The Baby Shower Part Five

We were home from the baby shower only a couple of weeks we received a phone call from my proud and happy son-in-law. It seems all those kicks in the womb meant Liam Anthony wanted to come out—right now. So on Sunday September 16, he came out, all seven pounds thirteen ounces, twenty inches of him, including, 10 fingers and 10 toes.
Both mom and the baby were in good condition, and I could tell dad was ecstatic. They were home within a couple of days, and then the real work began, all those nightly feedings. My wife chose to bottle feed our children so I was able to take my turn. But with breastfeeding, my daughter has to handle it on her own. And he’s a very hungry little boy.
At the two-week checkup he was already over eight pounds and had grown another inch. My daughter, on the other hand, was worn out, just all all mothers. That’s why they get a special day every day. Sometimes I wonder why fathers get a day. The moms do all the work. But I better shut up because I enjoy my Father’s Day presents too much to lose them.
My granddaughter is a very helpful big sister, and I knew she would be. But I’m a biased grandpa so what do you expect?
As for the baby shower delivery day pool, everyone missed it because he decided to arrive early. My daughter checked the chart to see who came closest and it turned out to be a dear friend and coworker. Her friend she’s going to spend the money on Liam’s first Christmas present, so all turned out well.
Speaking of Christmas, my son and I already have our plane tickets to go up to New York in December. Liam will be three months by then and who knows how big he will be. Now all we have to do is pay off the credit card bills before we plan any trips to see the grandchildren in the new year.

David , Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Forty-Eight

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on his first mission because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the spy world is socialite Wallis Spencer, who dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. MI6 orders David and Wallis to pick up crates of jewels from Haile Selassie in Corsica. Leon was supposed to kill them and steal the jewels, but he refused.
Old King George was dying. He had not been his usual irascible dominating self since he fell off his horse in the early 1920s. Then he suffered a stroke the year of the Tanganyika affair. Somehow he managed to look regal through his Silver Jubilee in June of 1936. By autumn his cognitive powers decreased significantly. David’s missions came to complete halt. He could not be called away in the middle of an assassination attempt to attend a funeral. That was not the way MI6 operated.
David continued his public seduction of Wallis Simpson because, according to the plan MI6 conceived ten years earlier, they were to be married by 1937. Immediately upon his return from the Mediterranean holiday David started telling intimate friends like Walter Monckton how he felt about Wallis.
“She’s the perfect woman,” he told his buddy while they had cocktails on the terrace at Fort Belvedere, enjoying the last summer breezes of early September. She insists I should be at my best and do my best at all times. Well,” he paused to take a puff on his cigarette, “she’s my inspiration.”
“Come, fellow, you’re letting your carnal amusements take over your good sense,” Monckton advised.
David raised an eyebrow. “Now listen here, there has never been physical relations between Mrs. Simpson and myself.” He tried not to smile. Of everything he was saying, his avowal of abstinence was the only true statement. “This is intellectual companionship, spiritual comradeship.” He stared off at the trees, thinking the brush beneath needed to be cleared. “I will never give her up.” Looking at Monckton, David leaned in. “My dear Walter, you are my dearest friend. I hope you will keep this discussion in strictest confidence.”
“Of course, David,” he replied, his eyelids fluttering. “Strictly confidential.”
As David anticipated, within a few days society circles in the Mayfair district of London was abuzz with the rumors of a budding romance and how it would shake the British monarchy to its very roots. The simple mention of the name Mrs. Simpson brought on titters at the thought of immoral seduction and the oncoming royal generation which would flaunt morality, bring down all that was sacred and perhaps introduce a new world in which the distinction between classes would disappear.
According to General Trotter’s instructions, Wallis lingered in Paris to do some serious shopping. She wrote her close friends in London that Mainbocher was having a half-price sale and it would be sinful not to take advantage of it. She arranged to fly her bargains home on David’s private airplane. David mailed her a new bejeweled cross for her bracelet.
“Get flower from VR.”
By this time, David had figured out Wallis’s references to white carnations from Von Ribbentrop to mean a sexual encounter. He knew the German was a valuable link to Hitler’s inner circle. David’s contacts to the Ribbentrop household—the old crotchety couple—passed along information that Hitler’s chief foreign affairs adviser would be in Paris in September. Ribbentrop was too good of an instrument not to be kept well-tuned.
When Wallis returned to London in October she set about having charming luncheons with girlfriends like Diana Cooper and Barbara Cartland. She related the conversations to David when she visited Fort Belvedere.
“We were having a bite to eat in Mayfair when Barbara cooed, ‘So, how is the little man?’ Barbara loves to refer to you as the little man. Well, I leaned back in my chair and laughed. ‘Oh, my dears, I think he’s getting ideas of marriage in his head. I would much rather have my cake and eat it too. David for laughs and luxury, and Ernest for marriage and stability. What’s wrong with that?’”
David cradled his chin in his palm and resisted the temptation to tell her what was wrong. He feared he was actually falling in love with her. But true romance could spell tragedy in espionage. He could tell his silence unsettled her.
“You won’t believe who Ernest is bringing back to London in October. Mary Raffray! And she’s staying at Bryanston Court with us! The darlings have no idea I’m on to them. Oh well, when I dump him next year at least he will have a soft lap to land in.”
Lighting a cigarette, David asked, “Do you think you and Ernest will be up to attending another royal wedding in November?”
Wallis’s eyes widened. “Royal wedding? Who?
“My brother Harry.”
“What? They finally found someone to marry huggy bear? I don’t believe it.”
“Lady Alice Montagu-Douglas-Scott.”
“Two hyphens? She must be important.”
“Now be nice.”
Wallis pulled his hand over to light her cigarette from his. “I thought you liked it when I wasn’t nice.”
“What?”
“White carnation. Ribbentrop. Got it. Want to know the details?”
David crushed his cigarette out in ash tray. “Only what will interested MI6.”
“Well, for starters, he doesn’t suspect me of spilling the beans on the German air force,” she said, quite pleased with her powers of persuasion. “He was in Paris for talks with French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou. Ribbentrop encouraged him to meet Hitler to sign a non-aggression pact.”
David duly passed the information on to General Trotter and tried not to sound jealous when he mentioned Wallis and the German shared an intimate moment. He couldn’t linger on his emotions, however, because of the continuous communiques from Sandringham Palace where the King had recused himself during his extended illness. David visited often and noted his father’s failing health and his fading mental faculties. Often a comment would go without response from the old man until moments later.
George recovered as the royal wedding neared, and he made a good appearance to celebrate Prince Harry’s nuptials. David remembered the days when a harsh look from his father could make his brother faint headed. Now he hardly noticed his father as he beamed at his bride.
As Christmas approached, David asked Wallis to oversee the purchase and wrapping of presents for his staff of one hundred and sixty five. In previous years this had been Thelma Furnace’s job. Wallis fulfilled her duties with rapt efficiency.
He wrote a note to Wallis after the holiday stating it had been the worst Christmas ever. The old man went hunting on Christmas Eve, which was his custom, however because of his weakened condition he caught a chill. His declining health cast its own pall over the gift exchange the next morning. In case the letter fell into anyone else’s hands, he added an afterthought that he was the only brother there who did not have a wife. David felt General Trotter would have approved.
After the New Year, David, Wallis and the general met for a casual tea in the main parlor of Fort Belvedere discussing how they would proceed after the king died. Wallis clearly was not interested. A knock at the door interrupted the general’s oration. It was a footman from Sandringham who announced the king was expected to die within the next twenty hours.
When David arrived, his father did not immediately recognize him. His mother Queen Mary informed him a coffin had already been delivered, and she was making arrangements for the funeral. She added she was organizing a list of beneficiaries for her jewelry upon her death and made clear to David Wallis was to have none of it. At least she has her priorities in order, David thought.
It was close to midnight and the doctor Lord Dawson was fretting that if the king didn’t die soon, the announcement would not appear until the afternoon newspapers, which would have been a real tragedy. For the first time in many years, David felt indignation rising from his stomach for his father. His training restrained him. He turned his attention to the clock in the hallway. It was set half an hour ahead; he reset it himself. By the time David finished, Lord Dawson appeared from the king’s bedchamber, placing a syringe into his medical valise.
“The king has died.” He snapped the bag shut. “Notify the London Times.”

The Baby Shower Part Four

The four-hour wait in the Charlotte airport was over, and we boarded, on our way home from the best baby shower ever. What I had forgotten was that there was this tropical depression which had delayed our departure by a day. It was now a hurricane slowly moving toward Louisiana, but the outer bands were still sweeping across central Florida.
“There’s no reason to cancel the flight, but we do want to apologize ahead of time for any possible turbulence you may experience in the next couple of hours. Enjoy your flight.”
All sorts of thoughts flooded my mind. During a half a century of flying I had never encountered any major degree of turbulence so I suppose I couldn’t complain much. Then again, it only takes one bad storm to bring an airplane down. What a way to ruin a perfectly good baby shower weekend. What if I didn’t die in a crash but the constant dipping and shaking made me sick to my stomach? I checked the pocket in front of me and found the air sickness bag. It didn’t look very big. I could fill that thing up with one really good whoop-whoop.
It was then my eye caught the airline magazine—you know the ones with articles about exotic locales you could visit for next to nothing with your frequent flyer miles, except I didn’t travel that frequently. After I read all the articles I saw three Sudoku puzzles. Now if they couldn’t keep my mind off crashing then nothing could.
I made it through the easy puzzle fairly fast. The medium one took a little more time. However, once we crossed the border from Georgia into Florida the plane started to jiggle some. When I started on the third puzzle, the most difficult one, the flight was getting bumpier. I found it hard to write the numbers in the little boxes without my fingers looking like they were drunk and slurring badly.
“We will be entering Tampa International Airport airspace within the next half hour. Reports say the storm is slowly moving west. However, turbulence is expected to increase before we land. Have a nice day.”
Then we experienced our first major drop. We could hear the baggage in the overhead compartment jumping around.
“Whee!” One child clearly did not understand the implications involved here. This was not a roller coast at Busch Gardens. However, perhaps it was better that the child thought it was fun. If they become hysterical and cried, my stomach might started grumbling and I didn’t want that.
In the amount of time it would take to ride a giant wooden roller coast three times, the turbulence settled and we began our descent, and I still had my lunch. And I was going to live for the next flight to my daughter’s house at Christmas.
What more could I ask for?

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Three

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Alethia is plucked from prison to play Mary Lincoln. Tad knows she’s not his mother but thinks she’s part of the plot to save his father.
Alethia closed the door and walked to her room. Her eyes shut, she enjoyed the cool breeze. The cottage in the Maryland foothills was charming and romantic. Before going in, she looked into Duff’s bedroom and found him sitting on the edge of the bed, drinking from a flask.
“Father? Are you all right?”
“Molly, come in. Sit next to me.” He turned around, and his face was wet with tears.
“You look troubled.”
“Demons.” Duff sipped his whiskey. “Old demons. I’ve kept secrets from you, Molly.” He paused. “No, I’ve kept secrets from Alethia. Molly knows everything she needs to know, but I want Alethia to know everything.”
“Don’t be afraid to tell me.” Her heart pounded so hard she feared she would faint.
“I wasn’t just captured at the first Manassas,” he said. “The Confederates caught me and a bunch of pals as we were deserting.”
“You still spent time in prison,” she offered.
“Belle Isle Prison at Richmond. The worst time of my life. Rotten food, rotting flesh. The hunger.” He looked at her. “I told you I was a big boy. I was always hungry. I’m still hungry.”
“There’s no shame in that. No one knows you were running away. Everyone was running away. Most of them were running back to the army, and some didn’t know where they were running—just running. They can’t prove anything. You got more punishment than you deserved.”
“No,” he whispered. “I deserved even more. Back in Michigan everyone thought I had courage to match my size. Many men challenged me to fight so they could brag they whupped the biggest man in the county. I ran away. I always ran away. I always was a coward. That’s what they called me. Big Yeller. When the war broke out, my friends told me if I wanted to shake that Big Yeller name I’d better join.”
“Courage isn’t beating men. Courage is admitting you can’t handle things. You’re smart, cautious, and brave.”
“After a while in prison, when a cell mate would die, I wouldn’t tell the guards for a few days. They never came in, just pushed the plates through the slot. I didn’t tell so I could eat the dead man’s food.”
“This is war.” Her eyes fluttered. “You do what you have to do to survive.”
“Soon,” he continued, with his head down, “I think they caught on to what I was doing. So they started putting healthier men in with me. I suffocated them in the middle of the night so I could get their food.”
“Oh.” Alethia could not help but be shocked. Only a monster could do that, but Duff was not a monster. War made monsters; prisons made monsters; a normal life made him normal again.
“Next they put a man as big as me in the cell. We figured a way to get out.”
“Did he know what you had done?”
“No. But the men in the cell block knew. When we all broke out and made it back to the Union lines, the others told. My last cell mate spit in my face when he found out. They court-martialed me and sent me to Old Capitol to be hanged. At least the food was good. Stanton found me, said I looked like Mr. Lincoln, and gave me a chance to escape hanging.” His eyes narrowed with intensity. “I hate him.” He looked at Alethia. “You hate me now, don’t you?”
“Do you want me to hate you?”
“No.”
“Good,” she replied. “I love you too much to hate you.”

Reminder

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Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Ten

Previously: Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with hints of parody of Zorro and The Scarlet Pimpernel and a dash of social satire on gender roles and class mores. Cecelia throws her annual society ball, where former lovers Andy and Bedelia meet. Andy and friends try to stop villain Malcolm Tent.
Lady Cecelia Snob-Johnson was aghast when her butler opened the front door and there stood a large, overweight but mostly muscular man in a filthy shirt, coat and trousers and with enough dirt under his fingernails to start an herb garden. His sweaty face shone through the dust of the street which had landed on his broad brow and thick cheeks.

“Pardon me, sir. Whom did you want to see?” Her eyes fluttered.

“I want to see me boss.” His Cockney accent was on the verge of being incomprehensible.

“And who exactly is—as you put it—your boss?”

“Chief Inspector Malcolm Tent.”

“Ah. He is in my library with my most intimate friends. Follow me.” She tossed a question over her shoulder, “And whom shall I say is calling?”

“Billy Doggerel.”

Lady swept into the library with Billy following close behind. She could swear she could feel his ale-infused breath on the nape of her neck, which aroused feelings from long ago. She motioned to Tent.

“Chief Inspector Mal Content, a mister William Canine-erel is here to see you.”

“That’s Doggerel, mum,” Billy corrected her. “I ain’t got no pedigree. Me old man was just a plan old son of –“

“Um, yes, Billy, right over here.” Tent motioned for Billy to join him by the window on the far side of the room.

Cecelia was left motionless—well, not completely motionless. She did have the wherewithal to close the door to the ballroom. She could not help herself. She whispered to herself another soliloquy while visions of Sampson Elias Johnson danced in her head.

Sexy Billy, you make me silly; your big belly makes me squeal.
You’re completely covered with dirt.
Your hair is slicked down, your teeth are brown.
But I love your swagger; it makes me stagger.
I love the sneer upon your lips. Come on baby, grab my hips!
You’re a naughty boy, I can tell. Come on, baby, ring my bell!
You must lead a life of crime. You’re going straight to hell.
Your hot body makes me sweat so I’ll go to hell as well.
Who cares that we belong in worlds so far apart?
You know you got the tool to fix my thumping heart!
You’re nothing but a baboon that needs a tamer.
If a girl gets out her whip who the hell could blame her?
Big dirty Billy, I’m your filly.
Big dirty Billy, I feel silly,
Be the master of my dreams.

Millicent broke her revelry when she touched her mother’s arm. “Are you all right? Mother, who is that person?”

“I don’t know, but I would wager he hasn’t had a bath in a month.”

“I agree.”

“I would like to give him a bath.” Cecelia’s breath became labored.

“What!?” Millicent’s mouth flew open.

Cecelia shook her head, coming back to reality. “In the interest of a cleaner world, of course.”
“Of course.” She rolled her eyes. Millicent had not seen her mother swoon like this since the last time the chimney sweep made his yearly visit.

“Excuse me, Millicent dear, but I have an irresistible impulse to get to know this person better.” Not waiting for a reply, Cecelia wandered over to the window on the pretense of straightening the curtains.

The Baby Shower Part Three

The party was over, and we had to leave the next day. So sad. I loved the games my granddaughter made up for us to play, but we had to return the rental car by 8 a.m. and be on the plane by 9:30. Morning would be here soon.
The flight out of White Plains went without a hitch but then were faced with the four-hour layover in Charlotte. We found a nice little eatery with all kinds of Italian fast food—pizza by the slice, calzones, pastas, and Caesar and Greek salads. Why they threw in the Greek salad I don’t know why, but I’m glad they did. It’s my favorite. My son got a slice of all-meat pizza, his favorite. We even snagged a place to sit down. And next to us was a guy who had his Chihuahua in a carryon cage. I was tempted to go over and ask to pet the dog, but this was a busy airport so I restrained myself.
Then came the dreaded four-hour wait. I was too tired to pull my notepad and write a new story and I had traded in my smart phone for a dumb phone to save money so I couldn’t browse the internet. My son had a smart phone and a laptop to play games so I was on my own. So I resorted to an old favorite I shared with my wife years ago—people watching.
There were the great groups of teen-aged athletes bubbling with excitement about the event they were going to or coming back from. Always running behind were the old, overweight coaches trying to keep up.
Another group that was interesting was a group of young men with clerical collars, apparently on the way to or from the seminary. They were happy but not as giddy as the student athletes. But then they weren’t in competition with anyone else. I supposed that made a difference.
My favorite group to observe were the families. Most of the time the children, with their noses in their smart phones, were either far ahead or far behind the beleaguered parents who were left to drag all the luggage. I don’t care if they are on wheels, they still weigh a lot and trouble to pull or push, whichever method you prefer.
The family that made me smile the most had a muttering mother taking an aggressive lead with her husband a couple of feet behind her with the baggage. Lagging behind were two young boys. The littlest one looked up and said in a sad little voice, “I know, Mommy, we’re all bad.”
Actually, after I smiled I realized how sad air travel could be. I bet that that little boy never had to apologize for being bad at home. Everyone was too busy going about things that made them happy rather than dwell on how bad they were.
That made me start noticing how many couples were holding hands. Not many at first, but then I started seeing them. Interestingly, most of them were older couples. There was the well-dressed couple (maybe they were from White Plains) whose ringed fingers were gracefully intertwined. Right behind them were a couple that decided to become hippies in the 60s and, dad-burn-it, they’re still hippies fifty years later. From the do-rags on their heads to the beads around their necks and the old sandals on their bare feet. And theirs was not just any regular hand holding. No sir. They had their arms tightly wrapped around each other waists. Not a hint of daylight between them.
But my favorite was another old couple. She held a cane in one hand and a drink in the other. He held her elbow so when she wanted a drink he could help lift the cup to her lips.
I’m going stop with that one. Nothing can top it.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Forty-Seven

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on his first mission because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the spy world is socialite Wallis Spencer, who dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. MI6 orders David and Wallis to pick up crates of jewels from Haile Selassie in Corsica.
Leon often thought of the day three years ago when he confessed to his mother as she lay dying in the garden that he was a mercenary. Also he revealed that he knew the Prince of Wales was a British spy. His indiscretion bothered him. Ironically he had not been on a mission since then in which he had any encounter with the prince. Leon had killed many men and had been paid handsomely for it. That didn’t worry him because that was the life he had chosen for himself. What did nag at him was the fact that he saw Pooka running away from his gate.
Pooka—the old hag who fancied herself a voodoo priestess. She could not be trusted with such delicate information. Leon would kill her but his wife Jessamine craved Pooka’s assurance that he would return safely from his long mysterious journeys. And Leon’s own moral code insisted that he never kill a woman.
Even his son Sidney was beginning to listen to Pooka. He was thirteen and ready to be introduced to the life of a mercenary and he didn’t need to rely on mystical spirits to survive but rather only on himself. Leon had stressed the need to do anything to fill the bellies of his family.
All these thoughts flooded his mind as he returned from his morning walk along the beach. He noticed the dead plant in front of his gate was askew. Leon ran his hand inside the pot and found an empty cigarette pack. Inside he found a folded note.
“Rialto. 9 p.m.”
Leon wadded the paper and stuck it in his pants pocket before going inside for breakfast. His wife Jessamine had matured and calmed down a bit. It was right after Leon’s mother died that Jessamine realized she had to become the mother now. She could no longer be ruled by childish emotions. She quit asking Leon to wear a wedding band. Repeatedly he had told her she was being foolish because wearing one could endanger his life while on one of his trips.
He looked at her with admiration as she placed bowls of grits and shredded conch covered with potatoes, peppers and onions in front of him and Sidney. At age thirteen Sidney was developing into a fine man. He was going to be short like his father but his shoulders were wide and his chest was thickening.
“I have to go to Nassau tonight which means I will be leaving soon on one of my business trips.”
“Then I will prepare your suitcase today,” Jessamine said.
“Thank you.” He looked at Sidney and smiled. “Work hard for Jinglepockets.”
“I will.” He smiled broadly.
Jinglepockets, the old fisherman, told Leon that Sidney was a good hand. The boy sat aright and took a modest spoonful of food into his mouth, just as his father had taught him.
That night Leon sauntered into the casino and located the blonde dealer at her black jack table. He sat and threw a few coins at her.
“Deal.”
“Anything you say.”
As her hands spit the cards his way, Leon smiled, and his eyes twinkled.
“How come you and I have never connected after all these years?”
“Your family wouldn’t like it.” She paused and raised an eyebrow. “How many cards?”
Glancing at his hand, Leon looked up and smiled again. “None.” He noticed a slit in the queen of diamonds. “How do you know if I have a family?” Deftly he opened the slit, slipped out the note and put it in his white linen jacket pocket.
“Oh. I can tell a married man as soon as he walks into the casino.” She pursed her lips. “And if they have a kid.”
“Stand. I call.” He turned over his cards. “Two sixes.”
She pushed two chips his way. “You win.” She licked her red lips. “Another game?”
“Some other time.” He stood and walked away. After cashing out, Leon took the ferry back to Freeport. Leaning against the rail, he took out the note.
“SS Europa Tuesday a.m. to Corsica.”
Leon had traveled on the Europa many times. Besides being extremely luxurious, the German liner was one of the fastest ships in the world, convenient for his kind of work. At the appointed time in Nassau, he walked up the gangplank in his white linen suit. He went to his cabin and, after removing his jacket, plopped on the bed. Reaching under the pillow he found a note.
“Late dinner on the upper.”
The ocean liner was skimming through the Atlantic toward the straits of Gibraltar in the silky blackness of midnight. Leon sat at a oner in the corner of the dining hall when a waiter, a fellow Bahamian in a white jacket and black tuxedo slacks, handed him a menu.
“Please note the evening special.”
From a special notch in the leather menu binder, Leon pulled out a white card on which was printed the evening special. On the back was a hand-written note.
“Hotel Lido, Propriano, Corsica. Answer door after seven knocks.”
He folded it and placed it in his trousers’ pocket.
“I don’t think so. What’s the catch of the day?”
Leon relaxed the rest of the voyage. He relished the solitude. As much as he loved his family, they drained his emotions with their needs and wants. He also took the time to consider his mortality. Leon knew that any mission might be his last and he would never see his wife and son again. He also considered he was close to the age of his father when he died. He conceded he could not ask for a better life than his father lived.
Once the liner was docked at Port Valinco in Propriano, Leon went straight to Hotel Lido. As the bellman carried his suitcase through the central courtyard to his room, he looked around in approval. It was a one-story hotel on the beach. Not overtly luxurious but conducive to secrecy, privacy and perhaps romance. Once in his room, he went to the bar, pulled out a bottle of Jamaican rum and poured it into a small glass. Sitting in a comfortable chair facing a window which looked over the sands of the Mediterranean, Leon waited for his seven knocks.
They finally came.
“Room service.”
“Come in.”
A short, wispy-thin Italian man with a full bushy head of steel gray hair opened the door, charged in and hustled around the room dusting and retrieving errant soiled linen.
Leon noticed the man mumbled to himself but soon realized the servant wasn’t mumbling at all but reciting the orders, like a broken record.
“Midnight. Port Volinco. Dress as peasant with pushcart. Detail of soldiers will arrive, unload five small crates, wait for a signal from a yacht, and then depart. Two men dressed in black will disembark to load the crates. You will kill them, load the crates in the cart and bring it to the Hotel Lido kitchen. In the morning check out, take the first boat to Naples where you will be paid.”
It took a couple of times before Leon heard it all. He didn’t bother to ask questions. The man had already told him everything he knew. At 10 p.m. he located the push cart in which was the peasant garb. He situated himself in the shadows of large shipping containers on the dock. Exactly at midnight Leon heard the tromping of military feet on the cobblestones.
Leon decided the cargo was being delivered by the army from a country with more pomp and circumstance than actual martial power, perhaps a place where its traditions were still rooted in a time long ago.
Five soldiers, each carrying a crate, were surrounded by a phalanx of armed comrades. The parade came to an abrupt stop. All five soldiers lifted their knees high, right then left, then stomped twice. They stood at attention, all staring at the yacht for several minutes. Then a light flashed from the dark recesses of the main deck, once followed by two quicker ones. The guards lifted their knees, right then left, stomped twice and marched away.
When the defiant marching steps faded into silence, two small figures, dressed in black including ski masks, slipped down the gangplank and—before Leon could lift his rifle, aim and fire—grabbed three of the boxes. The larger of them took two under each arm and the smaller carried one using both hands. They scurried back on board.
Leon briefly thought he could scamper over and take the other two but when he further considered how fast they moved he wouldn’t have time. He could kill them upon their return and then take the last two crates.
Raising his rifle he prepared to shoot when they scuttled back down the ramp. His body tensed when he looked through the rifle sights and then paused. He recognized them. The larger figure was the Prince of Wales. The smaller was the lady from the Tanganyika Express. He had saved Leon’s life at least twice. And Leon lived the principle that a man never killed a woman.
He put his rifle down and walked away. Leon rarely failed on a mission. And when he did, it mostly was due to a conscious decision not to break his personal code. The client would simply have to survive without the contents of those crates. Furthermore, Leon didn’t care if the organization disapproved or not.

The Baby Shower Part Two

After the nightmare of a flight I was ready to have fun at the baby shower. It was an easy drive from the White Plains to Wappingers Falls where my daughter and her family live. At least it was easy for me: my son was doing the driving.
When we arrived at the homestead everyone was busy for the crowd the next day. My son-in-law mowing the backyard where they had set up a party tent. More than 40 friends and family were coming and they all couldn’t fit in the house.
Inside, my daughter finished party favors which she had made by hand. She should really be a professional party planner. Remember, she was doing all this while seven and a half months pregnant with her baby boy who made his presence known by kicking every few minutes.
My five-year-old granddaughter was doing her job well, which was being cute and adorable. My son and I showed her the stuffed animals we had picked up on our spring trip to the British Isles—an Irish lamb with a green ribbon around its neck, an English lion, Paddington bear and toy store mascot bear from this six-story emporium which had entire floors dedicated to Star Wars and Harry Potter. She and I played with them the rest of the weekend.
The next morning we put table cloths out under the tent, tied balloons up and did a bunch of other stuff I can’t even remember now. Luckily my son-in-law’s parents showed up early and helped out. They are experts on preparing for their relatives at a party.
It’s kind of nice when the party begins because then I could just sit down and talk to the guests. That’s the easy part. There was a whole table of aunts who liked to exchange stories about which are the best cruise lines to go on and who has the best food. At another table cousins were talking about a recent trip they took to Alaska which they did without the aid of a travel company. The pictures were really breathtaking. I particularly liked the story about the teen-aged son who wanted to take a dip in the Pacific Ocean on the Alaskan beach. After all, it was July. Well, he ran it and immediately ran out; but at least he went in, which is more than I would have been brave enough to do.
My daughter made a calendar marking the due date and the two weeks before and after. For five bucks everyone could guess when the baby would arrive. My son has a mean sense so he chose his niece’s birthday which my daughter didn’t appreciate. I thought, hey, she’d had one busy day but then birthdays would be over for the year. I chose the doctor’s projected due date, which showed my unreasonable faith in the judgement of doctors.
Then there was the food. First were two tables of appetizers from chips to huge shrimp, on which I overindulged. Big mistake. Next out they filled the tables with all kinds of salads and gigantic rings of sandwiches stuffed with everything. When I thought I couldn’t eat another bite, my son-in-law’s mother came by asking how everyone wanted their hamburgers cooked. I politely declined. Of course, there was cake and ice cream. Everyone bravely attempted singing, “Happy baby to you.”
Even though I’m from the South where huge family gatherings flourish, I’m not used to them. I’m one of the few with a relatively small extended family. But this family knows how to party. The next weekend a cousin’s daughter was having her Sweet Sixteen party.
A hundred and twenty-three were expected for that.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Two

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Alethia is plucked from prison to play Mary Lincoln. Tad knows she’s not his mother but thinks she’s part of the plot to save his father.
Lighting the last of a dozen candles around Tad’s room, Alethia settled next to him on his bed at Anderson Cottage and cuddled.
“The candles look nice,” Tad murmured, resting his head on her full bosom. “Mama always said candles were romantic.”
“They can be.” Alethia caressed his brow. “But they can also be comforting, soothing, nurturing for the soul.”
“Could you sing me that Gloria song? It’s nice.”
Softly and off-key, Alethia sang, and Tad hummed along.
“I don’t know what language that is, but it’s pretty. I like this. It makes me feel good and calm. I sleep better. I’m gonna miss it when Mama comes back.”
“I’m glad.”
“I mean, there’s nothing wrong with the way Mama puts me to bed. I still want her back. But I’ll miss you…”
“Hush, Taddie, my baby.” Wrapping her arms around his head, she continued, “I know what you mean.”
Moments went by without a word, and Alethia relished the intimacy.
“I’m glad you’re feeling better,” Tad whispered. “I got worried about you last summer. Your head was all bloody. I thought you were going to die.”
“No need to worry.”
“I don’t think we could find another lady who looked like Mama and who was so nice.” He paused. “I liked going to the White Mountains with you and Robert.”
“It was so cool there,” Alethia said. “The wind gently blowing against my brow made my head feel better.”
“I’m sorry you couldn’t go hiking with Bob and me. It was fun.” He looked at her. “But you would have got a headache. I don’t want you to have headaches like Mama. They’re awful.”
“Thank you.” She smiled. “I loved watching you two from the veranda. I could tell by the way Bob put his hand on your shoulder he loves you very much.”
“I know,” he said with a chirp. His face clouded. “He thinks I’m a spoiled brat, but he still loves me.”
“And I love both of you.”
“Mama does too,” Tad said. “It’s just that…”
“What?”
“What Mama calls love, some folks might call bossing people around.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You love up on me, but Mama fusses at me about brushing my teeth and combing my hair.”
“She means well,” Alethia said. “She loves both of you.” She smiled. “I’m sure she was as proud as I was when Bob graduated from college in June.”
“He wants to join the army, but Mama’s scared he’ll get killed. She’s lost two sons already, and she doesn’t want to lose another. I can sound like Mama when she’s fussing at Bob. Do you want to hear it?”
“No, thank you.” Alethia paused to take all this information in. “So should I keep him out of the army?”
“If you don’t want him to find out you’re not Mama. I don’t think he’d play along with it like I do.” Tad frowned. “There’s something else Bob told me as a secret. I don’t know if I should tell.”
“Please.”
“He’s afraid you’ll make him go to law school next month.”
“I see. Thank you for the help.”
The candles began to wane.
“There’s something else about Bob.”
“What?”
“Bob’s got a girlfriend.”
“How sweet.” Alethia smiled. “What should my reaction be?”
“Fight it at first—Mama would, until you find out who the girl is. She’s a doozy.”
“Really? Who is she?”
“A senator’s daughter. A big shot with the Republicans. Mama will love that.” Tad smiled. “Do you want me to show you how she’ll yell when Bob tells her?”
“No, thank you,” she replied. “I can imagine.”
“The candles are just about out.” Yawning, Tad settled down into bed.
“Then that means it’s time to go to sleep.” She hugged him again. “Let me pray for you.” She mumbled sweet words and then kissed him on the forehead. “Good night, my love.”
Standing to leave, Alethia went to each candle to make sure it was out and then walked to the door.
“Thank you, Mrs. Mama. When the war’s over, and Mama and Papa come back, and you go, I hope you have a happy life.”
“Thank you, my love.”