee.” After a pause Sterling added, “As we were coming to your house, a man informed us that Secretary Seward also has been assassinated, but that may be street rumor and untrue.”
“Oh, that can’t be so. That can’t be so,” Stanton replied, shaking his head mock sadness and sympathy.
Another man appeared on the doorstep. Maj. Norton Chipman from the Bureau of Military Justice asked, “Are you all right, sir? Secretary Seward has been attacked.”
“I heard he was dead.”
“No, brutally stabbed, but he still lives,” Chipman replied.
“Oh.” Stanton paused. “That is good news.” He cleared his throat. “Have you heard about the President?”
“No, sir,” Chipman answered.
Stanton turned to Sterling. “Who told you this news about the president?”
“A policeman, I—I don’t know his name.” The young man stammered.
“Hmm.” Stanton thought about where he should make his first appearance. “This rumor about the President is probably just an exaggeration of an altercation at the theater. I think I shall go to Mr. Seward’s house first with Maj. Chipman.”
“But Mr. Stanton, what about the President?” Sterling insisted.
“That is all,” Stanton dismissed Sterling and turned to the major. “Hold the carriage for me. I’ll be dressed in a moment.”
In the ride over to Seward’s home, Stanton reflected about how much he hated the man, remembering the first cabinet meeting in which the Lincoln double conducted the meeting. Stanton wanted Gen. Ambrose Burnsides to become the next general over the Army of the Potomac. Without previous intimation, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase put forth the name of Gen. Joseph Hooker. Attorney Gen. Caleb Smith suggested Gen. John C. Fremont. Seward, with silky insinuation, persuaded the befuddled Lincoln impersonator to stay with Gen. George McClellan instead.
Stanton never knew if Seward knew the man in the White House was an impostor or not. Stanton could be decipher him with ease. That was why he hated Seward. The carriage pulled up in front of Seward’s home bordering Lafayette Park across from the White House. Soldiers surrounded the building.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Eighty

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails a mission because of David, better known as the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer is also a spy. MI6 makes them a team. David becomes king. David abdicates and they marry. Leon dies. His son Sidney mourns his death but joins the ‘organization’. MI6 describes their duties in the Bahamas.
Wallis had a headache. If she had not escaped the reconstruction dust at the Government House she knew her head would explode. Her throbbing temples had not abated as she sat at the dining table at Westbourne House in the posh Cable Beach section of Nassau.
Both the host Harry Oakes and his business partner and personal chum Harold Christie smoked large cigars. During the infrequent times they placed their smokes in the ash trays by their plates, they shoved a large bite of roast beef into their mouths, and carried on a conversation while chewing. Wallis was amazed they didn’t choke to death. At the same time, however, her stomach felt queasy.
On one side of her at the table was Oakes’ young wife Eunice who was charming and educated but ultimately boring. For one thing, Wallis did not approve of Eunice’s choice of dark mahogany paneling throughout the house. At least there weren’t any dead animal heads on the walls.
“The grandest thing about Harry being named a baronet was that it increased my chances of meeting a movie star,” Eunice announced in a sweet simpleton voice. “Many people have mentioned to me Nancy looks like Katharine Hepburn.”
Wallis forced a tightly slit smile while glancing at Nancy sitting on the other side of Count Alfred de Merigny.
I met Miss Hepburn and didn’t think much of her appearance at all.
“I especially love English leading men.” Eunice’s eyes twinkled.
“Well,” Wallis replied with a dry enthusiasm, “I hope you meet a star, very soon.”
The duchess turned to the person on the other side of her, Count de Merigny. He was tall, gaunt and almost cadaverous. All these features would make him look dead but the fact he possessed the deepest tan Wallis had ever seen on a man.
“Count, I understand you met the Oakes through your hobby of yachting.” She smiled again. “I wish David and I were able to partake in such a charming pastime, but we’re too busy attending to the affairs of state here in the Bahamas.”
“Yes, we are very fortunate to have two such international luminaries governing us.”
Merigny’s voice startled Wallis. The deep, rich baritone reeked of an accent from some small country hidden in the mountains of Western Europe.
“And you are a very close friend of Nancy.” She paused and looked at Nancy sitting on the other side of the count. “You don’t mind my talking about you to the count, do you?”
“Why, of course not.” The girl giggled.
“Good.” Wallis narrowed her eyes as she returned her focus to Merigny. “She’s very young, isn’t she?”
“Yes, very inspiring to a person approaching middle age, such as I.”
My dear Count, I think you have finished approaching middle age and have arrived at the station with all your baggage. She briefly considered saying it aloud but prudence ruled the moment.
Before Wallis could say another word, David spoke with a genial grace which she knew he used when prying for information.
“Sir Harry, I must commend on your estate,” David smiled so hard his dimples burst out in all their glory. “It reminds me of my own estate in England, Fort Belvedere.”
What a lie. Wallis restrained herself from guffawing. Belvedere was tastefully decorated. Besides that, it wasn’t even his estate anymore.
“Why, thank you, Your Highness.” Oakes had just swallowed a chunk of beef, sparing his guests from seeing it go down his gullet. “Coming from you that is high praise indeed.”
“And your casino, the Rialto, is an equally successful architectural wonder,” David continued.
Uh oh, here it comes. Wallis tapped her mouth with her napkin and returned it to her lap. As they unpacked before dinner, David set forth his ideas about the Rialto’s gambling operation. Oakes was using it to launder money. It was up to us to find out if it were for the Nazis, mob or the organization.
“The Rialto is not a casino,” Christie, with firm hospitality, corrected him. “Casinos are strictly forbidden in the Bahamas.”
“I have embarrassed myself.” David chuckled. “I am so fortunate to have two such esteemed citizens to guide me in my new duties as governor.”
“The Rialto is a high-class supper club. We have a ballroom with a range of top dance bands from around the world performing there.”
“I’m hoping Daddy will book Frank Sinatra.” Nancy twittered. “He’s so dreamy.”
Harry ignored his daughter. “And our restaurant is well known throughout the Caribbean for its cuisine and the views from our terrace.”
“And don’t forget our theater on the top floor.” Harold blew a ring of smoke from his cigar. “We’ve got dance girls that make them Follies Bergere dames look like slobs.”
“I’m sure they do,” Wallis murmured which made Marigny laughed.
“I have no doubt, but Wallis and I were there a couple of nights ago and passed through what was labeled as ‘The Lounge’ where people were undeniably playing blackjack with dealers who were attractive young ladies seductively dressed in tuxedo tops only.”
Oakes shrugged. “The Lounge was designed to give customers the opportunity to have a beverage and smoke while discussing intellectual topics with their friends without distraction.”
“But everyone was at a table playing poker, and I saw money being exchanged,” David persisted.
“Ah!” Christie bellowed smoke from his mouth like a backfire from a large delivery truck. “There’s a difference. In a casino they use chips and cash them in through the business where the gambling occurs.”
“Then you admit there is gambling on the premises.” David leaned back and smiled.
He sounds like a lawyer. Wallis licked her lips. Some of the most fascinating men I ever met were lawyers.
“Well, gentlemen are allowed their vices, aren’t they?” Christie’s eye brows lifted lazily, as though he were giving the hundredth performance of the same play. “For example, if Harry and I were sitting in the lounge swirling our warm brandy, we could have a bit of fun wagering on the color of the dress on the next dame to come through the door. I say red and Harry here says blue and, bam, a lady in red enters. So Harry pays off his debt. Nobody’s business but ours.”
Merigny leaned forward with a very wicked turn of the lips exposed beneath his mustache. “So that’s why I can’t get a free martini during a game.”
Nancy frowned and shook her head. “Alfred, please. You promised to behave tonight.”
“That’s right, Alfred.” Harry forced a laugh. “Stop trying to get free drinks at my place, dammit.”
Nervousness made Eunice erupt into giggles. “Perhaps we could move on to a different topic of conversation.”
“My apologies.” David nodded to his hostess. “I know England can be quite priggish about things like this, but Wallis and I have lived in France the last few years and have noticed, well….”
“A dirty, stinking business, ain’t it?” Harry shoved mashed potatoes into his mouth. “When you went to the Rialto I’m sure you and the Duchess noticed some colored folks eating dinner.”
“Frankly, no.” Wallis stared at Harry with no regrets.
“Must have been a slow night,” Harold interjected.
“Our point is that if the colored person can pay our prices and dress up nice, why we don’t mind taking their money,” Harry explained.
“Like a white linen suit.” I don’t know why I said that. Perhaps it was the man on the Tanganyika Express who saved my life.
“Yeah, sure.” Harold puffed on his cigar. “Them colored like those suits. But they have to have money to buy them. We ain’t running no charity here.”
“Is that the general opinion of the Bay Street Boys?” David asked.
Uh oh, another touchy subject. Wallis ran her tongue across her teeth to ensure no lipstick had stuck to them. During his briefing Greene informed us that the Bay Street Boys’ practice of underpaying the natives might undermine the economic and social balance in the region.
Harold threw his napkin down on his plate. “I don’t know what you’re getting at, Duke; but yes, I’m proud of being a Bay Street Boy. And so is my buddy Harry here.”
“Nothing thrills me so much as a man who is proud of being who he is,” Wallis added in a subdued tone.
Caught off guard, Harold displayed what might be interpreted as an honest expression on his face. “Thank you, ma’am. I appreciate that.”
My God, he took it was a compliment. How stupid could he be?”
“And what is it they call the black men who sweat for slave wages around here?” Merigny’s eyes twinkled. “Ah yes. The Burma Road Boys.”
“Alfred! I don’t know why you want to upset Daddy that way!” Nancy huffed.
Eunice was almost in tears. “I think it’s time for coffee.” She turned her head and called out, “Sidney!”
A young black man in a white servant’s jacket appeared with a tray of coffee cups. He went to Wallis first.
“Would you care for coffee, madame?”
She looked up at the servant to reply but stopped, her mouth agape.
Except for an age difference, this boy looked like the man in a white linen suit I met on the Tanganyika Express. I know it’s been several years but I never forget the face of a man who saved my life.

My Role in the Moon Landing

I know exactly what I was doing fifty years ago today:  I wanted the astronauts to leave the moon after midnight.

That summer I was an intern at the Paris News.  Not the Paris in France but the one in Texas.  My job was to do whatever needed to be done—police beat, sports reporting, obituaries, if a lady called and said her dog could talk, I was the one they sent out to interview the dog.

My favorite duty was helping out on the wire desk.  Way back then each newspaper had a machine typing out news from the Associated Press.  At the beginning of each news cycle, morning and afternoon, the AP sent out a list of recommended top stories.  Some wire editors followed the list religiously while others struck out on their own and decided for themselves.  I decided the AP had a long history of getting it right, so I followed the list. The Paris wire editor follow AP’s list too.

I learned more from her about the nitty gritty of getting a newspaper out on time than I did from all the PhDs at my college.  She came in during the day and went through the list and asked the managing editor if there was any local news that needed to go on the front page.  She then, showed me what story would go where and what headline size to use.

She did allow me to make changes if something big broke right on the midnight deadline.  At nineteen years old I didn’t like to make that kind of decision.  The big sweaty guys in the print shop, press room and circulation department didn’t like when I missed the deadline.  I had never heard such language directed at me as when I made them work late.  I mean, it was really bad, car breaking down on the Dallas freeway at rush hour bad.

The situation this night fifty years ago was that she had already written the main headline in huge bold type:

Man Lands on Moon

She had never used that type size before.  She was saving it for the Second Coming, but she decided landing on the moon was close enough to being the biggest event she ever wrote a headline for.  All I had to do was keep up with the updates throughout the evening.

After she left for the day I was left at the wire desk watching out for the stories from the list she had selected.  When one came across, I carefully ripped it off, edited it(even the big pros at the Associated Press could misspell something from time to time), trimmed it to fit the space reserved for it on the layout, write the headline, stick it in an air tube and sent it on its way.

I loved the clickety-clack of the teletype machine typing out each word, one letter at a time.  I loved the suspense of waiting for each word to appear.  I even loved the smell of the lubricant squirted into the machine to keep it running.  The most heart throbbing experience was the ringing of the bell to announce a top-of-the-list story, updated leads to stories already sent or—most exciting of all—a totally new unexpected top story.  Those stories like that got multiple bells which sent everyone in the news room scrambling to the wire machine to see what had just happened.

The wire editor had laid things out very precisely for me so there should have been no worries.  But, being a nerdy, over-thinking type, something popped into my head as the AP gave regular updates on when Apollo 11 would leave the surface of the Moon.  Remember, now, that I was in journalism school which impressed on me to try to make each headline as accurate as possible.  What if the spaceship left the lunar surface before deadline?

The headline would not be accurate.  Yes, man landed on the moon; but, by the next morning when the readers got their papers, man would have already left the moon.  Remember, I was this wonky nerd and being completely accurate was very important to me.  If the departure occurred after deadline, then the decision had left my hands.


Now why didn’t the AP editor decide to take a coffee break and eat a doughnut before sending out the updated lead that man, indeed, and left the moon?  Before I made a decision about the headline, I ripped the new lead paragraph and prepared it to go to the print shop and shot it down the air tube.  Next I checked the headline itself.  If the word ‘leaves’ made the headline too long, then I could justify to myself the change wasn’t worth the trouble.

My next thought was to call the wire editor herself, but I remembered she was going to be out all evening.  So I called the managing editor at home to let him make the call.

“Sure, why not?” he replied in a casual, devil-may-care manner.

I was not completely satisfied with his tacit agreement with my idea.  I don’t think he got as excited about putting out an accurate product as the wire editor and I.  He started out as a sports editor so he wasn’t as interested in the front page as the sports page.

When I delivered the new headline, the head of the print shop didn’t give me any arguments.  As long as it was before deadline he didn’t care.  So there it was, in Second Coming type”

Man Leaves Moon

The next time I came to work I checked the table where they kept the other papers.  All the others kept their Man Lands on Moon headlines.  I apologized to the wire editor, who was the closest I ever came to having a mentor, but she was very gracious about it.

“It’s all right.  It’s just I always wanted to see Man Lands on Moon in the paper.”

A few months later, another newsroom worker came to me and told me that the Texas State Archives had chosen my headline to be in the collection of Texas news coverage of the moon landing.  Here in my emeritus years I have considered that the wire editor put the other person up to telling me that about the archives just to make me feel better. It seems like something she would do.

Remember Chapter Twenty

Previously: Retired teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. Lucinda remembers Vernon decided to marry Nancy but instead was drafted. Her last advice to him was less than kind. She tries to advise Cassie but she shrugs it off by saying life is what it is.
Shirley sneaked through the door and tiptoed across the rough wooden floor. “Mrs. Cambridge?”
With effort Lucinda sat up. “Shirley, I really don’t think—“
“I know,” the little girl interrupted her, “but I have to ask you something before mama finds me.”
“You should be asking your mother.”
“Mama won’t tell me.” Shirley sat next to her. “Ever since you moved in here after Christmas, mama didn’t like you. It’s almost like you know some terrible secret.”
“Please, Shirley. I don’t think I can take another outburst from your mother. I’m so tired.” She resisted the temptation to recline.
“You know a secret.” A twinkle entered Shirley’s eyes.
Lucinda shrugged. “It’s not really a secret.”
“Yes, it’s a secret.”
“She scooted closer. “It has something to do with me.”
“And Vernon Singleberry.”
Nancy blew through the door like a Texas tornado. “Shirley!”
“Oh no,” the girl muttered as she slipped from the bed.
“I can’t afford to miss time at the beauty shop, but I will stay home to make you obey me.” She wagged a finger at her daughter. “You were gone ten minutes before one of the customers asked me where you were!”
Shirley walked swiftly to the door. “I’m sorry, Mama.”
“You’ve always been like an angel.” She grabbed her daughter and held her by the shoulders. “But last few days you seem determined to defy me.”
“I’ll never do it again.”
“Thank you. Now wait for me downstairs. I have to have a few words with the teacher woman.”
Before Shirley left she glanced toward Lucinda with apprehension.
“Please don’t attack me again.” Subconsciously the old teacher rubbed her chest. “I’m sick, and I can’t take it.”
“I can’t take it no more either.” Nancy sighed. “We’re moving out tomorrow.”
“I hold no ill will against you.” Lucinda leaned forward, trying to hold back her tears.
“For the past ten years you’ve been watching us, Shirley and me. At the grocery, on the street, in the park. I’ve seen you.”
“I meant nothing by it.” She shook her head.
“Then you move in here.” Nancy pinched her lips and took a couple of steps. “You say it’s because you can’t afford any better, but I don’t believe it. I think you wanted a chance to win your way into my child’s heart. You wanted to hug and pet on her the way you never could have touched Vernon.”
“Maybe you’re right.” Lucinda leaned back in resignation.
“Of course I’m right. That’s why I’m taking Shirley away from you, and I don’t want you to follow.”
“I promise.” She paused, considering whether if she should add a condition to her pledge to stay away. “But you have to tell Shirley the truth about Vernon.”
“The truth? That her mother is a damned fool?” Nancy’s spine slightly buckled in acknowledgement of her own vulnerability.
“We’ve all been fools and made mistakes that left us miserable.” For once, Lucinda did not sound as though she were delivering a lecture in post-modern literature. “If we forget the mistakes then all we have is misery.” She paused and waved in the direction of the door. “Do you want to end your life like Mrs. Lawrence?”
“Hell no.”
She leaned forward. “If you forget Vernon, if you don’t share his memory with Shirley you will. I will stake my life that Mrs. Lawrence did something long ago that she regretted and spent years forgetting. Now she’s just a bitter old woman.”
“I won’t be like her,” Nancy spat back with a stinging denial.
“Even worse,” she whispered, “you could end up like me, a pathetically lonely spinster who only lives for her memories that both comfort and torture her.”
“We’ll be gone tomorrow, and that will be that.” Nancy turned for the door.
“No, it won’t.” Lucinda realized she had difficulty with her breathing.
“Good bye.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Four

Previously: Just before shooting Lincoln, Booth thinks of the events leading to this moment.Stanton henchman Baker is busy disposing of bodies.
A bang rang out in basement, rousing Baker from remembering his vow to kill Stanton, which he never meant to keep. He looked down the corridor and saw light from a kerosene lamp glimmering from an open door. Good, Baker thought, Christy shot himself and saved him the trouble. When he walked into the room, Baker smirked, his suspicions confirmed. Christy lay there on his back, his head in a pool of spreading blood. Baker could tell by the position of the gun near his hand on the floor that the private had stuck the revolver in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
Sighing Baker walked over to the body wanting to carry it out of the Executive Mansion and dispose of it in the Potomac as he had the impostors. It had been a long day, and he wanted to lie in bed, drink a pint of whiskey and fall asleep. However, when he bent over the body, Baker stopped short as he looked into Christy’s blank eyes. They were so sad, so young, so filled with pain. Tears stained Christy’s freckled cheeks. In that moment, Baker realized Christy looked like himself as a young man.
Memories flooded back of his childhood in western New York as a short, thin boy with carrot-red hair. The bullies teased him, pushed him down and kicked him. When he ran home crying, he received no sympathy from his stern father.
“You got to learn to stand up for yourself,” his father lectured him. “Get tough or die.”
That was the way life was. As he grew up, Baker became a mechanic, and his body thickened with muscle and his fists were calloused from all the fights he had won over bigger boys. His once-red hair darkened into auburn and he grew a beard to hide the appearance of youthful innocence.
From his hometown, he drifted out west and became a vigilante in San Francisco where, in the name of justice, he learned to kill men guilty of a wide range of crimes such as gambling, ballot-box stuffing, treason, robbery and murder. Eventually, he had killed so many men he couldn’t remember when killing felt wrong. It came to feel like business.
Baker met a lovely, naïve girl by the name of Jenny and married her. She was his connection to the world of sane and civilized people. By 1861, he and his wife returned to New York relatively wealthy.
At the outbreak of the Civil War General Winfield Scott hired him as a spy. Within a few months, the Confederates captured him in Richmond. It didn’t take him long to escape to Washington where the State Department hired him as a detective. From there he joined the War Department where he became a vicious interrogator. His reputation brought him to the attention of the Secretary of War himself, Edwin Stanton. Baker did not want to expose Jenny to the dirty world of Washington politics so he bought her a new home in Philadelphia. There she would be closer than New York but far enough away never to learn of his state-sanctioned brutality.
Baker’s transformation from an innocent, defenseless red-haired youth to government-paid assassin was complete. Baker thought he had lost that tender side of his character forever until he stared into the dead eyes of Adam Christy. Then all his fear and frailty came rushing back. The same self-loathing that was evident on Christy’s face was deep inside Baker. He saw in the dead eyes the realization that Christy had failed his first test of character in his short life, and now everything was over. Yes, Baker conceded, they were alike. Except for one fact. When Baker first failed a test of character, he considered it a victory of determination over weakness.
Now it was too late to change, he thought. Baker knew that he was as dead on the inside as Christy was, lying there in his own blood. He was an outright empty machine proficient in the arts of torture and murder. And what for, Baker asked himself. For the money? He remembered earlier in the evening he had confronted Stanton about why he had gone to such extraordinary lengths to put Lincoln in the basement and then plan his assassination. Baker accused him of doing it for the power.
“And what is it for you?” he remembered Stanton asking in spite.
“I’m a simple man,” Baker had told him. “I’m not a lawyer. I’m not smart enough to want more than to be comfortable. And it takes money for that.”
“So it’s just for the money?” Stanton’s cupid’s bow lips twisted into a smirk.
“You’re a fool, Mr. Stanton. You think power will make you happy.”
“Neither does money.”
“That’s right,” Baker remembered telling Stanton, “but it makes being miserable much more fun.”
Now, standing over Christy’s body, Baker realized he was wrong. However, if it was not for the money, then what was it for, his life of violence? Perhaps it was in revenge for all the suffering he endured as a child. More than likely, he would never know. His heart was so hardened at this point it made no difference. A knot developed in the pit of his stomach. He could no longer make himself touch, let alone pick up, Christy’s body. Baker also sensed his throat constricting, his face turning red and his eyes filling with tears. For the first time since he ran down the dusty streets of his little western New York town, Baker began to cry.
Moreover, Baker did not just allow tears to flow down his rough ruddy cheeks, he bawled. He sobbed; he gasped for breath, feeling the back of his head burn red-hot. All the emotion he had suppressed throughout the years came out. The heat from the room became unbearable; Baker thought he would pass out if he did not get out of the building and inhale fresh, cool night air.
He only made it as far as the hallway before falling to his knees. At first, his stomach roiled and then his diaphragm contracted violently. He gagged, and his eyes bulged. Before he knew it, he was vomiting on the floor, his head sagging down. His heaving continued so much that pungent, liquor-laced acid flowed from his nose. Between regurgitations, Baker moaned at full volume, thinking he wanted to die. From down the hall he heard a door open.
“Cleotis, I told you to stay out of it.” Baker recognized the Negro woman’s voice. It belonged to the cook whom Christy had tried to rape. “That’s white folks business.”
“There’s a sick man out here, Phebe,” the butler said in a low, firm tone. “That’s everybody’s business.”
Baker’s body twitched again, and he readied himself for another purge, but nothing came up this time. It did not lessen the pain. He became aware of a large, strong hand on his shoulder.
“Mister, are you all right?”
“No,” Baker rasped. “Go away.”
“Let me help you clean up.”
“I said go away.” He struggled to his knees, wiping his sputum-covered mouth and nostrils with his coat sleeve. “I’ll clean this up.” He heard the butler take a few steps away.
“The soldier boy’s on the floor in there all covered with blood.”
“The boy’s dead?” Phebe’s voice sounded startled and concerned. After a pause, her cynical attitude returned. “None of our business.”
Baker tried to stand, but his knees buckled again. Cleotis went back to him and lifted him by the armpits.
“Mister, I don’t know who you are, but you need help.” The butler’s voice was gentle but firm.” There ain’t no two ways about it.”
“No, no,” Baker mumbled.
“Come on in the kitchen and take a seat.” Cleotis dragged him down the hall and through the door to the kitchen, placing him in a chair. “Sit here awhile and you’ll feel better.” He turned to a table and picked up a dishtowel. “Phebe, get me a bucket of water,” he called out.
“I don’t wanna.”
“Woman, I’ve about had all that I’m gonna take,” he called out, still calm but louder. “Now get the bucket now.” Cleotis returned his attention to Baker and wiped his face. “Let me clean you up a bit, sir.”
“Why are you being nice to me?”
Cleotis continued to wipe. “I’m a butler, sir. That’s what I do.”
In a moment, Phebe entered the kitchen with a bucket of water. Baker looked up and noticed that she was pregnant.
“Is that your wife?” he mumbled, succumbing to Cleotis’ care.
“In the eyes of the Lord, sir,” the butler replied. “Sometimes that’s the best us colored folks can do.”
After feeling the fresh water on his face, Baker returned to rational thought. He realized he did need help cleaning up the evidence.
“I didn’t shoot the boy.”
“I know, sir.” Cleotis finished washing Baker. “There now. You look a heap better.” He turned to Phebe. “Get the mop and start cleaning up that sickness out there in the hall.”
“Yes, Cleotis.” She sighed while grabbing the mop from behind the door.
“We don’t want to know no more than that,” the butler told Baker. “It ain’t healthy. If you get the body out of here then we can clean everything up and by tomorrow morning, everything will be back to normal. There never was a soldier boy in the basement of the White House, and that’s a fact.”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Seventy-Nine

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on a mission because of David, better known as the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer is also a spy. MI6 makes them a team. David becomes king. David abdicates and they marry. Leon dies. His son Sidney mourns his death but is approached to join the organization.
Before David and Wallis had settled in the Government House on a high hill overlooking Nassau, they noticed the wall cracks left unrepaired by the previous governor. Soon they found the reason for the cracks—termites. Also they decided the furniture wasn’t up to the standards of British royalty.
Within a week a team of contractors invaded the residence, each concentrating on a different problem area. One of them dressed in overalls and a hard hat linked arms with the Windsors to lead them out to the swimming pool filled with debris.
“We should have privacy out here,” the contractor whispered.
David squinted. “And who, exactly, are you?”
Wallis lifted the man’s hat and smiled. “This is Gerry Greene, the young man who recruited me into MI6. Well, not so young any more, but much more fascinating.”
“Where’s the general?” David felt a twinge of jealousy at Wallis’ attention to the agent. None of this was supposed to be for real.
“General Trotter has retired.” Greene smiled. “And he’s moved to somewhere we’ll never find him.”
David knocked twigs off three lawn chairs and motioned to the others to sit.
“The last time we spoke to General Trotter,” David began, “he informed us we were ordered to the Bahamas to determine exactly who this Harry Oates—“
“Oakes.” Wallis touched his arm.
David was disturbed he enjoyed her correction too much. He winked at her. “Thank you, darling. We don’t know who he’s in bed with.”
“Well,” Greene relied, “you’ll be up close and personal with him very soon.”
“What?” Wallis’s eyes widened.
“The Oakes family has graciously extended an invitation for you to stay at their estate Westbourne, one of the most exclusive Nassau neighborhoods, while the renovations are being done on the Government House.”
“I don’t remember making that request.” David frowned.
“I did,” Greene replied, “on your behalf.”
“How kind of you.” Wallis smirked.
“Harry’s quite a boor,” Greene continued. “Evidently he bought himself the title of baronet, so he’s Sir Harry. When he’s overly excited he slips into this rough American accent.”
“I do that myself sometimes,” Wallis observed.
“He does have a charming family. His wife Eunice is half his age. She has all the social graces. She usually summers at the family home in Bar Harbour, Maine. When she learned she would be hosting the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, she flew back immediately with her a lovely sixteen-year-old daughter Nancy. Nancy’s supposed to look like that Hollywood star—oh, what is her name, ah yes, Katharine Hepburn.”
“I met Katharine Hepburn once, when I lived in California with my first husband—“
“Please, dear, no one cares.” David was delighted that he was able to get even for her correction of his pronunciation of Oakes’ name.
“She’s thought to have inherited her father’s devil-may-care attitude.” Greene, used to be interrupted on a regular basis, carried on with typical British aplomb. “When Nancy is in town, she’s been seen with the yachting crowd, particularly in the company of a much older man, Count Alfred de Marigny who gained his fortune through a couple of quick but profitable marriages with heiresses.”
“My kind of guy,” Wallis murmured.
“We’re not sure if he’s in love with the delightful Nancy or her father’s millions. He also has a reputation for his close friendships with members of the Nazi Party.”
“He’s not going to try to kidnap us, is he?” Wallis asked.
David considered her tone to being in mocking apprehension, but sometimes he couldn’t tell when she was serious or not. What concerned him most was that he found that aspect of her personality erotically provocative.
“Oh no. I think Hitler’s given up on that idea and has resigned himself to putting you two on the throne when—as he said—Germany wins the war.”
“Ooh, the crown jewels,” Wallis cooed.
This time David knew she was joking and let out a slight laugh. “Please dear, Mr. Greene doesn’t know that you’re just kidding.”
“Am I?”
“Yes, you are,” Greene replied with confidence. “After all, the duke here has already bought you jewelry that cost more than the crown jewels. Besides I know for a fact you had your hands on the crown jewels once and you returned them like a good MI6 agent should.”
“Worst decision of my life.” She cackled.
“Very clever but we must stay on topic,” Greene continued. “Our main concern with Harry is his ownership of the Rialto, a renowned restaurant, dance club and musical revue agenda. It also has a casino, which is strictly illegal in the Bahamas. Every time the authorities ask him about it, he acts surprised and says if people want to use the tables in the Rialto lounge for a friendly game of poker, who is he to say no. The authorities point out the female blackjack dealers, all wear similar tuxedo jackets with no pants. Harry just nods and says, ‘Yes, they are lovely, aren’t they? I don’t know where they come from’. “
“And you believe that crap?” Wallis lit a cigarette.
“They’ve spent years trying to find a paper trail connecting the casino operation to Oakes, and it isn’t there.” Greene shrugged.
“That sounds pretty smart.” Wallis blew smoke out of the corner of her mouth. “I thought Harry was supposed to be stupid.”
“He is,” Greene replied. “But he has this partner Harold Christie who is the brains of the operation. The problem with Christie is that he has relationships with Meyer Lansky and the rest of the mob.”
David leaned forward. “What about the organization?”
“Oh, I don’t think we have to worry about them. They’re strictly for-hire thugs.”
“So we do have to worry about who hires them,” David pressed.
“That’s our main concern. “ Greene nodded. “Who is Harry working for? And what do they want?”

Remember Chapter Nineteen

Previously: Retired teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. Lucinda remembers Vernon decided to marry Nancy but instead was drafted. Her last advice to him was less than kind. She tries to advise Cassie but she shrugs it off by saying life is what it is.
Maybe life is that simple.” Lucinda decided if a student had made that observation in an essay she would have scrawled across the top, give this more thought.

“I don’t know. To say mommy’s the way she is because of something that happened to her a long time ago seems awful simple to me.”

“Perhaps you’re right.” Lucinda knew Cassie wasn’t, however. “How are you going to live after — I mean — financially?”

“Oh, daddy left me enough money in my insurance policy to live on.” Cassie’s face lit. “And then I git whatever he left mommy that she doesn’t spend. I’ll sell the house — of course, I won’t git much for it. It’s such a firetrap. Did I tell you how you can git out of this room if there’s a fire in the hall?”

“No. That might be useful information.”

Cassie stood to walk to the window and lean out. Lucinda followed her and peered out too.

“There’s a good sturdy drainpipe right outside here.” Cassie pointed to it. “You can climb down it. See, there’s even places to put your feet. Those thingies that strap the pipe to the wall. It’s right next to the honeysuckle trellis, but I wouldn’t try to climb down it. The wood is rotten.”

“Are you certain the drainpipe would hold my weight?”

“Oh sure.” Cassie lost interest in looking at the pipe, walked back to the rocker and sat. “The reason I know is because when Nancy used to have this room she’d climb down the drainpipe at night after that goofy lookin’ Vernon Singleberry left after one of their dates. “She had that handsome guy from the movie set awaitin’ on her at his motel. She always said it was Warren Beatty but between me and you I think it was really his stand-in.”

“Who she said fathered her child,” Lucinda filled in. She returned to the bed to sit.

“You know what’s funny? He wasn’t even the father.”

“I know,” Lucinda whispered.

“Yeah. You see, she told Vernon she was already married, but that guy wouldn’t marry her until after a blood test.”

Lucinda saw how Cassie relished the telling and the retelling of the juiciest gossip ever to emerge from her mother’s boardinghouse.

“And the test showed the baby was Vernon’s.” Lucinda wiped a stray tear from her cheek.

“Yep, and that guy dropped her like a hot potato.” Cassie nodded and resumed rocking. “Then Nancy didn’t have the nerve to tell Vernon the truth.”

“Yes, I know.” Lucinda’s heart was breaking once again as she remembered Vernon’s numbing grief.

“Anyway, after I sell the house I’ll git me a nice apartment somewhere, maybe with a nice view of somethin’ pretty, like a lake, to look at.”

“Do you think you’ll get a job?” She resumed her questions on Cassie’s personal life so she would not have to think about Vernon any more.

“Maybe I’ll babysit. I like that.”

“You have the ability to do more. I know you do.” Playing the part of the cheerleader always lifted Lucinda’s spirits.

“It’s too late.”

“It’s never too late.” Clichés always were comforting.

Cassie stopped rocking. Her shoulders slumped. The thrill of the rhapsodic movement was gone. “I could have gotten a job doin’ somethin’ but mommy wouldn’t hear of it. You see, those doctors said I wasn’t crazy enough to go to a mental hospital, but they said I — I never learned — well, what most people learn to git along in life — you know, out workin’ and with adults. Now babies, I love to be around babies.

“I’m sorry.” Why she was sorry, Lucinda did not know, but the sentiment was genuine.

“I’ll be all right. It’ll be downright heaven to live where I want to and do what I like without mommy tellin’ me I can’t or shouldn’t.”

“So you’re just waiting for her to die.”

“If there’s one thing havin’ a club foot teaches you it’s patience.” Cassie cocked her head.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothin’s wrong. They’ve all stopped now. Aunt Bertha’s probably cryin’ in her room, and mommy’s off cleanin’ somethin’ or other.” She stood and went to the door.

“You don’t have to leave now, Cassie.” No matter how sad the conversation, Lucinda was enjoying it nonetheless.

“Oh no. It’s time for my soap operas.” And she was out the door.

“How sad. How terribly, terribly sad,” she mumbled, allowing herself to fall back onto her pillow. “At least she took my mind off Vernon. I shouldn’t have kept my nose stuck in my papers that day. And I shouldn’t have been so flippant about his going to Vietnam. But it was true. More people are killed on the highway than in . . .” Realizing how foolish her rationalization sounded, Lucinda stopped in mid-sentence.