What went on behind that mysterious gaze?
Previously in the novel: Leon, a novice mercenary, is foiled in taking the Archbishop of Canterbury hostage and exchanging for an anarchist during the Great War by a mysterious man in black. The man in black turns out to be Edward the Prince of Wales. Soon to join the world of espionage is Wallis Spencer, an up-and-coming Baltimore socialite.
Wallis had now been married five years to Win Spencer and was having a marvelous time. Whenever she walked into the room she was certain Win peed himself a bit. He had learned the hard way he could never assert himself with her. If he forgot himself and tried to slap her, she would dodge his hand and thrust a knee into his crotch, then ram the base of her palm under his chin, causing him to bite his lip and bleed. Wallis followed that action with a hard kiss on his lips, transferring his blood to her mouth. Immediately she ran out of the house screaming. A few times the Army almost gave Win a dishonorable discharge for abusing his wife, but Wallis pleaded through tears to save his job.
“After all, Win is the best pilot you have. It would be unpatriotic of me to deprive my country of one of its best simply because he can’t handle his liquor and knocks me around a bit.”
“You have quite a wife there, Spencer,” his commanding officer lectured him. “You should be grateful she hasn’t pressed charges.”
Sometimes Wallis amused herself with her hat pin up a delicate portion of Win’s anatomy. She had grown more sophisticated since her days with Uncle Sollie. She lost quite a bit of respect for Win; after all, a man should be able to endure a certain amount of inconvenient pain without tears.
By 1921, Win pleaded with Wallis for a divorce because he could no longer take the physical abuse. “I am actually becoming an alcoholic,” he told her from the dining table one night. He had tears in his brown eyes.
“What of it?” she asked, blowing cigarette smoke out of the side of her mouth. “Everybody thinks you’re a drunk anyway.”
“Please give me a divorce,” he whimpered. “I don’t care if it does ruin my career.”
She hated him all the more for his begging. Wallis didn’t want to stay with him, but she needed the money. Designer dresses didn’t come cheap.
“I have a compromise,” she said with a smile and another puff on her cigarette. “Pay me two hundred twenty-five dollars a month and I’ll move out and leave you alone.”
Win’s eyes widened. “Two hundred twenty-five dollars? Why, that’s most of my salary.”
“You don’t need it. Without me you can live on base and eat in the mess hall. Don’t tell me you have a clever palate. I’ve seen what you eat.”
Win sat dumbfounded, staring at her. Within a month, Wallis and her aunt Bessie were living in Washington on the monthly stipend. And quite well. Wallis began an affair with Felipe Espil, secretary at the Argentine Embassy. He was quite worldly and adapted quickly to a romance which did not include traditional aspects of lovemaking. More importantly, his family was wealthy, and he shared money with ease and grace.
Wallis feared that she confided too much as they lay in bed during early morning hours. They passed a cigarette between them, and she described her unconventional marriage with Win including its more sadistic aspects. Espil briefly considered the hat pin experience but declined.
“No one really likes it,” Wallis warned him, “except me.”
Eventually, Espil’s wealthy family informed him they expected an heir, a duty Wallis was ill equipped to execute. Her heart broke a bit. Espil was the first man who truly gained her respect and his family’s wealth could not be easily discounted either. At the end, however, she got over the romance but the doubts of Espil’s discretion lingered. She didn’t need the truth wafting about the cocktail party circuit where it might be heard by the wrong people.
A whirlwind of social activities across America and then on the continent made Wallis forget about Espil completely over the next three years. In 1924, she and Aunt Bessie invaded France and captured the hearts of Paris upper crust. Sir Cecil Beaton, the famed photographer, took her on as his greatest challenge–how to capture her image without making her face look like a horse and how to keep her hands from looking like they belonged to a longshoreman.
One evening at the American Embassy, Wallis sat languidly in an open window puffing on a cigarette for no particular reason, other than she thought it made her look mysteriously glamorous. A handsome young man approached her. He wore a tuxedo and his hair was slicked back. Oh God, she thought, not another one.
“You’re Wallis Spencer, aren’t you?” he asked with a seductive upper-class British accent.
She barely managed a smile. “Have we met?”
“No. You’re quite well known. The wife of America’s ace military aviator.”
Wallis blew smoke in his face. “I can’t believe poor little Win Spencer is an international celebrity. He just teaches others to fly. And I’m a country girl from Baltimore.”
“Oh, you’re much more than that.” His eyes twinkled. “Everyone knows about your uncle Sol Warfield. He’s quite an inventor, isn’t he?”
“I was being ironic.” She flicked her cigarette out the window. “You may think you’re debonair in your rented tuxedo, but you are nothing. I have thrown away better men than you will ever be.” She paused and became quite irritated when he continued to smile at her. “How rude must I be?”
“Oh, I’m hoping for much, much worse.”
Wallis stood and prepared to march away when the young man said just two words.