Monthly Archives: March 2020

The Chihuahua That Saved Noel Coward

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

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Thirty-Nine

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Booth sneaks away to Richmond, where he tricks a widow into caring for him. Lincoln’s friend Lamon interviews Mrs. Surratt in prison.
The guard appeared and unlocked the door, letting Lamon out. He turned and led Lincoln’s friend down the hall to the cell which held Samuel Arnold, a slender young man sitting in a corner with a canvas hood over his head.
The sight startled Lamon, and he took a step back to whisper to the guard, “Why does he have a hood on his head?”
“All of them have hoods,” the guard replied brusquely. “It’s what they deserve.”
“Mrs. Surratt didn’t wear a hood,” Lamon said.
“Oh. She’s a woman,” the officer explained. “I guess there are benefits to being a woman, even a woman guilty as hell.”
When the guard unlocked the door, Arnold’s head came up. As Lamon spoke to him he realized that here was an educated young man, somewhat astonished at his situation but not particularly unsettled by it either.
The hood obscured Arnold’s facial expressions, but a large hole at the mouth allowed the inmate to eat, drink and speak clearly. The tone of Arnold’s voice told Lamon that he genuinely did not know anything specific about Edwin Stanton or Lafayette Baker other than what he had read about them in the newspapers. The same was true of the suspect in the next cell Michael O’Laughlin. Both of them admitted they knew Booth and had agreed to participate in a kidnapping of the president but they withdrew when the plan changed to assassination. Edmund Spangler, in the next cell, knew even less than Booth’s two friends. The only thing Spangler admitted was holding the stage door for Booth. That was the same courtesy he would do for any actor, for a price.
After Spangler, Lamon visited with Dr. Samuel Mudd who sat erect, with his back against the wall. Lamon introduced himself and took Mudd’s hand to shake. The doctor’s grip was quite strong.
“I can help you,” Lamon kneeled next to Mudd and whispered in as agreeable a voice as he could manage. “I know you must not think very highly of us Yankees, but please believe I want to help.”
“Of course. You have to have more honor than that little shit,” Mudd replied in a calm voice.
“I beg your pardon?” He was not expecting that sort of response.
“The little shit. That damned actor whose leg I set. My life is over because I did my job.”
Lamon sensed the doctor was rehearsing his defense as Mrs. Surratt had done, but he chose not to confront Mudd with his assumption.
“Yes, that is an injustice.” He paused. “There are so many others who are guilty of much more than you and they will go free.”
“The other conspirators.”
“They won’t let the half-wit go free,” Mudd said.
“No, I don’t mean him. The others. The ones really responsible.” Lamon held his breath, hoping the doctor would take his bait.
Mudd shook his head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“The short man with red hair.”
“What man with red hair?” He spat in exasperation. “Who did you say you were? What are you talking about?”
“I must be mistaken. I won’t take up any more of your time.” Lamon stood to leave.
“If you’re from a damn newspaper,” Mudd hissed, “I’ll kill you if I ever get out of here.”
Lamon felt his neck burn red with embarrassment as he rapped on the cell bars. The guard next escorted him to the cell of George Atzerodt. As the guard unlocked the door, Lamon decided he wanted to avoid the same mistake he made with Mudd when he spoke to this prisoner.
Of all the men, Atzerodt reeked most of alcohol. His clothing seemingly was soaked in it. Like the other men he had talked to so far, his face was concealed by a canvas hood.
“Do you know who Lafayette Baker is?” Lamon asked.
“Verdammt, er ist grob.”
“Der man, he vas bigger dan dey say. I—I couldn’t do it.” Atzerodt’s thick German accent muddled his mumblings to the point of indiscernibility.
“They say?” Lamon was not sure he had understood him correctly. “You said they say? Who were they?”
“Verdammt, er ist grob.”
Realizing he was not going to extract any more information out of Atzerodt, Lamon told the guard he was ready to move on to the next cell which confined David Herold. Even as the guard unlocked the door, Lamon could hear Herold’s mumblings and cries. Lincoln’s friend stopped abruptly as he entered, his nostrils flaring with the smell of the suspect’s urine and feces. Herold’s hood was dripping with saliva as he constantly chewed on it.
“Mr. Herold,” Lamon said, trying to be as soothing as possible, “is anything wrong? Anything I can help you with?”
“I want my mama and my sisters,” he said between the sobs. “They always know how to make me happy. They won’t let them take me home. Why won’t they let Mama take me home?”
“Maybe after the trial.” Lamon kneeled beside him and tried to pat Herold’s shoulder but he lurched away.
“Don’t hurt me! Don’t you dare hurt me!”
Lamon waited a moment, hoping the young man would calm down. His sobs softened, but he continued to chew on the canvas. Lamon looked down between Herold’s legs and watched his urine soak his pants again.
“What can you tell me about the short man with red hair?”
Herold jerked his head in Lamon’s direction. “The man with red hair?”
“You must remember him. You and the others met him under the bridge right before your friend Wilkes Booth killed the president. You remember. He had a special way of tapping his foot.”
“Who are you? Do you have red hair? Are you him? You here to kill me?”
“My name is Ward Hill Lamon, a federal marshal. I’m not here to kill you.”
“You got red hair?”
“No, I have dark brown hair. I’m over six feet tall, almost as tall as the president.”
Herold cocked his head. “Say something else.”
“Ring around the rosey, pocket full of poseys, ashes, ashes we all fall—“
“No, you don’t sound like him. The red-haired man smelled like cigars.” He leaned in to smell Lamon. “You smell like piss.”
The marshal did not want to confront him with the fact that the hood prevented him from smelling anything beyond his own body. He smelled his own urine. Herold seemed to be on the verge of trusting him. “I apologize for that.” He paused. “Did the red-haired man say who he was working for?”
“No. He just said we had to get even. The damn Yankees took our country away from us, and we had to get even.” Herold bowed his hooded head. “He wasn’t a nice man. He called me an idiot. I’m not an idiot. I work for a pharmacy and deliver medicine. You have to be smart to deliver medicine.”
“Of course, you’re smart. Anybody can tell that.” Lamon chuckled softly. “So who put him in charge?”
“He put himself in charge. And Mr. Booth, he didn’t like that one bit. Wilkes told the man he wasn’t no gentleman for sure and then Mr. Booth asked the red-haired man who the hell was he goin’ to kill, and the red-haired man said he was going to kill Secretary of War Stanton.”
“You know Stanton is still alive. Nobody tried to kill him.”
“I knew he was a coward. Most fellas who talk the most can’t do nothin’.”
“Have you told anyone this story?”
“Sure, I tell it to everybody I can, but it don’t do no good. They all think I’m crazy.”
“Of course, you’re not crazy. Are you going to tell your story in court?”
“Hell no. That’ll show the judges that I knew something was going on.”
“You were caught in the tobacco barn with Booth. They already know you knew what was going on.”
“Oh God! That’s right! What am I goin’ to do!”
“Maybe I can help you.” Lamon was willing to promise Herold anything to get his cooperation.
Herold started crying and chewing on the hood again. “I want my Mama! I want my sisters! I don’t want to die! I wanna go home!”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Thirty-Eight

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Booth sneaks away to Richmond, where he tricks a widow into caring for him. Lincoln’s friend Lamon accompanies the funeral train and seeks clues.
On his way back to his Steubenville hotel, Lamon stopped at a small tavern and bought a pint of whiskey which he sipped in his room until he fell asleep. The next morning he caught the first train to Washington, D.C.
The images painted by Christy filled Lamon’s mind. While incredible, the story rang true to Stanton’s character, Lamon decided. At one of the station stops, he bought a newspaper and read it as the train rumbled on toward the Capital. The headline said the trial for the conspirators would begin May 12th at Old Capitol Prison. Lamon frowned. A military court?
“Why a military trial when all of the accused and even the victims were civilians?” Lamon asked himself under his breath until the answer erupted in his mind: Stanton could control a military trial while he would have no influence over a civilian proceeding. The Secretary of War had an all-consuming desire to control everything; as a young man, he had even tried unsuccessfully to control death. Lamon took a pack of chewing tobacco out of his jacket pocket and stuffed a chaw into his mouth. Sometimes he could think more clearly if he was chewing the bitter stuff. He needed that clarity right now.
Just after a few moments, he understood everything. Stanton’s insatiable passion for control was the key to the entire conspiracy.
When Lamon arrived in Washington he went to the Old Capitol Prison. At the main gate he demanded to see the prisoners in the Lincoln assassination case.
“What are you?” the guard demanded. “You’re not another one of them damned reporters, are you?”
Pulling a badge from his inside jacket pocket, he pushed it into the guard’s face. “I’m Federal Marshal Ward Hill Lamon.”
“Mr. Lamon?” The man’s eyes widened. “I didn’t know you were involved in this investigation, sir.”
“I was the president’s personal guard and close friend,” he responded with a growl. “I’ll be a part of any damned investigation into my friend’s murder that I damn well please! Do you understand me?”
“Yes, sir. My apologies, sir.”
“Stop wasting my time. I want to see each suspect individually right now, and I don’t want any measly prison guard snooping over my shoulder!”
“Yes, sir. Of course, sir. Right this way, sir.”
The guard led him through the prison, first stopping at the cell holding Mrs. Surratt. When the door opened, Lamon heard two women’s voices squeak in fear. When he entered, he saw Mrs. Surratt and a teen-aged girl clinging to her.
“And who, sir, are you?”
Lamon could tell Mrs. Surratt was trying to sound assertive, but a quiver in her voice gave her away.
“I’m sorry for having startled you,” Lamon said, bowing deeply. “I am Federal Marshal Ward Hill Lamon. I was President Lincoln’s personal guard and very close friend.”
Her chin jutted out as she turned her head away. “So you have come to ridicule me like all the others.”
“No, Ma’am, I am here to learn the truth, and in doing so I may be able to save your life.”
“And what makes you think you can save my life? That’s preposterous. You must think I’m a fool. I don’t even think you want to save my life.”
Lamon decided this approach was useless. He took a step back to compose his thoughts. Then he turned to look out the high barred window.
“Oh Mama, you’ve got to trust this man Mr.—Mr…” her daughter’s voice trailed off.
“Lamon, Miss. Ward Hill Lamon.” He chose not to look back to them just yet.
“Anna, be quiet. If I am to die, I will die with dignity, and you shall mourn in dignity and silence.”
“Do you remember a Miss Cordie Zook living in your boarding house, Mrs. Surratt?” Lamon turned at that moment to observe her reaction.
“Why, yes, I remember Miss Zook.” Her eyes flickered. “She worked at one of the Yankee hospitals, I believe. She died shortly before—before the incident at Ford’s Theater.”
“Then you knew she had a brother named Gabby who worked at the Executive Mansion.” Lamon tried to keep all emotion out of his voice.
“She said she had a brother. There were men’s clothing in her armoire. But I never met him.”
“And Private Adam Christy, did you ever meet him?”
“The name does sound familiar. Yes, he came to my boardinghouse after Miss Zook died. He said he was there to collect Miss Zook’s possessions for her brother. He was highly suspicious and very rude.”
“How so?”
“Well, I had never met this brother and—“
“And why is that? Why had you not met him? After all, he was living in your boardinghouse until—what? He wasn’t living there? This is all very confusing to me.”
“It was confusing to me also, Mr. Lamon. I only came to the boardinghouse to collect rent until 1863. My family lived in our home in the Maryland countryside until my husband died—I don’t know why on earth I am telling you this.”
“Because if you totally cooperate with me, I may be able to save your life.”
“Mama, believe him. Tell him everything.”
“Hush, child. After my husband’s death we moved into the boardinghouse. By that time, Miss Zook’s brother disappeared. Supposedly he was the janitor at the—the Yankee White House and had to stay there all the time. I never understood why.”
“Do you know if Private Christy ever met John Wilkes Booth in your boardinghouse?”
“I don’t remember. Mr. Booth was a friend of my son. He visited from time to time. I never paid much attention to the comings and goings of the boys. I had a business to conduct, Mr. Lamon.”
“I assume that will be the core of your defense, Mrs. Surratt?”
“I don’t think I want to continue this conversation.”
“Did your son or Mr. Booth ever mention the name Edwin Stanton?” Lamon watched her reaction.
Her mouth flew open as though in surprise. “Mr. Stanton? Why would they even mention Mr. Stanton?”
“Lafayette Baker?” Lamon felt that he might have struck a nerve and pressed her for more information.
“I’ve never heard that name.” She shook her head.
“He is a short, stocky man with red hair,” Lamon offered.
“The man with red hair?” Anna repeated in a gasp.
“I said hush.” Mrs. Surratt grabbed her daughter’s hand, but she pulled away.
“I hope you are a man of honor, Mr. Lamon.” Anna stepped toward him. “The night my mother was arrested, a short man with red hair came to our house. He tapped his foot the same way Wilkes said the man tapped his foot under the bridge.”
Mrs. Surratt pulled her back. “Anna, do not say another word! He told us not to say anything about that night!”
“But he says he can save your life—“
“He’s a damn Yankee! You can’t trust him!”
“The red-haired man is a damn Yankee, too, Mother! Do you trust him? If we have to trust a damn Yankee, I say trust Mr. Lamon!”
Mrs. Surratt pulled her daughter into her bosom and cried. “Mr. Lamon, will you please show common decency and leave immediately?”
Lamon went to the door and rapped on the bars. “Guard! I’m ready!”

The Bug Poem

A bug flew up my nose.
What kind of bug, nobody knows,
But a bug flew up my nose.
It may have thought my nose was a rose.
Why else would a bug fly up my nose?
That bug began to scream a lot
When it discovered it was snot
A rose but a nose where it had got.
I was nervous, I was in a pickle
‘Cause that darned bug began to tickle
As it continued through my sinus holes
To find a way out of my nose,
Defying the laws of gravity
As it navigated through each cavity.
The bug found the exit, there he goes!
Vowing never again to mistake for a rose
The inside of an old man’s nose.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Thirty-Seven

After pallbearers deposited Lincoln’s body in an Oak Hill Cemetery mausoleum outside Springfield, Lamon did not linger with the rest of the crowd. He knew his time was limited. The detective must piece together the final pieces of the enigma that surrounded the incredible abduction of power in the White House. Lamon did not even allow himself to be tempted to spend a few days home in Danville with his wife and daughter. He feared if he spent a few days with them he would never want to leave.
On his way back to Washington City Lamon decided to stop over in Steubenville, Ohio. His carpetbag in hand, Lamon walked down the street still sodden from recent rains. A two-story clapboard hotel caught his attention, and he checked in.
“Know of a Christy family in town?” Lamon kept his eyes down on the registry.
“Of course,” the clerk replied. “Wilson Christy runs the most respectable boarding house in town. I went to school with his son Adam.”
Lamon’s face shot up. “Is that so?”
“We went off to war about the same time. I served with Gen. Grant in the west. Only been home a couple of weeks. I never did right know who Adam served under. Terrible shame he died at Bull Run.”
“Yes, a terrible shame.”
“You know the family, Mr.—“the clerk glanced at the registry—“Mr. Lamon?”
“I knew the boy from his days in Washington City,” he murmured. “Wanted to extend my condolences to his family. After I wash up I’d like to pay them a visit.”
“It’s just Mr. Christy now. His wife died right before the war started. His grandparents are gone. Only Mr. Christy running the place now.”
“Could you direct me to his boardinghouse?”
“Of course, sir. Head on down Main Street and go left at the crossroads with Maple Street. Third house on the right.”
An hour later Lamon stepped up on the broad porch and knocked at the door. A balding man with spectacles answered. He was wiping his hands on a thin dishtowel.
“Yes, sir, how may I help you?” His voice seemed pleasantly high pitched though colored by a shadow of sadness.
“Mr. Wilson Christy?” Lamon asked, removing his hat.
“Yes, sir?”
“My name is Ward Lamon. I work for the government. Mr. Lincoln was a personal friend of mine from the old days back in Illinois. I wanted to pay my respects. I knew your son while he served in Washington City.”
“You knew my Adam?” he said in breathless anticipation. His eyes fluttered. His mouth seemed not to know whether to smile or frown. “Would you care to take a rocker?” He pointed to a pair of chairs on the covered porch.
“Yes, sir. That would be mighty kind.”
The two men sat in the heat of the late afternoon. Christy started to stand.
“Care for a glass of lemonade? I’ve got some made in the kitchen.”
“No, sir. Please sit and relax. I’m perfectly content as I am.”
Christy sat, rubbed his hands with the towel once more before folding it and placing it on his knee. “Please tell me, Mr. Lamon, did he seem happy? Was he getting on with everybody?”
Lamon looked out across the street before replying. “Yes, he was well,” he lied.
“That’s good, that’s good,” he mumbled, leaning back in the chair. His face scrunched. “I still don’t understand how he came to be at Bull Run. I was sure he would have stayed in the capital city. I had assurances that he was going to be safe in the Executive Mansion and eventually get a commission. Adam always wanted to be an officer in the Army.”
“Assurances from whom?” Lamon tried to remain detached, but he found the statement intriguing.
“Secretary of War Stanton. You know he came from here. He and his mother lived in this very boardinghouse when my father ran it. Ed had an awful infatuation with my sister. Of course, she died of typhoid. I wrote him early in ’62 about getting Adam a position in the Army. He wrote back and said he had a decent job for him, working for the President himself. He said if the boy did well, he could get a commission right away. The next thing I knew I got this telegram from the War Department saying he had died at the second battle at Bull Run. I wrote several letters to Edwin asking for details but never got a reply.” He paused. “Of course, he’s a busy man so I suspect he never had time….” Christy’s voice trailed off as he wiped his eyes with the towel. “I know it ain’t fittin’ for a man to carry on so but—“
“You’ve lost a son. You’ve every right.” Lamon’s hand went up to his mouth to cover it and the small smile that had unconsciously blossomed there.
“Did Mr. Stanton ever tell you the nature of this special assignment?”
Christy shook his head. “No, but I imagined it was pretty darned important.”
Lamon took a moment to lean forward. “Mr. Christy, does Mr. Stanton have a reason to hate you?”
“Why, no. Why would you ask?”
Lamon thought his words spilled out of his mouth a bit too quickly, too glibly. “Mr. Christy, your son did not die in battle at Bull Run. He died of a bullet wound in the basement of the Executive Mansion the same night President Lincoln was assassinated. The President had lived in the basement for the past two and a half years, and your son was his guard.
“Stanton is responsible for all this. Why would he pick out your son for this horrible fate if he did not hate you?”
“Well, I suppose I do know of something, but it was so many years ago. I didn’t think a grown man could hold such a grudge.” Christy looked at Lamon.
“I told you Mr. Stanton had a fondness for my sister before she died of typhoid. He came home from his job at the bookstore for lunch one day, and my sister served him his meal. That evening she came down sick and died. Being typhoid, we got her in the ground as soon as possible. When Ed came home that night he asked where she was, and we told him she was dead. He didn’t believe it. I heard him stirring in his room after midnight, and I saw him going out the door. I followed him. Ed got a shovel from the shed and headed for the cemetery where he proceeded to dig up my sister’s coffin. I waited until he lifted her up and caressed her head.”
“That was a dangerous thing to do,” Lamon interrupted. “Holding a body consumed with typhoid. He could have contracted the disease too.”
Christy smiled sadly and shook his head. “You forget. Ed loved my sister Judith with all his heart. He didn’t care if he caught typhoid and died. I suppose he was stronger than anyone thought. If he could survive asthma he could survive anything.”
“I’m sorry,” Lamon said. “I interrupted you. What happened next in the graveyard?”
“Oh.” He shook his head and looked off, as though to collect his thoughts. “Then I stepped forward and said, ‘So you have to dig dead girls up to have someone to love?’ Or something like that I don’t quite remember exactly. Anyway, he dropped her and ran back into the night, and I reburied poor Judith.
“He tried to pick a fight with me the next day, but Ed, bless his heart, was always so small, I just laughed at him.” Christy’s face darkened after he finished his story.
“Well, I suppose I should move along,” Lamon said, standing and extending his hand to the private’s father.
“Yes, thank you.” Christy shook his head and, trying to find a smile, shook Lamon’s hand.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Thirty-Six

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Booth sneaks away to Richmond, where he tricks a widow into caring for him. Lincoln’s friend Lamon accompanies the funeral train and seeks clues.
When the door opened, Lamon heard a baby’s cry and a woman’s high-pitched voice call out, “For God’s sake, Jesse, you’re scaring my little boy! Shut up!”
Lamon decided the better part of valor would be to climb the steps back to street level. He began to walk back and forth when Louisa did not reappear with Zook. To pass the time he thought of his wife Sally back in Illinois. He knew how she felt neglected as he spent most of the last five years protecting the president. And to what end, he chided himself, because he could not even save his friend from death. He turned when he heard the door open. He assessed the man Louisa guided up the steps. Zook was short and dumpy, a vacant fearful emanated from his eyes. He nodded as Mrs. Whitman whispered assurances in his ear, his lips mouthing incoherent responses.
“And this is our friend, Mr. Ward Lamon,” Louisa said soothingly.
“We know many of the same people from Washington City, Mr. Zook.” He took his cue from Louisa and softened his voice, which was usually loud and grating. “Miss Dorothea Dix sends her best wishes.”
“She scared me at first, but then she was nice. Cordie, she said Miss Dix was scary at first but once you got to know her well, she wasn’t scary at all.” He paused only the briefest of moments before asking, “Where are we going?”
“We’re going to buy a nice apple from the man down the street,” Louisa replied.
Zook stopped abruptly. “I don’t like that man. I can tell he doesn’t like me. He doesn’t like Mr. Walt either. I don’t want an apple. Can we get some peanuts instead? I like peanuts. The peanut man is up the street, far away from the apple man.”
“If that is what you wish.” Louisa guided him by the elbow.
“I was a good friend of the President, Abraham Lincoln.” Lamon took his place on the other side of Mrs. Whitman and looked into the sky. “I think the rain has gone away. That’s good. I didn’t think it would ever stop.”
“Oh, rain always stops,” Zook said. “The rain is all right if you are inside looking out a window. But I don’t like walking in it. It makes you wet.”
“Yes, it does.” Lamon paused, and they walked almost a full block before continuing. “I knew another one of your friends.”
“Did you know my sister Cordie? She’s dead now.”
“I knew Private Adam Christy.”
“He’s dead too.” Zook looked up, brightening. “There’s the peanut man. I hope the peanuts are freshly roasted. I like my peanuts warm.”
“Are you sure? I thought he went home to Ohio.” Lamon’s voice was a whisper.
“No, he’s dead. I saw his body in the wagon.” He looked at Louisa. “Do you have money for the peanuts? I don’t have any money. I spent all my money yesterday on apples.”
“Of course, Gabby,” Louisa said, pulling out her change purse from a pocket in the folds of her dark blue dress. “I always have money.”
“What wagon, Mr. Zook?” Lamon asked.
“The mean man’s wagon.”
“What mean man?” Lamon felt his pulse racing.
“The mean man who….” Zook’s voice trailed off as he took the bag of peanuts from the vendor. “It’s warm. That’s good. I like my peanuts warm.”
“The mean man who did what, Mr. Zook?” Lamon pressed.
Zook shook his head. “No, I can’t say. He came for the butler, then he came for the president and his wife, then he came for the private. He might come for me. Mrs. Whitman, can I go home now? I want to eat my peanuts.”
“Of course, Gabby.” Louisa looked at Lamon and smiled. “He answered all your questions, didn’t he, Mr. Lamon?”
“Just one more. What did the mean man look like?”
Zook backed away as his hand fumbled in the bag to pull out a peanut. “He was short like me, but he was mean. He had red hair, just like the private, but the private is dead now. I got to go home now.”
As Zook scurried back down Portland Avenue, Louisa told Lamon, “A terribly sweet little old man, but quite insane. And I should know insanity. Most of members of my family are insane. Some days I feel quite insane myself.”
“He’s not insane,” Lamon replied. “I believe every word he says. One day you may have to help me to convince him to tell his story to the President of the United States.”
Lamon reflected on Louisa’s response to his statement over the next few days as the funeral train visited Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland and Columbus. She had said not a word, but a wry smile danced across her lips. She must have decided I was insane too, Lamon thought. Maybe Louisa was right. After all, she prided herself on detecting insanity in others. The rest of the journey through Indianapolis, Chicago and Springfield was a blur. Lamon had hoped the extended period of bereavement would bring a measure of peace to his own troubled mind, but it was not to be. At each stop as he looked upon the mourners and wondered how they would react if they knew Lincoln had be a prisoner in the basement of the Executive Mansion for more than two years. He stared into the faces, speculating that perhaps family members of the man forced to impersonate the president were among them. And what of the woman who took on the role of Mary Lincoln? Conceivably her relatives stood on the route, mourning the president but not knowing they should be mourning their own dear kin.

Nap Nightmare

His dream started out innocently enough. He was flying. Above the clouds. Not a care in the world. Then the world went black. As he gasped for air, he realized that what he gulped down into his lungs was tepid and stale. Was he still flying? He could not see anything. No clouds, no sun, nothing. He tried to scream for help, but the words stayed in his throat.
Tom Wagoner realized he was dreaming. If only he could make himself wake up everything would be fine. A nagging voice in the back of his brain told him to continue sleeping. Tom would just have to put up with the inconvenience of a nightmare until his brain’s caboose felt rested.
To hell with that, the frontal lobe shouted and forced Tom to open his eyes.
Yelling, Tom jumped as he returned to consciousness and found himself in darkness. He squinted to adjust his eyes. He was still on the airplane. His memory came forward to remind him he was returning home to Houston from a business trip to New York.
“Hello? Anybody there?”
His muffled echo informed him that no one was still on the airplane. Tom did not know for sure if he were in Houston or still at the layover airport in Atlanta. No, he remembered the plane landing and taking off at Atlanta. He had to be in Houston. Tom pulled out his cell phone and called his girlfriend Debbie.
“Where the hell are you?” she demanded. “You were supposed to take me out to dinner tonight!”
“Honey, I’m still on the plane.”
Debbie paused before asking, “Did you get stuck in Atlanta?”
“No, I’m in Houston, I think. It’s dark, and nobody else is here.”
“Are you shacking up with that blonde broad in New York again?” Debbie said in a challenging voice. “If you’re pulling that trick again, we’re through. I warned you the last time!”
“No, no, I’m telling the truth. I guess the flight attendants didn’t see me,” he explained, his words tumbling over each other. “I was really tired and I fell asleep right after the layover in Atlanta—“
“Atlanta!” Debbie screamed into the phone, “You promised me you’d never have a layover in Atlanta after that incident last spring!”
“It was the only flight I could get. Listen, please call United Airlines. I’m on ExpressJet flight 641.”
“Maybe you’ve finally flipped out. I told you not to watch those Twilight Zone reruns.”
“Debbie, I’m locked on the plane. I’m telling you the truth. You better go somewhere and get me off this plane!”
“Oh yeah, sure, make me be the one to call the airport. I’m the one that’s going to look nuts,” she replied in exasperation.
“Just call the damn airline, okay?”
Debbie sighed. “Okay, but you better be in that plane or else just don’t bother to come home!”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter One Hundred Six

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 years pass and the organization wants all three of them and the Royal family dead, but Sidney makes sure that doesn’t happen.
The next morning David awoke, disappointed to discover he was still alive. His doctor told him he’d die in a matter of days. He wished he had breathed his last after the visit from Queen Elizabeth. Past differences dissolved as they talked in his sitting room. He chose to ignore the tussling going on behind the curtain. And the sharp pain when the IV line wrenched about. A lifetime of believing nothing had meaning seemed like a life wasted. But even regarding life as a waste was not true. His life was what it was—filled with disappointment, heart break, romance, thrills and, in the end, the satisfaction of love based on mutual trust and affection.
A knock at the back hall door caused David to look over to see Sidney enter carrying a tray with a teapot and cup. He smiled at the bud vase holding a single white rose, a daily gift from Wallis.
A white rose. I know Joachim Von Ribbentrop sent Wallis a white carnation each time they made love. Now she gives me a white rose just to show she cares, and everyone knows roses are more precious than carnations.
“Did you sleep well last night, Your Highness?” his valet asked.
David grunted. His throat cancer made conversation painful.
“I brought you mint tea. It seems to ease your pain.” Sidney poured tea into the white china cup and handed it to David. “The cook picked the mint leaves herself from the bush in the garden. She said the morning is wonderful. The air is crisp and clean.”
The old man took a long sip. “Hmm. Good.” After drinking more of it, he motioned to Sidney to lean into him.
I now realize Sidney was more than my valet. The man from the Bahamas was most likely a mercenary hired by the organization, but at some point he changed his allegiance to us. How can I let him know my gratitude without creating discomfiture for him?
David whispered in a raspy voice. “I had a nightmare.”
“Oh dear. Whatever could have caused that?”
“A man came into my room and rolled a—“he paused to sip his mint tea—“corpse from under the bed and rolled it out the door.”
“Hmm.” Sidney lifted the pot and looked at David. “How odd. Perhaps it was from all the excitement from the Queen’s visit yesterday. Would you care for a second cup? It seems to help you speak.”
David nodded.
Sidney took the cup, poured in the tea and handed it back to the Duke.
“Thank you.” Before Sidney could pull away, David clutched his sleeve. “Truly, thank you.” David watched his valet’s face flush.
“You’re welcome.”
The old man waved him closer again. “You look like a man I used to know.”
Sidney returned the pot to the tray. David studied his valet.
I wonder if Sidney might admit to the truth? It would make this moment less awkward. It could be their last chance to acknowledge their friendship, equal to equal.
David grunted to make Sidney come close again.
“You never talk of your father.”
Sidney averted his eyes. “He died when I was young.”
“He would have been proud of you.”
Before the valet could respond Wallis made a grand entrance from the sitting room door. Swooping to her husband’s bedside, she kissed his brow.
“How are you, darling?”
“Well, I am simply exhausted.” She fluffed his pillows. “I haven’t entertained that many people in years. Lillibet doesn’t look a thing like her mother. Thank God. Phillip is still a gorgeous man. Poor Charles. He never grew out of that awful horsey face.”
David smiled. Wallis always amused him. Today he tried not to laugh. It hurt too much.
“Oh, I see Sidney brought you mint tea. How clever of him.” She went to Sidney and smoothed out the collar of his uniform. “I enjoyed my bath this morning. It was sparkling clean.”
“I scrubbed it myself,” the valet replied.
So an assassin tried to kill Wallis too, and somehow Sidney intervened. If someone wanted us dead they must have tried to kill the Queen, her husband and her son. When else would all of us be together in virtual seclusion? I would ask him about it but I don’t have the strength to speak, and he has too much honor to answer.
“What will we do without you?” Wallis smiled in her wicked way.
“You need not worry about that, Madam.”
Her smile melted, and she stepped closer to Sidney. David could hardly hear what she said.
“Honestly, after David—I mean, when I am alone, I will have enough staff to care for me. I want you to go home to the Bahamas. You have family there, don’t you?”
David watched his valet hesitate. “A family I chose for myself. Yes, I have family there.”
“Go to them,” Wallis ordered. She stepped closer. “I know I’m losing my mind, just like Aunt Bessie did. I’m not scared of it like I used to be. My only regret is that I will forget you.” She patted his shoulder. “Why, you’re almost like a son to me. Family. What is it I have heard you say so often? Oh yes, we must fill the bellies of our family. You’ve always taken care of us. Now you must let them take care of you.”
That’s right. Sidney’s father had saved their lives many times also. Even then he considered us a part of his family, and we had to be fed. If there is any justice in the world, I hope Sidney’s family in the Bahamas fills his belly well.
(Author’s Note: This is the final chapter. This story is much longer than I anticipated. I thank two good friends, Anne Buckingham and Linda Welker, for their editing and critiques. I couldn’t have finished it without their help. I will now start running two chapters of Booth’s Revenge a week. I have other stories in the planning stages. I thank the kind readers who have left gracious notes about the novel. If you liked it please drop a dollar or two in my donation basket. I’m 72 and need all the help I can get.)

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Thirty-Five

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 into Maryland where they hide in the Zekiah Swamp. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm.Booth sneaks away to Richmond, where he tricks a widow into caring for him.
Ward Lamon sat in silence next to the coffin of Abraham Lincoln in the Baltimore & Ohio funeral train snaking its way through the Northeast and Midwest of the country stopping at all the cities Lincoln had visited on his way to his first inauguration. When the engine pulled away from the Washington City station in a light drizzle on Friday, April 21, Lamon sat in the first passenger car along with many other dignitaries chosen to accompany the body back to his Springfield, Il., home. Chatter about the assassination and the need for immediate and harsh retribution caused Lamon to move to the side of the president coffin after the procession left the depot at its first stop, Baltimore.
Perhaps he actually preferred solitude at this point because of his embarrassment over his mistaken rescue mission to Fort McHenry where he thought Lincoln was being held captive. He chastised himself repeatedly for believing the president’s imposter instead of following his own instincts. Lamon intuitively knew the man was a craven coward, most certainly, and probably morally weak also, incapable of telling the truth. He should have known better to believe the imposter’s cockamamie story, which lead to Lamon’s failure to protect the slain President.
In Baltimore, the officials moved the casket to a hearse waiting in what was now a heavy, cold rain at 10 a.m. Lightning and thunder punctuated the deluge, adding a dramatic drumbeat to the sorrowful procession. The cortege arrived at the Merchants’ Exchange where the body laid in state all morning. Thousands of mourners filed past for two hours until the catafalque and coffin returned to the train, continuing on to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
By 8 p.m. the train arrived. The rain had slowed, and the coffin was taken to the state capitol building. The viewing began at 9:30 a.m., and the crowds quietly surged forward to say their last goodbyes to the President who had safely shepherded them–and the nation—through the trauma of war.
Lamon stood in the building’s entrance, studying the faces of the mourners passing by. Their pained expressions and open weeping impressed upon him the urgency of solving this mystery of who was behind the assassination and, perhaps more importantly, finding evidence to hold Stanton responsible for the abduction and confinement of the president and Mrs. Lincoln. Lamon felt he owed it to these stricken people and to the country to find the culpable parties. He swore he would not rest until he had uncovered the truth.
Saturday morning found the train in Philadelphia with the first stop at 11 a.m. The casket was on display in Independence Hall the rest of the day. Again Lamon stood guard at the door, watching the crowds rush forward as some distraught individuals fought among themselves for the opportunity to view Lincoln’s body.
Lamon remained serenely detached from the scene as he went over in his mind how he would approach Whitman and Zook. He had to admit Mrs. Lincoln was right—his manner could be gruff at times, which would deter Zook from revealing what he knew about the conspiracy. He had to approach his last, best lead with great care.
The train arrived in Hoboken, N.J., on Sunday, and the casket was transferred onto a ferry to New York City where it was to remain until Tuesday morning. Lamon saw this layover as his opportunity to slip away, cross the East River to Brooklyn where he could track down Gabby Zook at the Whitman home on North Portland Avenue. Once he arrived on North Portland Monday morning, he struck up friendly conversations with street vendors. As he munched on an apple, Lamon asked if anyone knew where the Whitman family lived.
“Whitmans?” the fruit vendor said, raising an eyebrow. “What do you want to know for?”
“Oh, a friend told me to drop in on them if I was in Brooklyn.” Lamon tried to put an air of nonchalance into his reply.
“What kind of friend would say that?”
“A lady friend.”
“I’d never talk to her again. Those Whitmans are crazy,” the vendor said. “Certifiable. The worst one is Walt. He makes me all goosey. Calls himself a poet.”
“Then what’s his address?” Lamon pressed.
“Up the street a couple of blocks. One hundred six North Portland. The family’s in the basement. They rent the rest of the house out. I don’t see why anybody would want to live there.”
“Thank you.” He turned away.
“I’d stay away from that house if I was you,” the hawker called out. “One of them brothers has the clap!”
A few minutes later Lamon walked down the steps to the basement door and knocked. A middle-aged man with bushy eyebrows wearing trousers over his long johns cracked the door open.
“I’m here to see Mr. Walt Whitman.” Lamon give a slight bow.
“Ain’t nobody here by that name,” he mumbled and then slammed the door shut.
Not a full moment elapsed before the door opened. This time a short heavy-set woman appeared. Her long gray-streaked hair was pulled back in a careless bun, which gave the impression she spent nights unconsciously pulling her hair out. She stood in the entrance and smiled, her friendly eyes assessing Lamon.
“You must forgive my son Jesse,” she said in a soft voice. “His syphilis is acting up today. I am Louisa Whitman. How may I help you?”
“Shut the damn door, Ma!” Jesse screamed from the parlor, which prompted Louisa to step outside and gently close the door. “He was a sailor for many years, which accounts for his salty language.”
“My name is Ward Lamon and I—“
“Mr. Lamon! Yes! You were the close friend of our late president Mr. Lincoln. I hope to pay my respects tomorrow before the funeral procession leaves town.”
“I was under the impression your son Walt lived here.”
“On weekends. During the week, he’s a clerk at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It seems the only reliable jobs which pay a decent salary are in Washington City.”
“Oh. I was hoping he was here. I understand he knows the whereabouts of man named Gabby Zook.”
“Why Mr. Zook lives right here with us. A very gentle soul. Would you like to speak to him?”
“Yes, please.”
“Very well.” Louisa paused as she put her hand on the door knob. “Perhaps it would be best if we all went for a nice stroll down the street. I know the nicest vendor with delicious apples—“
“Yes, he gave me your address,” Lamon interrupted. “I’ve already had my apple for the day.”
Louisa nodded. “I’ll be right back.”

A New Me

When I awoke this morning I was confused. Looking down at me was my mother. She’s been dead for fifty years, but there she was, looking as young and beautiful as I remembered from my childhood.
“And how is Jerry this morning?” she asked.
I was so dumbfounded I could not find the words to respond. This bald man came up, put his arm around my mother’s shoulder and smiled.
“Look, Daddy, Jerry is wide awake and ready for breakfast.”
Okay, this man was not my father. My father was not bald and he rarely if ever smiled. Mother picked me up and handed me to this man she called Daddy. How this guy could hold me I could not figure out. I was a two hundred pound old man. For that matter how could my mother pick me up? And when I was the size for my father to carry, he never did. At least I did not remember him carrying me. There was something terribly wrong about this situation. They were calling me Jerry and that was my name. The woman looked very much like my mother. And this man was a complete stranger.
“Bring Jerry in here, Anthony,” the woman called out from the kitchen.
Now I was really confused. My father’s name was Grady. And I never knew anyone named Anthony until my daughter started dating. My daughter, where was she? For that matter, where was my wife? And why was I peeing in my pants? I hadn’t peed in my pants in more than sixty-five years.
“I’ve got to change his diaper first, Heather,” this man, trying to pass himself off as my father, said. My real father never changed a diaper in his life.
I wrinkled my tiny brow. He called my mother Heather. My mother’s name was Florida. My daughter’s name was Heather. All this confusion made me very unhappy. The only thing I could think to do was cry.
“Why is the baby crying?” Heather called out from the kitchen.
“If your pants were wet you’d cry too,” this man who called himself Anthony said.
After he changed my diaper, I began to feel hungry. Bacon and eggs would taste good, I thought. Maybe not. I now could not rightly remember what bacon and eggs tasted like. I had bad dreams all the time. My wife could usually tell me what they meant, but at this moment I could not remember her name. I did remember how good that bottle of milk tasted. My father—whatever his actual name was—was pretty good slipping it between my little lips.
I decided he was not so bad. I looked at my mother and knew I had loved her a long time, way back in a past that was fading away and into a future that was brand new yet so familiar. Maybe even better.
Author’s Note: I wrote this before my daughter gave birth to a beautiful baby named Liam. And I’m still around so this story doesn’t make any sense, except I think it’s kinda cute.