Monthly Archives: December 2019

New Year’s Resolution

Here’s a good idea for a New Year’s resolution.
Don’t argue with people who don’t listen.
Not literally.
Not figuratively.
Not no way. Not no how.
Let me tell you how I came upon this bit of wisdom. Mind you, I haven’t learned it completely myself. From time to time I still find myself in a futile conversation with someone who will not hear what I have to say.
About 25 years ago, far away in a beautiful little city called Temple, Texas, I decided I wanted to participate in community theater. The trouble was, in a town with the largest hospital in Central Texas, all the best roles always went to the doctors and the lawyers who donated the most money to keep the theater doors open. So a group of earnest though poor folks including me started our own little theater and put on plays at the local Ramada Inn. With limited expenses, a play that drew 45 to 50 people a performance was considered a success.
All went well until one spring when we needed someone to volunteer to direct the next production. The local high school drama teacher said she would do it—even though she was directing the students in Hello Dolly! at the same time—if she could have the lead in the next play 6 Rms Rv Vu. It fell to me to find a director for that show. I could not find anyone except the junior college drama instructor who was interested only if rehearsals began after June first when his semester ended. That seemed reasonable until the high school teacher announced the rehearsals had to begin the middle of May because of her summer schedule.
So there I was in a pickle. If I pleased the high school teacher there was no director. And, I felt, I would look foolish to the junior college instructor. If I accommodated the junior college guy I’d break the original deal and make the high school teacher mad.
Now, I know all this sounds petty and boring but I’m getting to the meat of the matter right now. The high school drama teacher was married to this building contractor who looked like the Norse god Thor, only stronger. This guy could lift two 8×4 ¾-inch plywood boards over his head and not even breathe hard. When his wife got mad, he got mad.
“How dare you treat Hortense (not her real name, but you could guess that) like that? After all she’s done for this group? And you were over at our house and didn’t even tell us!”
That’s true. I didn’t tell them when I had a chance because I was scared to death of their reaction. I had her best friend tell her. She didn’t speak to her friend for at least a year.
“There you sat in my house and drank all my wine!”
Yes, I did. He offered it and I drank it. What a baseborn ingrate I was.
“We’ve got to learn to work together in this group! How dare you treat Hortense like this! You should have seen the tears going down her cheeks!”
No matter how hard I tried to explain the situation to him I failed. He was too busy shouting at me to take time to listen to my explanation, no matter how wimpy it sounded.
Every time he saw me after that for the next six months or so he would lecture me on the importance of teamwork and cooperation. By that time I had learned to smile and nod. I got very good at smiling and nodding. But the damage was done. Half of the theater group thought I was terrible for double crossing Hortense. The other half thought Hortense and her husband were jerks. So we disbanded. Thankfully, the high school teacher shortly thereafter took a job at a junior college across the state and in a few years my family and I moved to Florida.
The point of this is that sometimes there are two groups of people, those who have to make hard decisions that they know will please no one and those who get mad. They are too busy exploding to be confused with the facts. It doesn’t have to be a community theater. It can be a church. It can be a business. It can be government, at all levels.
It always happens and will continue to happen. Most people who have actual problems with their ears get a hearing aid. The socially deaf don’t think they do anything wrong. The rest of us just have to accept this fact of life and practice our smiling and nodding.
One last thing, if you don’t like this commentary, or for that matter, anything else I’ve written, keep it to yourself. I’m getting a little hard of hearing myself.

The Giggle

Once upon a time in a faraway forest where the trees grew soooooooo tall and the branches almost touched the sky, lived a….
Teeee hee hee hee hee heeeeeeeeeee!
Now nobody knows where the Giggle came from. The bunnies said the Giggle was left behind when a family had a picnic.
“No!” the snapping turtle snapped. “It was forgotten by a pair of sweethearts who carved their initials in an oak tree.”
“You are both wrong,” the wise old owl told them. “The Giggle has been here since the tallest oak tree was just a tiny little acorn.”
And, oh, how the forest creatures loved the Giggle! It made spring greener, summer brighter, autumn crisper and winter, well it made winter absolutely hilarious!!!
Teeee hee hee hee hee heeeeeeeeeee!
Late one December night all the woodland creatures gathered in a clearing to play games. Suddenly they hear a noise in the sky! They looked up and saw something falling, falling, falling and when it landed it made a great big splat.
When all the dust cleared they saw a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. But this was not a beautiful sleigh, oh no. It was weathered and the paint had peeled away. The runners were all rusty. And the reindeer were sad and worn out. Climbing out of the sleigh was a little old man in a dirty brown suit.
The animals jumped back. They were afraid because Man only came to the forest to hunt and kill. But the Giggle—
Teeee hee hee hee hee heeeeeeeeeee!
–gave them courage to step forward.
“Whoooooooooooo are you?” the wise old owl asked.
The little old man took his hat in hand and smiled.
“My name is Santa Claus. I love children so much I make toys for them every Christmas. But the world has become such a mean and scary place that even my toys can’t make them happy. But I hear that you have a special friend who lives in forest.”
The Giggle had been quiet so long it thought it was going to bust!
Teeee hee hee hee hee heeeeeeeeeee!
Santa looked up and pointed his finger.
“That’s it! The Giggle! I need the Giggle to make the children happy again!”
“Oh no!” the bunnies cried, “You can’t take our friend the Giggle!”
The coyotes bared their teeth and growled.
The snake hissed, “The Giggle isssssss oursssssss!”
“Go get your own Giggle!” the snapping turtle snapped.
But the Giggle—
Teeee hee hee hee hee heeeeeeeeeee!
–got louder—
–and louder—
Teeee hee hee hee hee heeeeeeeeeee!
–and louder—
–And when the Giggle was finished, the sleigh was a bright green! And the runners were a glistening black! And the reindeer were happy, healthy, snorting and raring to go!
And Santa—well, Santa was dressed in red and white from his head to his feet. He went—
–Because the Giggle…
Teeee hee hee hee hee heeeeeeeeeee!
…lifted him off the ground and plopped him into the sleigh off they all flew around the world delivering toys to all the girls and boys. And the Giggle dried the tears from their eyes so they could be happy for Christmas.
But back in the forest, the woodland creatures were sad. They missed their friend the Giggle. The wise old owl, cocked his head.
“Hush! I think I hear something.”
Teeee hee hee hee hee heeeeeeeeeee!
The Giggle could not tease his friends by hiding any longer. You see, the Giggle could be with Santa delivering presents around the world and still be in the forest playing with animals at the same time.
And they were so happy! The bunnies flipped with glee. The coyotes howled with joy. And the snapping turtle did a silly little dance.
But the wise old owl knew that the Giggle was for everyone and was everywhere. All you had to do was want the Giggle, and it was there.
Here’s hoping your home will be filled with giggles too!
Teeee hee hee hee hee heeeeeeeeeee!

Author’s Note: I’m taking Christmas week off to visit my grandchildren. I hope we have lots of giggles. If you have time from your giggles, please check my archives to catch up on some of my other stories.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Ninety-Nine

Previously: Mercenary Leon meets MI6 spies David, the Prince of Wales, and socialite Wallis Spencer. David abdicates the throne to marry Wallis. He becomes Bahamas governor. Leon dies and his son Sidney turns mercenary. David hires him as his valet. The Windsors go on their last mission to steal Nazi documents.
The war was finally over, but the battle with the Royal Family continued. Wallis knew David loved his family though he claimed many times he did not. One of the reasons Wallis sneaked away to New York to kill Kiki Preston was the pain Kiki inflicted on Prince George. When George died in the plane crash David was devastated and the only way Wallis could think of to comfort him was to push the girl with the silver syringe out of a New York hotel window.
David’s mother caused him the most grief. The Queen Mother demanded David never live in England if he were still married to Wallis. On trips to visit his mother, David sneaked away once to see if Fort Belvedere had survived war damage. Except for normal neglect, Belvedere looked the same.
“You know,” David told Wallis when he returned, “Fort Belvedere was the only place I had bought myself, and the only place I considered my own.”
“I can’t very well push the old broad out of a Buckingham Palace window,” Wallis often thought.
David’s brother Bertie, who had replaced him as king, refused to let him have any job in the Commonwealth. Even Prince Henry became governor of Australia but for David nothing. One of the tweedy types in the Home Office suggested the Windsors could continue to wander around the world doing good deeds of charity. Now that they were retired from espionage, MI6 could not and would not interfere in anyway.
When they left the Bahamas in May 1945, David and Wallis asked Sidney if he wished to work for the Duke as his valet, wherever that might take them. Wallis noticed the beam on Sidney’s face and wondered why he would be so eager to leave his own home and friends on Eletheura. She put those thoughts out of her head when she realized how happy it made David when his valet said yes.
They spent a few months in New York enjoying its café society before returning briefly to their Paris house on Boulevard Suchet, which also had escaped damage during the war, but soon their landlord announced he had rented it to someone else and they had to move by fall. David shrugged and told Wallis he preferred life on the Riviera. The war left La Croe untouched as well.
Soon Wallis had the estate in its former glory, and they had a glorious time hosting parties and basically doing nothing. Despite the desperate conditions for ordinary folks, the Windsors still lived well. David had money inherited from his father, and both David and Wallis had generous pensions from MI6, even though the typical agents had to live on much less. One obstacle to their party life was the food rationing by the French government. Wallis worked her way around that inconvenience by shipping in foodstuffs from the United States, such as canned ham, hot dogs, and canned vegetables. At one particular party, where high society guests dressed in formal attire, servants brought in a large bowl of baked beans and on a silver tray meat loaf.
When her guests looked surprised, Wallis said, “Y’all understand that my menus have suffered a bit!”
During this transition time, the Windsors kept up with the news of post-war Europe. Many former Nazi leaders killed themselves rather to submit to the indignities of capture and imprisonment. Among others who were nabbed trying to leave the continent was Joachim Von Ribbentrop.
“They caught Joachim the other day,” Wallis announced over breakfast, trying not to sound like she cared.
“Oh really?” David bit into his toast. “Do you think they can make him talk about us?”
She kept her face covered by the newspaper. “I thought you’d know more about the Germans than that, since you are part German. They never tell on their own kind. Much like our American crime families.” She paused searching her mind for a suitable change of topic for breakfast conversation.
“Isn’t it wonderful Monsieur Valat and his son could come work for us again? Jean has grown into quite a handsome young man. And he seems to have outgrown some of his more annoying tics, don’t you think?”
“Yes, quite.”
When David did not pursue the conversation about Ribbentrop, Wallis sighed. As the months went by she did keep up with the news about Ribbentrop and the others. By late summer of 1947 the Allied powers had moved the most powerful of the German prisoners to Nuremberg where a trial was set with an international panel of judges appointed. She tried not to bring up the latest developments while they sat reading the newspapers.
“Did you see this?” David said one day. “Joachim is the first to be tried.”
“Do you think we could go shopping in Paris soon?” she asked. “I haven’t had a new piece of jewelry since you bought me those things with the code boxes hidden in them.”
“They’re bringing up the nastiest charges about him.”
Damn, he’s not letting me change the conversation.
“He was right in the middle of all that terrible business with the Jews and the Gypsies. He also ordered all down Allied pilots to be shot on the spot.”
“He didn’t seem all that ruthless in the 30s at the German embassy parties in London.” Wallis winced a bit. She should have been able to come up with a better response.
A week or two passed without any other word about Ribbentrop, to Wallis’s relief. He was the enemy, of course, and there was no excuse for the barbaric treatment of the Jews and others, but Wallis couldn’t forget how she met him in Paris in the 30s. He was so dashing and romantic. He actually helped her with her divorce from her first husband Win. The carnations through the years….
As the trial news continued, Wallis covertly found a maid on their staff at La Croe who spoke German and paid her to help improve her own use of the Teutonic tongue. She sat at her dressing table for hours practicing how to apply makeup to her face the way Annalies Ribbentrop did. She scoured little shops to find dresses which suited the woman’s taste. Eventually she filled a small suitcase with makeup and disguises, attire and one other thing, a small bag of ground leaves from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Within days David announced over breakfast he was planning a London visit to see his mother.
“I don’t know why I bother. We talk but she never looks me in the eyes.” He paused. “I suppose I’m still a little boy seeking mummy’s attention.” He flipped a page in the newspaper. “I see Von Ribbentrop is scheduled to be hanged Oct. 16. Hmm, isn’t that odd? I’ll be chatting with mummy that day. What a coincidence. So sorry to be leaving you alone.”
When he lowered his newspaper, David had a smile on his face. Wallis swallowed hard and tried to smile back.
“Oh, I’ll think of something to amuse myself.”
On the day of his departure, Wallis walked David to the limousine awaiting him. She patted his back and wished him a safe journey. He looked into her eyes.
“I can’t control what you do when I’m away but…” He bit his lower lip. “Whatever you do, be careful.” David kissed her lips, held her tight then whispered, “I really do love you, you know.”
Wallis took several moments to regain her composure as she watched the limousine drive away. She immediately went to her bedroom, changed into a drab traveling suit she had found in one of the local shops and pulled out her packed suitcase. The maid who had tutored her in German drove her to the station where she boarded the next train to Nuremberg, Germany.
On her way, she rehearsed her speech in German. “I am Annalies Von Ribbentrop. I wish to say good bye to my husband.”
She also composed what she would say to Ribbentrop on his way to the gallows. She’d hand him a white carnation and whisper, “After you say your last words, eat the flower quickly. First you’ll lose your ability to speak, next you’ll become numb all over and by the time they pull the trap door, you’ll feel nothing.”
After the train arrived in Nuremburg, Wallis, in her Annalies makeup and clothing, stepped from the train and took a cab to a hostel where she checked in. She bought a local newspaper and read the time of the execution the next morning. She looked out the hotel window to see a large mob already forming in front of the fortress where Ribbentrop was held.
Wallis decided she could not risk waiting until morning to join them. She went out on the street and found a flower vendor to buy a white carnation. She stuck the flower into her coat pocket which held the ground herb from the Blue Ridge Mountains. After she was sure the bloom was covered with the herb, she pulled it out and began her solemn walk to the prison.
In good German she said to those around her. “Please let me pass. I am Mrs. Von Ribbentrop.”
Murmurs began to flow ahead of her, and the crowd parted. Soon she was at the front gate. She repeated it to the guard. He widened his eyes and let her in.
No one questioned her word but took her to the commandant.
“You speak English?” Wallis created a German dialect on the spot.
“Yes, ma’am,” the Allied commandant replied. “What can I do for you?”
“I am Annalies Von Ribbentrop. I wish to say good-bye to my husband.” She held up the carnation. “I have brought a flower to brighten his final moments.”
The commandant smirked. “Annalies Von Ribbentrop? I thought they had you locked up in the prisoner of war camp in Dachau.”
“I was. The camp commandant took pity on me and allowed me to come here. I have two plainclothes guards waiting for me in the crowd. To be seen with guards in their uniforms would have too humiliating.” She paused to pretend to hold back tears. “After my visit, they will take me back to Dachau. Please don’t turn me away after I have traveled such a long distance.” Wallis made her lips quiver.
She looked him in the eyes. It was an expression Wallis had perfected in her youth to get her own way. The commandant asked no further questions but instead picked up a glass of water to give her.
“Put the flower in this. It will make it last.” He looked at the guard standing behind her. “Take Mrs. Ribbentrop to her husband’s cell.”
“Yes, it’s my wish he hold the flower to the very end.”
“Of course, madam.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Twenty-Four

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Stanton’s henchman Lafayette Baker takes Christy’s body to an embalmer. Booth and Herold escape across the river in Maryland. Johnson takes the oath of office. Baker arrests Mrs. Surratt.
Gabby Zook dozed fitfully for several days in a small room at the Armory Square Hospital, his dreams filled with images of the private from the White House basement. The killer was always standing over the dying boy, admiring his handiwork. The red-haired young man’s mouth filled with blood from a gunshot wound. That mean man would find Gabby and kill him because he knew too much.
From time to time, Gabby’s screams brought a woman to his bedside, and she would stroke his sweat-drenched hair and tell him everything was going to be fine. How could everything be fine? Cordie was dead. The young man was dead. The president was dead. And if that mean man found him, Gabby would be dead.
After one particularly loud outburst, Gabby jumped from the bed and ran to the door.
“Cordie! Cordie! Where’s Cordie?”
The short, thin woman with her hair in a tight bun grasped his arms, gently turned him around and guided him back to the bed.
“That’s quite all right, Mr. Zook,” she whispered. “You’ve just had one of your nightmares. That’s all. This too shall pass.”
“Thank you, Miss.” He sat on the bed and looked up at her, his pale blue eyes watering. “You’ve told me your name before, but I can’t remember it.”
“I’m Dorothea Dix.”
“That’s right. Cordie told me about you. She said you could be a scary person, but down deep you were really very nice. And that’s true, isn’t it, Miss Dix? You are a nice person, aren’t you?”
“Well, I try to be,” she said with a faint smile. “Are you ready for some soup? You haven’t eaten for a while. I have some nice chicken soup if you are hungry.”
Gabby smacked his lips. “I think I am hungry.” He looked at her, and his eyes crinkled. “When I get scared I can’t eat much of anything, but I don’t feel scared now, so I’m beginning to feel hungry.”
“Then I will get you some.”
As Miss Dix stepped away, Gabby reached for her hand. “When Cordie died, did you take care of her like this?”
“Why, yes I did, but you’re not going to die, Mr. Zook.”
“It was in this room, wasn’t it?” Gabby looked around. “It just seems like a room where people would die.”
“Yes, quite a few people died in this room,” she replied. “But you’re going to live. Keep your mind busy with those thoughts. Life. What you’re going to do. Where you’re going to go. Happy things.”
Gabby felt the sleeve of his shirt and smelled it. “This is clean. How did it get clean? I haven’t worn clean clothes in a long time.”
“Oh, we took your clothes off you the first night you were here, Mr. Zook,” Miss Dix said. “You just don’t remember.”
“Even my long johns?”
“Yes. Everything is clean now.”
“Then—then I didn’t have clothes on?” Gabby’s eyes widened.
“Oh my, Mr. Zook! We see naked men all the time here in the hospital. Don’t think a thing about it. Now enough of your questions. I have to get your soup.”
When Miss Dix returned, she sat in the chair next to the bed as Gabby drank his soup. As drops of the chicken broth dribbled down his chin, she leaned over and wiped them with a napkin.
“Did I tell you I lived at the White House?” Gabby asked. He knew he could not remember things the way he used to.
“Your sister told me you were a janitor at the Executive Mansion. A very important place to work, indeed.”
“I didn’t really work there the last two and a half years as much as I just lived there. I was locked in the basement with the President and his wife. This short mean man with a beard made us live there.”
“That’s hard to believe, Mr. Zook.” She paused. “Slow down. You’re missing your mouth and getting soup all over yourself.”
“I know I’m not normal, Miss Dix.” Gabby put the soup bowl down to talk. “I get confused real easy. That’s why Cordie had to take care of me. One time, while I was in the basement, I even thought I was President of the United States.” He squinted. “Did I tell you that before?”
“It doesn’t make any difference. The important thing is that we find someone to take care of you now that Cordie is gone. Don’t worry about it. I think I’ve found the perfect person.”
The next day, Gabby awoke to soft voices outside his room. He knew one of them was Miss Dix. He did not recognize the man’s voice.
“Mr. Whitman, I am so glad you agreed to help,” Miss Dix said.
“As soon as I read your telegram I knew I had to come for him. Miss Zook was such a dear woman, and I understand their uncle Samuel Zook died at the battle of Gettysburg. This is my way of honoring our war dead.”
Gabby went to the door to peek out. The man standing with Miss Dix was not much taller than he was, but his shoulders inclined in a relaxed manner. Gabby sensed that he was not afraid of anything. But, he looked familiar. His hair. His eyes. He was a much younger man when Gabby met him, but it was the same man. But when? Where?
“Mr. Zook,” Miss Dix said. “I want you to meet the man who is going to take care of you, like your sister Cordie did. This is Walt Whitman, one of the kindest, gentlest men I have ever met in the world.”
“So you are Cordie Zook’s brother? She was a wonderful person. I will consider it an honor, Mr. Zook, if you would come to New York and live with my mother and me, at least for the time being. Mostly mother. I have my job as a clerk at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington City. I come home on weekends. But don’t worry. You’ll like mother. In many ways, she’s like your sister Cordie. She’s very sympathetic to people with physical ailments but she labors under the delusion she has them all, even your own particular confusions. You don’t have to stay. But you won’t have to leave either. It will be your choice.”
Gabby frowned. He had heard that voice before. His eyes filled with tears.
“No, no, don’t cry.” Whitman reached out and patted his hands. “The time for tears has passed.”
“I know that voice. At the beach. You were watching my friend Joe and me. You said something about ocean waves. Let’s see. You said ocean waves taught you to see beyond the things on hand, as the ocean always points beyond the waves of the moment.”
“How did you know that?” Whitman smiled in surprise.
“You said that to Joe and me on the beach. It was on Long Island. A long time ago when I was young and Joe was alive. I remember stuff like that. I can’t remember what happened yesterday, but I remember what you said.”
Whitman patted him on the shoulder. “I think we shall become very good friends, Mr. Zook. Let’s pack your things, and we can take the afternoon train back to New York.”
“I don’t have things. Just the clothes on my back.”
“You have things now,” Miss Dix interjected. “We’ve scrounged around the hospital here to find you extra clothing and such. We even have a nice straw hamper for you to put them in.”
“By this evening we shall have supper with my mother and family,” Whitman said.
Gabby straightaway felt relaxed around this man, who explained with care everything they were going to do before they did it. First thing out of the hospital, Whitman told him they were going to find an omnibus to take them to the train station.
“We will have to stand in line to buy tickets but it wouldn’t take very long.” Before Gabby could ask, Whitman assured him, “I’m going to pay for the tickets, our food, anything that you might want.”
As they sat on the train going to New York City, Gabby looked out the window at the passing landscape, just evolving into its spring greenery, and remembered the last time he rode a train. Cordie held his hand all the way. Frowning, he also remembered the night President Lincoln died and how that mean man carried Adam Christy’s body from the basement of the Executive Mansion.
“Are you sure that mean man won’t find me in New York?” Gabby whispered.
“What? Oh, don’t worry,” Whitman replied as he leaned over and patted Gabby’s knee. “All the mean men will be caught soon. They have the man who stabbed Secretary of State Seward and the man who tried to shoot Vice-President Johnson and others. Soon they will find John Wilkes Booth. All the mean men will be in jail, and we won’t have to worry about them anymore.”
Gabby realized his new friend did not understand he was talking about another mean man, but he was too tired to explain it to him at the moment. Gabby had been very tired ever since that night he ran in the rain. Maybe when he got home to New York he would be able to relaxed and have a good night’s sleep. His mind wandered again back to the Long Island beach and the day he and his friend Joe were playing in the surf.
“Why were you watching Joe and me on the beach?” Gabby asked, continuing to look out the window.
“I’ve watched many people in my lifetime. You might say that’s what I do for a living. I watch people.”
“Does it pay well?”
“None at all.” Whitman paused. “But of all the jobs I’ve held I like it best.”
After they arrived at the New York train station, Gabby and Whitman took an omnibus to the East River where they caught a ferry across to Brooklyn. Gabby began to recognize familiar streets and buildings, feeling more as if he were home. They walked a good distance to North Portland Avenue. He smiled as he looked at the large brownstones.
“You must have money to live in a home as grand as one of these.”
Whitman laughed. “Oh no, we have to rent out most of our house to pay the bills. We live in the basement.”
“The basement.” Gabby stopped. “I don’t want to stay in another basement.”
“Don’t worry.” Whitman put his arm around Gabby’s sloped shoulders. “It’s nice. Mother makes it very homey.”
“Your mother is still alive? You’re very fortunate. My mother is dead.”
“Remember I told you about Mother. She may think she’s dying, but she’s really healthy as a horse. And we have a nice big family sharing our home. There’s my brother Eddy. You’ll like him. He’s a cripple. Sometimes he gets very mad and screams, but don’t let that bother you. And my older brother Jesse can tell you stories about being a sailor. He’s a bit crotchety. He has a disease called syphilis. Do you know what that is?”
“Bad people get that, don’t they?”
“Not bad. Just unlucky. Then there’s George. He’s a carpenter. Nice but rather boring. And my favorite brother Jeff who has a wife and baby. You don’t mind babies, do you?”
“Babies are nice. I just don’t know how to take care of them.”
“You don’t have to worry about that.” Whitman stopped in front of some imposing steps. “Here we are, 106. You need to remember that in case we ever get separated when we are out and about. One hundred and six North Portland Avenue.”
“Yes, I’m good at numbers,” Gabby replied. “I’ll say, point me in the direction of 106 North Portland Avenue, please.”
“Very good.” Whitman guided Gabby who clutched his straw hamper close to his chest down steps to the basement door. “Remember, you are among family now. You don’t have to be afraid.”
As soon as Whitman opened the door, Gabby jumped back when he heard the screaming of men and women and a baby crying. A chair, somewhere, went crashing to the floor. Whitman smiled and took Gabby’s arm.
“Well, it is a boisterous family, but they mean well. And no one hardly ever gets hurt. Don’t worry. We’ll spend most of our time with more interesting people. You’ll like the tavern. And the people in Greenwich Village are friendly. Trust me. I’ll take care of you.”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Ninety-Eight

Previously: Mercenary Leon meets MI6 spies David, the Prince of Wales, and socialite Wallis Spencer. David abdicates the throne to marry Wallis. He becomes Bahamas governor. Leon dies and his son Sidney turns mercenary. David hires him as his valet. Mission gives them details of their next mission.
By late August 1944, MI6 had worked out all the details for this singularly peculiar mission for David and Wallis to recover highly sensitive documents from the Meisdorf castle in the Harz Mountains. Captain David Silverberg led an exploratory team of American soldiers in the section of Germany along the Austrian border. Local residents told him German soldiers had forced them to unload many boxes at the castle. This information convinced U.S. and British intelligence these were the German official papers they looking for. The Allies planned a full-scale attack on the castle by late summer.
The Windsors packed for a holiday along the eastern seaboard in August. They would visit Jessie and Jimmy Donohue in Palm Beach, and another wealthy friend in Newport, Rhodes Island before Wallis would fake an appendicitis attack and be rushed to Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. Along the way, Gerry Greene told them, doubles would trade places with them, leaving the Windsors to be secreted into Germany.
As David and Wallis left the Governor’s Palace, Sidney approached them.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to accompany you?” he asked.
“You’re so sweet,” Wallis replied, “but no one can protect us from Jessie and Jimmy.”
“You need the time off.” David patted him on the back. “Spend some time at your place in Eleuthera.”
“Thank you, Your Highness.” He bowed.
David sensed his valet was not pleased, but dismissed the thought as soon as it crossed his mind. He had other matters to consider, not the least were the Donohues. They always put on a spectacular confectionary circus served with lots of champagne which grated on his nerves. Overriding all his concerns was the mission into Germany. Five years had passed since they had used their spying skills and he worried they would not be up to the task.
A British military plane flew low toward Meisdorf as the last beams of sunlight disappeared, the MI6 commander explained to them that a reconnaissance plane had surveyed the area earlier and found one flat stretch about a mile away from the castle that was suitable for dropping them off. They also found a spot next to the castle where they could land and load the boxes of documents. He assured them they would have plenty of help loading them.
The plane landed; the Windsors jumped out proceeded on foot to the castle. They wore their black clothing and were armed with revolvers with silencers, plenty of ammunition and two flashlights. Walking along the tree line by the road, David noticed Wallis was unusually quiet.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
Wallis shrugged. “A bit nostalgic. This may be the last time I ever get to kill someone.”
David wanted to laugh, but knew he mustn’t break the silence of the night. Soon the silence was broken anyway by an approaching military truck coming from the direction of the castle.
Just as the truck was even with them, David and Wallis opened fire on the tires and the radiator. The tires exploded and vapor escaped the front of the truck, which caused it to overturn in the ditch. David rushed around to the driver’s side to find the soldier dead. Wallis ran to the opposite side where the guard’s upper body dangled out the window.
She placed her revolver next to his head. “How many soldiers are stationed at the castle?” she asked in broken German.
“Huh?” the woozy soldier mumbled.
“Tell me how many soldiers are guarding the secret files,” she repeated.
His eyes were glazed. “Nein.”
“If you don’t tell I’ll put a bullet in your head.” She spoke with a guttural hiss.
He spoke in German and held up both hands and spread out all ten fingers. “Zehn.”
Zehn?” Wallis repeated.
Ja.” He held up ten fingers again.
“I lied.” Wallis placed the barrel next to his temple and pulled the trigger.
“Hey!” David called out. “Come over here! I’ve found something!”
Wallis ran to the back of the truck.
“Turn on your torch!” he said.
She pulled out her flashlight and clicked it on. From its light and from David’s torch she could see papers strewn across the ditch.
“I think they’ve started moving the documents.” David said. “We’ve got to hurry!”
She picked up the paper closest to her and read it. “You’re right.” Wallis handed him the letter. It was from Ribbentrop to a confidante.
“I think I love the duchess. I refuse to believe she would not hesitate to be a double agent. Our time together was exhilarating. I’ll never forget when she stuck her hat pin—“.
David stopped reading and tore it to shreds. “We don’t have time to go through all of this and what’s at the castle.” He turned off his flashlight and bent over and hurriedly gathered the documents. “Put them back in the truck and light the truck on fire.”
They worked in a fury and had the truck ablaze in about half an hour. David and Wallis tromped toward the castle.
“I’m definitely too old for this crap,” Wallis gasped.
“Stop griping and walk,” he ordered.
Soon the shadows of the castle appeared around a bend of the road. They approached the gate in stealth.
“The German said there were ten soldiers guarding the files,” Wallis whispered.
The truck guard must have been in a hurry because he left the gate unlocked. The Windsors slipped in and noticed a light in a nearby office. They peeked in the window and saw a guard with his head on the desk asleep. Wallis cracked the door open and shot him.
“One down and nine to go,” she muttered.
Further down the open courtyard they saw off to the side a decrepit donkey cart speckled with straw. David pointed to it. “Remember the cart. We might need it later.”
They came to a large door leading to the main hall. Inside they saw another light in a room and went to it. Wallis had her revolver raised ready to shoot, but David put his hand on the barrel when he saw it was an old man in civilian clothes. He asked him in perfect German who he was.
The old man’s eyes widened in fear. Wallis raised her revolver again.
David smiled and advised him in German to answer quickly because the woman next to him liked to shoot people.
“Please don’t shoot,” the man gasped. “Please don’t shoot.”
“Good,” Wallis said. “He speaks English. So where are the soldiers?”
His hand shaking, he pointed to the staircase in the hall. “They’re all asleep. In big room upstairs. Except for soldier in guardhouse—“
“Oh, I’ve already killed him.”
“Don’t kill me. I’m what you would call a librarian—I take care of all the documents. I’m not a Nazi. Believe me.”
“Oh, shut up,” Wallis snapped.
“Stay in this office and you’ll be safe,” David said.
Ja, I mean yes, yes.”
“Where are the documents?” David asked.
“In the basement,” the man whispered.
Wallis pointed her revolver at him again. “Remember, don’t leave this office.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
They padded their way up the steps, cracked the first door and found the room empty. The next door was a double so David thought this must be the barracks. He held up his revolver and whispered, “Load up. We’ve got to act fast.”
Wallis nodded and reloaded.
Without a sound, they crept through the door to see two rows of cots going down the walls. The men were in their woolens, and most of them were snoring. David pointed to Wallis to take the left side. One would have five and the other four. Each shot one soldier and waited to see if the others awoke to the muffled sound of the silencer. The Germans continued to snore. From there the Windsors didn’t pause as they put bullets through the soldiers’ heads. Each time blood sprayed out of the other side of the heads. The snoring stopped and in the sudden cold silence, the last man on Wallis’s side twisted in his cot, sat up and saw his dead comrades. David could tell by the way he moved about he still was half asleep. The soldier jumped up, turned and was face-to-face with Wallis. She shot him between the eyes.
The Windsors turned and left the room, trotted down the stairs and opened the basement door where they were surprised by the number of filing cabinets, row after row of them.
“I wasn’t expecting this many,” David said. He looked at Wallis. “What time is it?”
“Two a.m.”
“That gives us until dawn.” He flashed his light around the dark room and found the light switch. “I see empty boxes in the corners. Put the files in there. Only put in as many as you think you can easily carry up the stairs and outside to the donkey cart.”
Both of them opened file drawers efficiently and looked at document titles. If they didn’t see their names they moved on without bothering to close the drawers. David found reports on their visit to Berlin, in details he thought impossible to be observed. He removed them and tossed the papers into a box.
“Oh my God, here’s an entire drawer about me and the choo choo room,” Wallis exclaimed. “That crazy little man really was besotted with me. Well, we have to take that one.”
They had to stop to catch their breath as they filled the boxes and took them outside to the cart. Wallis made a few more observations about those that mentioned her but for the most part she was silent in her work.
In the back of his mind, David worried that whoever was awaiting the arrival of the truckload they blew up might come looking to see why it hadn’t arrived. If they got to the castle before sunrise, he and Wallis would be trapped.
Fewer files were found in cabinets in the back of the room so they knew their mission was almost complete. When they filled their last boxes they went upstairs. Wallis stopped to stick her head in the old man’s office.
“Remember, when the American troops arrive, keep saying, “Please don’t shoot me. Please don’t shoot me.”
Ja. Please don’t shoot me. Please don’t shoot me.”
“And don’t tell them about us or else I’ll make a special trip back just to kill you,” she said.
“You not here. Ja. You not here.”
When they left the castle, the sun peeked over the mountain ridge. Soon they heard the motor of the military plane. When it landed, MI6 agents jumped out. With efficiency and speed they ran into the castle, pulled the cart out to the plane and loaded all the boxes. They helped David and Wallis in the plane and situated the boxes so they could sit down.
David sat and closed his eyes. Every muscle in his body ached. He was getting old.
“All I ask is that you get me to a four-star hotel as soon as you can,” Wallis said with a yawn. And book me a room with the biggest, most comfy bed they have. And a martini. Make that two. Oh hell, get me a bottle of gin and don’t wake me up for twenty-four hours.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Twenty-Three

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Stanton’s henchman Lafayette Baker takes Christy’s body to an embalmer. Booth and Herold join across the river in Maryland. Johnson takes the oath of office. Baker starts the official investigation.
A banging at the kitchen door drew their attention. Baker stood and with a couple of his soldiers strode to the door and opened it. A tall young man with a pickaxe on his shoulder stood at the door. Baker recognized him as the stupid one under the bridge from Thursday night. He was the one who was supposed to kill Seward.
“What do you want here?” Baker asked.
“Oh. I’m supposed to dig a gutter for Mrs. Surratt.”
“At midnight?”
“I happened to see the lights on. I dropped by to get directions. I’m supposed to do the job tomorrow. I didn’t even know her until last week. We met on Pennsylvania Avenue. She looked like a nice lady who needed help and…”
Baker turned to one of the soldiers. “Bring Mrs. Surratt here.”
“What’s wrong? Is she in trouble?” The man with the pickaxe shifted from one foot to the other. “She’s too nice a lady to be in trouble.”
“If you barely know her, how do you know she’s a nice lady?”
“She looks like a nice lady.”
The soldier brought Mrs. Surratt and Anna into the kitchen.
Baker pushed the young man under the gaslight lamp on the wall. “Do you know him?”
Mrs. Surratt raised her right hand as though she were swearing an oath in a courtroom. “I have never seen this man before in my life.”
Baker tapped his foot. He knew both of them were lying, but he could not explain to authorities how he knew.
Mrs. Surratt gasped. She pointed at his foot. “You’re the one under the bridge,” she whispered. “Wilkes told me how you tapped your foot in the river’s tide–”
“Mother, don’t say anymore,” Anna grabbed her mother by the arm.
Baker turned when he heard the front door open. The other soldier had returned with the carriage. “It’s time to go.”
After Mrs. Surratt and Anna sat in the carriage, Baker pulled the group of soldiers around him. “I think it best for the record if you say Major Smith was here tonight instead of me.” The soldiers frowned. “Colonel Henry Wells wanted Major Smith to be here. It’s a sign of respect to the Colonel.”
The men shook their heads but mumbled assent as they stepped back and Baker sat in the carriage next to Mrs. Surratt. As the carriage went down the street, Baker leaned over and said, “I want only the best for your defense. Truly. If you make wild allegations about my meeting with Mr. Booth under a bridge, well, you will lose your credibility. Understand?”
She slowly nodded, hearing the implied threat and considering the alternatives.
Suddenly aware of her surroundings, Mrs. Surratt frowned.
“Where are we going? The city jail is down the street we just passed.”
“Old Capitol Prison.”
“Why, that’s a federal prison. Why are we going there?”
“Mr. Stanton decided this was a federal offense under military jurisdiction.”
“Military? But I’m not a member of the military!” Mrs. Surratt’s voice cracked with fear.
“As I said, you must remain calm. You don’t want to jeopardize your credibility.”
The rest of the carriage ride was in silence, broken only by muffled tears from Anna Surratt and quick shushes from her mother.
After Baker delivered them to their cells at Old Capitol Prison, he told the driver to take him to the office of Dr. Thomas Holmes, the mortician who was embalming the remains of Adam Christy. He wanted to see how the preservation process was coming along. When he went by the office on Saturday morning with the fifty-nine dollars Baker was not impressed with the mortician’s progress. In addition, he became painfully aware of how exposed he was to the attention of the passing crowd. Anyone who knew him would immediately spot him at the mortuary and wonder what he was doing there. He told himself to make his future visits under the cloak of darkness. As they arrived at the building, Baker saw that all the lights were on. This confirmed to him that Dr. Holmes was a man of great energy, working into the latest hours of night.
The assistant Jeffrey answered the door and lead Baker into Holmes’ workroom. The doctor welcomed him and directed him to the table where Christy’s corpse lay.
“You see,” Holmes said, showing Baker the body, “Just as I promised.” He paused a moment. “When will the funeral be? If it will be longer than a week away, I must inject more of my formula, and that will be more money, of course.”
Baker cocked his head, the germ of an idea taking seed in his brain. He was realizing Christy might not have died if vain if his body could substitute for John Wilkes Booth. Eventually Booth would be found. Baker wanted to spare his life. Too many people had already died. Baker did not know the circumstances under which he would find Booth but he wanted to be prepared.
“So you could extend the preservation of the body for weeks?”
“Of course.” Holmes beamed with pride. “Why, I am leaving soon on the train with President Lincoln’s body. It will need constant injections, to keep him looking fit for all the people who will be viewing the body, from Baltimore to New York to Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago and finally Springfield.”
“Will someone be supervising the office while you are away? I mean, who will be taking care of my son?” Baker asked.
“Jeffrey will be here,” Holmes replied. “I have trained him. You have no worries.”
“You’re a professional man, are you not, Dr. Holmes?” His words barely rose above a whisper.
“Of course, I am. I pride myself on my professionalism.” Holmes glanced about the room before looking directly at Baker. “I think what you are saying is that this young man is not your son.”
“That’s correct.”
Holmes took a step closer. “I assure you no one values life more than I, Mr. Lafayette Baker. Oh yes, I remembered who you were after you left Saturday morning. You are not Abraham Christy. You work for Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. You brought the body of a Republican senator’s son here a couple of years ago. That young man had died under mysterious circumstances, just like this boy.”
“Sir, I am not intimidated easily.” Baker felt his face flush.
“Oh, I am not trying to intimidate you, sir. I only wish to inform you that lies are not necessary with me. By the way, I surmise his real last name is Christy. You took the first name of Abraham from our late president.”
“Are you attempting to blackmail me, sir? If so, you are playing a dangerous game—“
“Oh, don’t be alarmed.” Dr. Holmes smiled. “I am not judgmental. Nor am I in the least bit interested in blackmail.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
“So what do you want to have done to the body?”
Baker hesitated.
“You’ll have to excuse my bluntness. I deal in death. I have neither the time nor the inclination to follow common protocols.”
“I want the initials JWF tattooed on his left hand and another tattoo on the right side of his neck to look like a scar, as though he had cut a boil out of his skin and it left a scar.”
“Anything else?”
“I want his hair dyed black. Try to make his freckles go away.”
“Of course. I know an excellent tattoo artist. He does have a fee to match his talent.”
Baker’s stomach began to turn, but he tried to control it. “Anything it costs.”
After he had completed all the details of the arrangement, Baker stepped outside and told the carriage driver to go ahead without him. He decided to walk back to his hotel. His mind was racing with a million contingency plans. Baker knew his cousin Lt. Luther Baker was a military detective. Baker was confident he could suggest that his cousin be part of the hunt for Booth. Luther had as few scruples as Lafayette, but he did have a strong family loyalty. Anything Baker asked of him he would do and keep it a secret. Baker wanted to be at the exact location of Booth’s capture when it occurred. What he would do then was still a blur, but the longer he walked the streets of Washington City after midnight the more his strategies came into focus.
What swirled in his brain—including traveling with a transformed corpse—was madness, he conceded. But what the hell, Baker rationalized, the whole world at this moment in history was totally insane, and anything was possible.

Christmas Spider

On Christmas Eve Mother Spider paused a moment after delivering her babies, looked through the branches of the small fir tree to watch the sun set over the Austrian snow drifts and sensed she would not live to see Christmas morning. She did not mind so much—for spiders only had a brief span on this earth—but she wanted to leave her darling little children a special memory of their mother before she went away.
A heavy thud interrupted her thoughts. Running to the tip of the branch she saw a woman, wrapped in rags, chopping away. Mother Spider had heard legends of humans putting evergreen trees in their houses on Christmas Eve, hoping that an angel—one of those who heralded the birth of the Christ Child centuries ago—would visit every home. The tree, which symbolized best of love and peace, merited the granting of the family’s wish for the New Year, whatever that wish might be.
Mother Spider consoled her children who became frightened by the jostling and thumping as the woman dragged the tree from the forest into her small cottage. Two little girls and a boy ran to the door and with giggles galore helped their mama set the tree in the corner by the fireplace.
“My dears,” the woman told them, “we will not be decorating the tree this year because I did not have time to gather nuts and holly and we have no fruit to adorn the branches.”
“Don’t worry, Mother,” the older girl replied soothingly as she patted her mother’s shoulders. “We remember how pretty the tree looked before father died. That is enough.”
“We’ll decorate the tree with our Christmas memories,” the boy joined in. “It shall be the prettiest tree we have ever seen.”
The woman put her face in her hands and cried.
“Don’t cry, Mother,” the other girl cooed. “It’s Christmas. We are together. What more shall we want?”
“You don’t understand, children.” She wiped her face with a cloth. “If we cannot pay the landlord at the first of the month, we will be cast out in the snow.”
“We always have the Christmas angel.” The boy hugged her. “Surely she will see this is the best tree in all the kingdom and grant our wish.”
After kissing and hugging each of her children, the woman gave each of them a bowl of porridge for their supper. Then the family settled on an old feather mattress, snuggling under worn quilts, and fell asleep.
Even as she felt the life slowly slip from her body, Mother Spider decided she would decorate the family’s tree with the last of her web. She told her little spiders what she was doing and that they should stay nestled among the branches for they had had a long, busy day and needed their rest. When she was sure they were all in a deep slumber, Mother Spider began her task, beginning at the bottom of the tree and working her way to the top, spreading her silvery fragile tinsel.
At first she did not think she had the strength to finish her job, but she paused to consider the poor woman and her three loving children who needed the angel to grant their Christmas wish. When she finally reached the top of the fir tree, Mother Spider turned because she thought she heard the flapping of gossamer wings.
There before her was the Christmas Angel, emanating her soft heavenly light. The spider breathed deeply, trying to stay alive for a few moments more. The angel glided to the tree.
“My dear little spider,” the angel whispered in a loving lilt. “What have you done?” She smiled. “You don’t have to speak. I can read your heart. Rest, tender spider, for your labor has won your wish for this desperate family. Behold, your web is now silver spangles and when your spirit departs, I shall make your body into a brooch of rubies and diamonds.”
Mother Spider looked down to see her baby spiders scampering across the branches.
“Your children are here to say their farewell. Go now. What a gift you have given them.”
The next morning the woman and her daughters and son awoke to the sun coming through the window, making the silver tinsel shine. They danced and sang around the tree. Then the mother noticed the ornament at the top and screamed for joy when she saw the rubies and diamonds. The family never wanted for anything again, and shared its good fortune with the destitute of the village.
In the years to come, the spiders who witnessed their mother’s transformation into the grandest Christmas gift ever, told their children who in turn told their children of the miracle they witnessed. Each one wished that one wintry night they would be fortunate enough to live in a fir tree chosen to be blessed by the Christmas Angel.
(Author’note: This is a new interpretation of the Christmas spider legend.)

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Ninety-Seven

Previously: Mercenary Leon meets MI6 spies David, the Prince of Wales, and socialite Wallis Spencer. David abdicates the throne to marry Wallis. He becomes Bahamas governor. Leon dies and his son Sidney turns mercenary. David hires him as his valet. Count de Merigny asks David’s help in a murder trial.
By early spring 1944 David and Wallis visited Bermuda, further north and east of the Bahamas. David had informally declined the offer to serve as governor of the less significant British province. However, in a show of courtesy, he agreed to visit the island. As a convenient circumstance, the trial of Count de Merigny on charges of murdering Sir Harry Oakes was underway in Nassau.
Bermuda was even smaller than the Bahamas and had even fewer amenities. “At least Nassau was close to Miami,” Wallis commented, “while Bermuda wasn’t close to anything.”
On the afternoon of their first day, Bermudan officials took them to the Governor’s Palace, again small and unappealing. Inside the office, they were left alone with a man who sat in a high back tufted chair. When he stood, they saw Gerry Greene, their contact with MI6.
“I thought you might want to be updated on the course of the war,” he said with a smile. “Wire reports can be unreliable.”
“Oh, thank God, then we don’t really have to move to this dreadful little island, do we?” Wallis cracked.
“Heavens no,” Greene replied. “The world doesn’t know it, but this terrible war has been won. It’s just a matter of convincing the insane little man in Berlin to concede. It might take another year.”
David took out a cigarette and lit it. “And what has happened to provoke such an optimistic opinion?”
Greene motioned to chairs around the desk. “Please have a seat. Our sources in Berlin report Hitler’s highest level of advisors have proposed creating contingency plans to move the Reich’s most sensitive documents to the mountains on the Czech border.” He sat on the edge of the desk. “You don’t plan to move your documents until you know you’re losing.”
“They want the same advantage following the First World War,” David interjected. “They commandeered all files and sent them to occupied Belgium where, after the armistice, they could release specific documents to make the victors look like villains, paving the propaganda war for the rise of the Third Reich.”
“Exactly,” Green replied. “I see you are two steps ahead of me as always.”
“So what do they want us to do about it?” Wallis asked. “Rush into Berlin like we were on a shopping spree?”
“No, we expected you to be prepared at the proper time to break into the vault, wherever it may be and extract German documents only about yourselves. The Allies and the Russians can fight over the rest.”
Wallis tapped David on the knee and pointed at his cigarette case. “I don’t understand. The whole world watched us visit Germany in ’36. What more is there?” She lit the bummed cigarette.
“Well, there’s the failed assassination attempt.” Greene turned a bit testy. “We know Hitler was taken with you, Wallis. We don’t want letters expressing his desire for you found. And we know all about Ribbentrop and the white carnations.”
“Gerry, please, show some discretion in front of the h-u-s-b-a-n-d.”
“You mean you didn’t know that I knew that each carnation represented an assignation with Ribbentrop? I’m a better spy than you think.”
She scratched the back of her slender neck with her well-manicured nails. “I’m getting bored with this game. Can’t we just retire?”
The word “retire” caught David’s attention and he leaned forward. “Yes, why can’t we just retire and let someone else rifle through Hitler’s files? We’re not exactly young anymore, you know. And I don’t know about Wallis, but I don’t want to stick around so long all we do is pass information from one agent to another.”
“I agree,” Wallis said. “It sounds terribly unromantic to become couriers.”
Greene smiled in sympathy. “I understand how you feel, but you are the only ones who can swiftly go through the files. You know what to look for. We don’t want any stray carnations left behind, do we?”
Wallis sighed in resignation. “Well, I suppose we’ll have to take daily walks down to the beach and to the marketplace, won’t we, darling? We must be fit to carry this one off.”
David smiled at her. The light from the window made her bemusement look adorable.
By the time they returned to Nassau, the Merigny trial was over and the jury acquitted him. Both David and Wallis sighed with relief that they didn’t have to testify. Over breakfast in the garden of the Governor’s Palace, they passed the newspaper back and forth reading snippets from the trial transcript.
“You can see it all in the photograph taken on the steps of the court building,” Wallis announced with an air of authority.
David scooted his chair closer so he could see. “How so?”
“Well, for one thing, Harry’s widow Eunice is nowhere to be seen.”
“She rarely is,” David replied. “The Bahamian heat doesn’t agree with her. She wasn’t even there at the party when Harry was killed.”
“That was July. She always spends her summers in Maine. This is April. Nassau is really quite nice in April.”
David raised an eyebrow. “And when did you join the tourism bureau?”
“The point I’m trying to make is that the victim’s widow generally attends the trial, especially if her son-in-law is the accused. And why wasn’t she there?”
“Because she couldn’t stand either her husband or her son-in-law?”
“That goes without saying,” Wallis replied in frustration. “Eunice is a well-bred lady. While she didn’t mourn Harry, she sensed something irregular with Alfred.”
“He couldn’t have done it. He had a solid alibi.”
Wallis pointed at the newspaper. “Look at this picture of Nancy next to Alfred, playing the dutiful wife. He has his arm around her but look at her hand. It’s flat against his chest, like she’s pushing him away, at least symbolically.” Wallis arched an eyebrow. “I smell a divorce sometime next year.”
“So think mother and daughter think Alfred paid someone to kill Harry?”
Wallis smiled in triumph. “See, you think so too.”
At that moment, Sidney approached the table with a second pot of tea. “Did your trip to Bermuda go well, sir, madam?”
“Sidney, I’m so glad you’re here,” Wallis said in a bright chirp. “We were just discussing the Oakes murder trial. Have you been keeping up with it?”
“Only slightly, madam,” he replied. “I spent the few days while you were in Bermuda at my home in Eleuthera.”
“You love your home, don’t you, Sidney?”
“Of course, madam.”
“We were thinking Count de Merigny paid someone to murder Sir Harry.” David watched Sidney’s face carefully. “Tell me, Sidney, how easy would it be to find someone to commit murder?”
Sidney kept his eyes down. “My countrymen are very poor. It would not take much to persuade them to kill.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Twenty-Two

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Stanton’s henchman Lafayette Baker takes Christy’s body to an embalmer. Booth and Herold join across the river in Maryland. Johnson takes the oath of office. Bodyguard Ward Lamon starts his investigation.
On Monday, Lafayette Baker stood in front of Stanton in his War Department office, trying to concentrate on what the small man was saying. All he could think about were the dead eyes of Adam Christy.
“This investigation is taking too long.” Stanton slammed his hand down on the desk. “Booth has disappeared. The man who was supposed to kill Johnson, no one knows where he is. And the madman who stabbed Seward, he has escaped.” He stopped to stare at Baker. “You know what these men look like,” Stanton continued in a softer voice. “You met them Thursday night.”
“It was dark under the bridge,” Baker replied. “The man who was to shoot Johnson had long straggly hair and spoke with a German accent. The man who stabbed Seward was young, tall, beardless, strong. That’s all I know.”
“I know they met at a boardinghouse somewhere. That private told me. Did they say which boardinghouse?” Stanton asked.
A knock at the door interrupted them.
“Yes, yes, what is it?” Stanton snapped.
Colonel Henry Wells entered the office. Baker kept his head down and eyes averted, trying to hide his guilt. Men like Wells who went about doing their duty honorably must know when they were in the presence of immorality, Baker feared.
“I think we have valuable information, sir,” Wells said. “A colored woman came to the War Department this morning. She said her niece, who works for a Mrs. Surratt, told her she saw some suspicious men at the boardinghouse on Friday night.”
“Boardinghouse? What boardinghouse?” Stanton turned to stare at Wells.
“The boardinghouse of Mrs. Surratt, sir, at 542 H Street.”
Glancing back at Baker and nodding, Stanton replied, “I think we need to follow up on this immediately.”
“Yes, sir,” Wells said. “I was planning on sending Major Smith and his men to talk to the woman.”
“Not Smith.” Stanton shook his head. “Col. Baker here will take troops to the boardinghouse.”
“Are you sure, sir?” Wells asked. “Major Smith is a capable officer—“
“No, I want Baker,” he interrupted him. “He knows exactly how to draw up the search warrant. I want this Mrs. Surratt arrested, along with everyone else in the house. Place a guard. If anyone comes near the house I want them arrested.”
“Yes, sir.” Wells left the office.
“I want you to tear the house apart, if necessary.” Stanton pointed a finger at Baker. “Every scrap of paper, every photograph. Look for weapons.” He smiled, his eyes blazing. “This is it. We’re going to capture them all.”
Baker had no response. He nodded and left the office, taking his time to walk the few blocks over to H Street and the Surratt boardinghouse. Standing across the street, Baker stared at the building, and considered how peaceful it seemed, with its unpretentious façade. He breathed deeply and wished he could take the next train to Philadelphia, tell his wife Jenny to pack their bags and escape out West to California, never to be found again. Baker spat on the ground. Nevertheless, that would not stop the killing. If not Baker, someone else would have to follow Stanton’s orders to round them all up and hang them. He remembered his vow from Friday night. No one else must die.
A terrible fatigue overwhelmed him. He had never been concerned with fatigue before, but now his whole body ached from it. Baker knew that at that moment in the afternoon sun, he could not knock on Mrs. Surratt’s door to arrest her. Instead, he returned to his hotel room, fell on his bed and went into a deep slumber, no dreams, no recriminations, just a blissful nothingness. When he finally opened his eyes, he saw that it was night. Another round of terror was about to begin.
Baker gathered his soldiers and surrounded the Surratt boardinghouse in the nocturnal darkness. After he knocked at the door, a woman peeked out of a window.
“Who’s there?”
“Col. Lafayette Baker from the War Department.”
“What do you want?”
“Open this door immediately if this is Mrs. Surratt’s house.”
Baker heard a lock turning. The door creaked open. He stepped forward over the threshold, claiming space and exerting authority. “Are you the widow of John H. Surratt and the mother of John H. Surratt Jr.?”
“Yes, I am.”
“I’ve come to arrest you in connection with the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.”
“How did you know–” Mrs. Surratt stopped abruptly. “What makes you think I know anything about that?”
Mrs. Surratt’s teen-aged daughter, tall, slender and as pale as her mother, clung to her side weeping.
“Don’t behave so, baby,” Mrs. Surratt said. “You’re already worn out with anxiety. You’ll make yourself sick, Anna dear.”
“Oh, mother! To be taken for such a thing!”
Baker turned to one of the soldiers. “Go get a carriage.”
“Make them walk,” the soldier replied.
“No, they will be treated kindly as long as they are in my charge,” Baker said, dismissing the private.
Baker smiled at Mrs. Surratt. “Shall we sit in your parlor until he returns?” He felt raw emotion welling in the pit of his belly and rising to his throat.
“Sir, may I pray first?” Mrs. Surratt asked.
“Why, yes.” The request caught Baker off guard.
She fell to her knees, held her hands to her breast and murmured. After a few moments, she stood and sat on the sofa next to her daughter, clutching her hands.
“I’m sorry to have startled you with such brusque language,” Baker said as gently as he could. “I should have not used the word ‘arrest’. We merely want to take you into custody to ask a few questions about Mr. Booth. You do know John Wilkes Booth, don’t you?”
“He was a friend of my son’s.”
“And where is your son?”
“He left last week.”
“Where did he go?”
“I don’t know.”
Anna breathed in deeply as though to add a comment, but her mother squeezed her hand.
“I said we don’t know where he is,” Mrs. Surratt said.
“Were there any other boarders who were friends with your son and Mr. Booth?” Baker asked.
“Louis Weichmann,” Anna replied.
“Everyone who lives here knows my son and Mr. Booth,” Mrs. Surratt added. “Mr. Weichmann actually is an employee of the Department of War. We offer rooms to people of all backgrounds, sir.”
“I would like to speak to him,” he said.
“Louis is out of town also,” Mrs. Surratt whispered.
“My, the house must feel empty.” Baker smiled, glancing at both women. “Do you ever seeing a young federal soldier with red hair visiting the boarding house?”
Mrs. Surratt and her daughter Anna looked down and shook their heads.
“Did Mr. Booth visit here often with your son?”
She lowered her eyelids briefly. “We—my daughter and I–have spoken to Booth a few times. He is a very famous actor, you know. Teen-aged girls like to talk to famous actors.”
Baker looked at Anna. “So you could tell me what Mr. Booth looked like, couldn’t you, Anna?”
Mrs. Surratt put her arm around her daughter’s shivering shoulder. “She is much too upset to answer your questions.” She paused. “Everyone knows what Mr. Booth looks like. As I said, he’s a very famous actor.”
“I don’t go to the theater,” Baker said without emotion. After a moment of silence, he continued, “I know he is of medium height, slender build with fair skin and dark eyes. Many men in Washington City share those same characteristics. Could you help me with anything that would be peculiar to Mr. Booth?”
Sighing and looking away, Mrs. Surratt replied, “He has his initials J.W.B. tattooed on his right hand.”
“Left hand,” Anna whispered, sniffing away her tears. “And he has a black scar, here.” She pointed to the right side of her neck. “He had a boil of some sort he cut out himself right before he went on stage. He’s very brave.”

Which Tree?

Three fir trees on the edge of the forest were chatting one morning in early December.
A huge fellow, about twenty feet tall and wide at the base, ruffled his limbs. “I don’t know what you two guys are planning for Christmas but I expect to be center of attention downtown this year. Oh yeah, on the square overseeing the Christmas parade. Anybody who is anybody will be there with their kids watching the parade pass in front of me. I’ll be lit to the max with lights and a star on top.”
“That’s nothing,” a ten footer with lush green boughs replied. “I mean, if you go for that common man scene where they let absolutely everyone near you, I suppose that’s okay. As for myself, I’m selective about my company. Not saying I’m better than anyone else, but let’s just say I have discerning taste. I’m winding up in the grand foyer of a millionaire’s mansion, decorated with only the most expensive ornaments and lights. I’m talking Waterford crystal here, and I’ve got the branches to hold them.”
The third tree, not more than three feet tall and with scrawny limbs, just stood there without much to say.
“What about you, junior? What do you expect to be doing on Christmas morning? Brunching with the chipmunks?” The middle-sized tree blurted forth a forced ha-ha-ha. A nice baritone but shallow as could be.
“Now, now,” the largest tree chided. “We shouldn’t make fun of our inferiors. We all can’t be the best, most important Christmas trees in town. Not even second best, like you who will be charming to a small group but not as the official town tree.”
The littlest tree felt like he was about to ooze sap out of sadness but knew it wouldn’t do any good. The other trees were right. Who would want him except for kindling for the fire. He wasn’t big enough to make a decent Yule log.
Just at that time a caravan of cars leading a large tractor-trailer truck pulled up in front of the three trees. A group of important-looking dignitaries crawled from their cars and circled the largest tree as the crew pulled its equipment from the truck.
“Oh, yes, I think this one will do fine,” a large bald man announced as though he was thoroughly practiced at making important decisions.
“Oh yes, Mr. Mayor, this one will be more than fine.” The others standing next to him quickly agreed with him.
The crew started its chain saw, chopped the fir down and laid it on the flatbed truck.
“See you never, suckers!” the biggest tree called as the municipal procession disappeared.
“Commoner!” the middle-sized tree replied.
A couple of weeks passed before a long limousine with shaded windows rolled up to the two remaining firs. A chauffeur jumped from the driver’s seat and opened the door for a couple elegantly dressed in fur and leather. The woman, with her artificially colored blonde hair piled on her head, sipped from a champagne glass, while the man fixated on his cell phone.
“Oh, Maxim,” the woman cooed. “You did a wonderful job scouting out the most beautiful tree in the forest.” She ran her fingers across the chauffeur’s broad shoulders. “Of course, you do everything well.” She turned to the man on the phone. “So, what do you think Joey? Is it big enough for our grand staircase?”
“Yeah. Sure. Whatever.” The man didn’t look up from his phone. “Max, cut it down.”
The chauffeur cut down the middle-sized tree, carefully tied it to the top of the limousine and they got into the car to drive away.
“Good luck, shrimp! You’ll need it!” the tree called out as the car disappeared around the bend.
On Christmas Eve a small old car rambled up to the small tree and stopped. Three small children poured out of the back seat and ran to the little tree.
“Oh, daddy, this one will be perfect!” they sang as a chorus.
“That’s good,” a young man in ragged overalls said. “Anything bigger wouldn’t have fit in the car.”
A wispy haired young woman came around the car. “Stand back, children. I don’t want you close when your daddy starts using that axe.”
“Oh, Mommy, you worry too much,” one of the children said with a laugh.
At that very same time, everyone in town gathered on the square to watch the Christmas parade and ooh and ah over the beautifully lit giant tree. Floats rolled by, and the people on them pointed and shouted at the town’s big Christmas tree. Bands with drummers, tubas and more marched past. Each one made the tree feel prouder and prouder.
On Christmas Eve night, elegantly dressed couples gathered in the millionaire’s mansion and oohed and ahed over the beautifully decorated tree by the grand staircase. They all drank champagne and nibbled on appetizers served on a silver tray by Maxim who also turned out to be the butler. The ladies in their lovely gowns asked the millionaire’s wife when they were leaving for their estate in the Bahamas.
“Midnight,” she replied. “We always spend Christmas day in the Bahamas. It’s our family tradition.”
Also on Christmas Eve night, across town in a small wooden house, the family decorated the little tree which they placed on a table in the corner of the living room. The room smelled delicious from the freshly popped corn which they strung and hung on the tree. The children kept busy coloring, cutting and hanging the new ornaments on the little tree. The room was alive with the constant giggling of the children, and the little tree decided this wasn’t a bad place to be.
The next morning, everyone in town was home, opening presents and enjoying Christmas dinner with family and friends. The large tree downtown had already been forgotten. It kept hoping to hear another oom pa pa coming down the street but it didn’t. The enormous fir shivered first from the cold wind and then from the loneliness. It couldn’t decide which was worse.
In the millionaire’s mansion, everything was dark and still. No more elegantly dressed people wishing each other season’s greetings, just a numbing silence. The middle-sized tree decided all that Waterford crystal was making its branches droop. Not even Maxim was there.
Meanwhile, in the small house across town, the family gathered around the tree to open presents. The children tore away wrapping paper to see new socks and underwear and hugged their parents gratefully for it. Then they cooked their modest Christmas feast and settled back around the tree with their plates in their laps and ate every bite of it.
Now you tell me. Which was the grandest Christmas tree of all?