David, Wallis and the Mercenary, Chapter Ten


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.
“Hat pin.”

Of All the Impertinences

Clarice had serious moral reservations about having fun based on her genetic inability to smile or laugh. The best she could muster were slightly upturned corners of her mouth which her church friends interpreted as sweet and gentle. Those relatives who were required to observe the traditional Sunday dinner and afternoon gossip session knew that expression was neither sweet nor gentle.
On one particular Sunday, an attendee squirmed in the silence which had lasted five minutes or more had the audacity to speak up.
“Did anyone see the story on television last night about the little boy who sneaked into a balloon which his father launched over Los Angeles? It seemed the whole thing was a hoax. He hid under the bed while his father pretended to be horrified that his son would be killed in the accident. The plan was to land the family its own reality television show based on the adventures of the real-life Dennis the Menace son.”
Clarice arched an eyebrow. “I watch the Christian station from Pensacola. It has such nice music, and the pastor is a Bible scholar.”
Properly chastised, the relative lowered her head and remained silent the rest of the afternoon along with the other monastics seated around the room, one daughter, her husband, two children, an aunt, uncle and a couple of cousins.
“I don’t understand why my grandchildren don’t want to sit next to me. After all, they don’t know how long they will have their grandmother with them.”
The mother elbowed her son and daughter and nodded toward the dining room where the most elegant and uncomfortable chairs waited to be carried into the living room and placed around Clarice’s lounger. When the children finally managed to squeeze the chairs around the oversized recliner and sit, Clarice sighed.
“You didn’t have to go to all that trouble. The children could have just sat on the floor.”
Another hour of silence passed before Clarice announced it was time for her nap. The cousins were the first to escape through the front door. Aunt and uncle were next. Before her daughter’s family could make it out, Clarice sighed again.
“You could nap in the spare bedrooms and then we could have leftovers for supper.”
“The children have homework, Dan is expecting a call from his parents, I have laundry to do, you really need your rest.”
“If you really don’t want to stay I won’t force you. But I did buy those games I keep in the spare closet for the children to play, and they’ve never played with them.”
The following Sunday, upon instruction from their mother, the son and daughter pulled out the games and tried to engage their grandmother in a rousing afternoon of Monopoly.
“Do we really need to use all these pieces?”
A couple of years later, when the relatives arrived for Sunday dinner, they found Clarice dead in her bed from an apparent heart attack. The aunt and uncle cried, the cousins comforted them and the mother was the one who sighed. All of the relatives and church friends attended the lovely funeral and spoke incessantly of Clarice’s sweet smile and how they would miss it. By the time the last car pulled away from the cemetery, Clarice’s ghost returned to her home where she was appalled to see that her daughter had already begun packing up her heirlooms and marking each one, “Salvation Army”.
This was not the last indignity Clarice was to suffer. After a year of rambling through her empty house, Clarice observed her daughter finally selling it to a nice couple with children. The very first act of impudence by the family was painting each room a different bright color. Clarice was astonished that they didn’t realize that white made a house look more spacious. As the family members talked among themselves Clarice was further confounded that this was the very same family that had pretended that its son was on the balloon floating over Los Angeles. They had moved to Florida and now resided in her house which had always been a monument to silence and grace.
The son was now a teen-ager with shoulder length hair. The father converted the garage into a rock and roll studio and coached his son on how to twist his head around so his hair would fly in all directions.
“My dear Lord,” Clarice whispered, “why did you allow this family to move into my home?”
Immediately she heard a voice.
“Because, unlike you, I have a sense of humor.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Thirty-Four


Lincoln and secretaries, Hay and Nicolay
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton held President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. He guided his substitute Lincoln through his first Cabinet meeting. Then he told Lincoln’s bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon into believing Lincoln and his wife were in hiding because of death threats. Lamon comes to the White House to find out for himself.

Nicolay and Hay have not changed, Lamon thought, as he entered the room. Hay looked up from his desk where he was addressing envelopes, and smiled broadly.
“Hello, Ward.”
“Ward, we haven’t seen you in a while.” Nicolay said as he looked up from his letter opening. He smiled only briefly, yet Lamon took it as a warm reception since it came from the cold, bland Bavarian.
Lamon sat near Hay, throwing his feet up on the desk, as was his wont during Lincoln’s first year, when all was normal. He liked the secretaries immensely, Hay’s boyish charm and Nicolay’s reserved intelligence; still, Lamon had to learn what they knew about the president’s disappearance.
“Marshal’s office has been keeping me busy.” He looked from one to the other. “You two look no worse for the wear.”
“Thank you,” Hay replied, “and same to you.”
Taking a deep breath, Lamon continued, “I wish I could say the same about the old man.” His observation was met with silence. Perhaps he was being too subtle, so he turned directly to Hay, whom he considered the weak link. “Johnny, haven’t you noticed a difference in Mr. Lincoln?”
“Remember when we used to have booger-flicking contests?” Putting a finger up one nostril, Hay innocently returned Lamon’s gaze. “You always won.”
Lamon could not help but laugh, realizing, however, that Hay had not answered his question, deliberately or not, so he turned his attention to the inscrutable Nicolay.
“And you, John, have you noticed any changes in the president?”
“Mr. Lincoln hasn’t changed since those days in Springfield when we all first met him.” Ripping open a letter, Nicolay studiously read the contents.
“Those were the good old days with the president, weren’t they?” Lamon asked.
“Yes, Mr. Lincoln smiled more then,” Nicolay replied.
“Even the first year in the White House, the president made a few jokes,” Lamon continued.
“That was when we all, including Mr. Lincoln, still had hopes of an early resolution to the war.”
Narrowing his eyes at Nicolay, who kept his attention on the letters, Lamon then asked, “But since the time I saw him last, two months ago, Mr. Lincoln seems to have lost his spirit.”
“The president has had good days this fall. You just haven’t seen them.”
“Well, I guess I’ve been lazy long enough,” Lamon announced, putting his feet down and standing.
“Don’t be a stranger,” Hay cheerfully said.
Ja, come back soon,” Nicolay added, finally raising his eyes.
Lamon walked out, very proud of himself, feeling he had outfoxed Nicolay, who did not want to tell a lie, yet did not want to betray a confidence, but by playing his word games had revealed what Lamon wanted to know. In talking about Lincoln, Nicolay called him by his name; however, when Lamon referred to the man in the president’s office as Mr. Lincoln, Nicolay followed up by calling the man Mr. President. That proved they knew the current president was not Mr. Lincoln; what Lamon still did not know was if they knew this was the plan of Mr. Lincoln, the man they called Mr. President, or, worst of all, Mr. Stanton.

James Brown’s Favorite Uncle The Hal Neely Story Chapter Thirty-Two

Previously in the book: Nebraskan Hal Neely began his career touring with big bands and worked his way into Syd Nathan’s King records, producing rock and country songs. Along the way he worked with James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, who referred to Neely as his favorite uncle. Eventually he became one of the owners of Starday-King, until the other owners bought him out.He found himself sitting further back in music industry room. He eventually moved to Florida.

(Author’s note: Chapters in italics are Neely’s memoirs.)
In 1989 we decided to move to Winter Garden, a suburb of Orlando, Florida, where she had friends. We sold our condominium for a good price. Victoria’s college roommate Ann now lived with her husband in central Florida. We gave a lot of our things away, sold the rest of our furniture and shipped the things we wanted to keep including kitchenware, bedding, clothing, etc. We kept only Victoria’s car and headed for Orlando. We took our time and enjoyed the trip. In Florida I became active again in the music business. We did things together with Ann and her husband Charlie who lived close by. Victoria was offered a sales manager job at a new Days Inn on the west side of Orlando. We moved into a large nice two-bedroom apartment in a nice area.
My divorce from Mary was finalized on October 23, 1990. The next day Victoria and I were married in Orlando, Florida. That same year Victoria enrolled at the University of South Florida in Tampa. We traveled three times a week between Orlando and the university. In 1991 I had prostate surgery and a pacemaker inserted. We moved to Tampa into a big rental house with our friend Dr. Arthur Williams. After the house was sold, Victoria and I lived in several Tampa houses and apartments.
Victoria and her best friend Ara Rogers were working for Lee Levengood in the USF student affairs department. In 1992 Victoria became a department head in the USF College of Public Health under Dr. Betty Gulitz. She (Victoria) developed fibromyalgia, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. In 1993 Victoria was appointed on a special grant to be administrative assistant to USF Provost Kathleen Moore, reporting to Dan Gardiner. She fell and broke her foot and was in a wheelchair. I cared for her. In 1995 Victoria graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
In December of 2004 Victoria and I, and two couples who were related to Victoria went on a one-week cruise to the Caribbean. It was a great time and we had fun.
However, on Feb. 12, 2005, Victoria and I had a bitter disagreement. My music business and her career at the University of South Florida were incompatible. She moved out to live with her friend Ara Rogers. I moved out of the apartment in March to stay with Roland Hanneman and to be close to the Clarence Simmons family in Orlando. (Another new friend he had met in Florida.) In April John Wise (Victoria’s brother) came to Tampa and helped Victoria move her stuff into storage. I did not see Victoria for several months. She moved into her own apartment in the Carrollwood section of Tampa.
In the meantime, James Brown worked steady–one nighters and concerts, working out of New York City. His international fame led him to Europe and Africa. He was the most popular American artist on the continent. His American dates diminished, and he spent more and more time abroad in Europe, Africa and South America. He was getting older–but, always James Brown–dancing and singing.
I sued James Brown in Orlando federal court in 2005. On the witness stand under oath he “claimed not knowing a Hal G. Neely or any association with Mr. Neely.” Never even heard of me. My lawyer asked to approach the bench and placed in front of the judge a folder of King legal documents (contracts etc.) signed by James Brown and Hal Neely. The judge awarded all James Brown “phonograph master recordings and tapes to Hal G. Neely, subject only to legal applicable royalties, commissions and fees.” I saw a black man turn white.
He was one of the great icons and talents of our current global music era. It is unfortunate that in his later career and life he became a liar and a cheat. He has not kept faith with those who helped him. So be it.
Roland Hanneman sold his house in Orlando in 2005 and built a big new house off Croom Road in Brooksville, Florida, 40 miles north of Tampa. I rented a nice one-bedroom apartment in the Candlelight Apartment Complex in Brooksville. I lived alone with my music. I didn’t have a car and couldn’t walk, but I had good neighbors. I was 84 years old and living on my Social Security. I had no fear of death, but I didn’t intend on volunteering anytime soon.
Roland Hanneman and Clarence Simmons, music associates and friends for many years, moved me on June 5, 2006, into Tangerine Cove, an assisted living community in downtown Brooksville. By this time I was 86 years young and very happy. With my mobility scooter, I was able to get around.
I had always been an Irish/Scotch Protestant– born a Methodist, joined and supported the Presbyterian Church for years. My friends George and Bobbi Rubis took me to their church several times. Pastor Vic McCormick, his wife LaDonna and Abe Guillermo were its leaders. Abe taught Sunday morning’s lesson. He was a brilliant man and the best Christian scholar I ever met. Abe baptized me in the swimming pool at the home of Gene and Sharon Bell. Most of the congregation attended.
James Brown was getting older too. He spent more and more time on his estate in South Carolina across the state line from Macon, Georgia. His daughters ran his office in Macon. He married again and had a son. A problem arose because his new wife’s divorce had never been finalized.
James died suddenly on Christmas Day 2006. His will left all his assets to his five living children from previous marriages. There was a problem with his new wife and their son because they had not yet remarried. It went to the courts to determine the inclusion of this wife and their young son.
I was invited to his funeral but had to decline. I was 86 years young and could no longer travel. We had known each other for 41 years.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Nine


Eleuthera at night
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. As his voyage home to the Bahamas, he recalls his early life, including his father’s death and working for the mysterious Ribbentrops.
(Author’s note: this chapter contains mature situations.)
For the next few weeks Leon spent hours wandering the grounds. His first suggestion was to replace the gate of iron bars with thick wooden doors. No one could shoot through wooden doors and make a quick getaway. Mr. Ribbentrop agreed and promptly made the changes; however, when Leon also recommended cementing broken bottles to the top of the wall, the master rejected it because he thought the house would look more like a prison than a home.
One day Mrs. Ribbentrop told Leon she felt like going to the market and asked him to accompany her. As they walked among the stalls of fruits and vegetables, she said, “I hope I didn’t put you in an uncomfortable position. I mean, you indeed have many admirable qualities but …you’re so young. What do you know of self-defense? Fighting and such things.”
“You don’t know the heritage of the Johnson family, even going back to a time and place where we weren’t even Johnsons. Back in Africa, we were warriors, not very good warriors. We lost and were sold into slavery. Each man in every generation taught his sons ancient tribal skills. My father taught me secret techniques to protect myself and to kill. Your concerns, fortunately, are unfounded. I might appear young and naïve but I am capable of being a very bad little boy.”
That night Leon awoke with a start. His bedroom was just down the hall from the Ribbentrops’ suite. Instinctively he jumped from his bed and instead of putting on his pants Leon ran naked toward their room though he heard no sounds or saw any lights. Just as he entered two men come through the open window from the courtyard. He dove at them as if he were a rock from a slingshot.
His body rammed into the first intruder, the impact sent all three to the floor. Leon leapt up and saw the throat of one of the men, exposed like a turkey neck on a chopping block. He stomped on it with his bare heel until he heard the larynx crack. Then he pressed down with his full weight until the man’s face turned blue and his last breath escaped his lips.
“For God’s sake, boy!” Ribbentrop yelled as he lumbered from bed. “What the hell are you doing? Have you lost your mind?”
“Heinrich?” his wife murmured as she stirred from a deep sleep. “What’s going on?”
Ribbentrop stormed around the corner of the bed. The second intruder scrambled to his feet and lunged at him with a knife. Ribbentrop’s eyes bulged as the blade slid upward under his ribcage.
Leon turned and kicked the attacker in the back of his knee. He crumbled and dropped the knife. Leon picked it up and rammed it into the intruder’s jugular and twisted.
Both Ribbentrop and his assailant gurgled blood before falling over dead. Leon spun to the window to make sure there were not others waiting outside.
“Leon,” the wife whispered, reaching over to turn on the lamp on the nightstand, “are you all right?”
“Yes.” Caring more about what money he could find than about the life of his boss, Leon knelt by the two strangers searching their pockets. He found a few guineas and took them. “My father taught me well.” He checked her husband for a pulse. “I’m afraid Mr. Ribbentrop is dead. Your husband should have agreed to the bottle shards. They came over the wall.”
Mrs. Ribbentrop rose from the bed and neglected to put on her bathrobe on a nearby chair. A silky nightgown clung to her body. “My husband was a fool. He killed himself. Besides, they came for me. Have you heard of the Romanovs?”
“Yes, my father read the newspaper to me every day.”
“I am a cousin to the czar. We’re a ruthless family. We’ve never had a high regard for anyone’s life, except our own. Heinrich offered to marry me and take me away for a substantial dowery. So what are we going to do now?”
Leon rolled the men onto the bedroom rug. “I hope this was not special to you.”
“That’s the shame of it. Nothing is special to me. Sometimes I wish I could be horrified by blood and death.”
“I have to wrap up the assassins. I have a friend who can help me dispose of them at sea.”
“God, you are a cold-hearted bastard,” she said with twisted humor. “Do you even care the Bolsheviks are after me?”
“The Freeport authorities aren’t accustomed to triple homicides. They will bungle the investigation and be more concerned that a black boy killed two white men than the fact they killed your husband.”
“I’d explain it to them.”
‘Really? Make international headlines so the Bolsheviks will know where you are? I think you care about your own life more than mine.”
“You’re probably right.”
“I’m concerned with body disposal now.” Leon began tugging the carpet toward the door.
“What do we do about Heinrich?”
“Do you have a family physician who would rule his death a heart attack? Remember, you don’t want to make headlines.”
She smirked. “For enough money our doctor will say anything. And how did you come up with a heart attack?”
“Well, his heart was certainly attacked.” He paused. “You better call him tonight.” Leon smiled. “And yes, I’m glad I at least saved you.”
“I think I’ll move to the American West. They know how to handle Bolsheviks there.”
Leon stood and moved to the door. “I have to fetch my friend.”
She stepped over the bodies and went to him. “I’m sorry this means your job is gone. I have a large purse of gold coins in the safe. They’re yours.” She paused to mull a weighty matter on her mind. “I was wrong about you. You are a bad boy. There are jobs for bad boys. Don’t ask me how I know, but I do know. Sometime—maybe soon, maybe later—someone will approach you to do evil things for large amounts of money. That way you can support your family.” She shook her head. “I don’t know if I am doing you a favor or not.”
“Believe me. It is a favor.”
“After tonight we must never see each other again.” She paused to keep tears from forming. “I have one last request as your employer.”
“Of course. Anything.” His mind was a blank as to what she might want.
She put her hands to his cheeks, pausing to consider her white skin against his black face. She pushed her lips against his.
“God, I am a Bolshevik,” she murmured.
Leon felt a surge in his body. She put her arms around his neck. He picked her up and carried her to the bed.
Leon shook his head to stop the memory even though it was very pleasurable. Coming back to the present, he sat up in old Joe’s boat to see the Eleuthera dock. Standing on the keel, he anticipated the landing. As the boat thunked against the dock, Leon bounded ashore.
“Thank you, Joe!”
“Anytime, boy. Give your ma a hug for me!”
He ran down the dusty road, passing the now-empty Ribbentrop mansion. When he reached his family’s little house his mother greeted him at the door with an embrace.
“My little boy! How good you look!”

My Lips Are Sealed

(Author’s note: This story contains mature dialogue.)
Dammit, I had to pick up my brother Royce at Love Field again. He would be drunk and would slur insults all the way from Dallas to our home in Gainesville, an hour’s drive away.
One thing I liked about my father was that he had confidence in me not to get in any trouble. One thing I didn’t like about my father was that he made me go to the airport when my brother was flying in on leave from the Marines. I was eighteen, and today that would be considered child abuse but in 1966 it was okay.
Experience told me to skip going to the gate. Go straight to the main concourse bar, and there Royce was, sitting at the bar bending some guy’s ear.
“…and that’s why you should never eat breakfast.”
As soon as I walked up, the guy mumbled something about Royce’s ride being here, threw some bills at the bartender and got the hell away from my brother as fast as he could. In a few minutes we were driving on Mockingbird Lane toward the interstate when my brother ordered me to take a left at the next block.”
“What?”
“Just do it! Dammit!”
One thing I learned about driving with a drunk in the car. Go ahead and do what they say. A lot less hell to pay. Next he pointed to an apartment complex on the right and demanded I pull in there. After I stopped the car and turned off the engine, I guessed that Royce had progressed from mere alcohol to marijuana, and this is where his dealer lived.
“Go ahead and thank me. I’m going to get you laid.”
“What?”
“Just get out of the car! Dammit!”
So we got out of the car, and Royce staggered toward an apartment and banged on the door.
“Candy! I got some business for ya!”
“Is that you, Royce?” a woman with a husky Texan drawl called out. “Haven’t I told you time and time again I don’t do that shit anymore? I’m gonna be an actress, so go to hell!”
“It’s not for me, Candy. It’s my baby brother.”
“No! Go away!”
Royce repeated the name Candy loudly in a sing-song voice until the door opened, and a dirty blonde in capri pants and a loose man’s shirt grabbed my brother’s arm and pulled him in.
“Shut up for God’s sake!” she hissed. “The neighbors will call the cops!” Then she looked at me. “You too, little boy. Are you really this drunk’s brother?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I replied softly as I entered the apartment. It wasn’t as run-down as I thought. Actually, it was rather expensive looking.
“I want him to lose it tonight,” Royce announced, pointing at me. “And you’re the girl to do it.”
“Royce,” Candy said with a sigh and shaking her head, “you have pulled some stupid shit before but this is absolutely crazy.”
He ignored her, fumbled with his wallet, pulling five twenty dollar bills and shoving them into my hand. “Now don’t you dare give her the money until you got what you came here for.”
“You’re not going to watch, are you? I mean, you’re not going to tell me where to put my elbows and things like that?”
“Dammit, kid. You don’t know what I’m doin’ here. This bitch is Candy Barr! The best whore in Dallas!”
“I told you, Royce, I don’t do johns anymore! I’m a dancer!”
“Then why did you lay me?” he shot back.
Candy smiled slightly. “Because you looked so pitiful when you came into the Colony Club that night. You didn’t even know what kind of drink to order.”
“Well, he’s more pitiful than I was, so get in that bedroom! I want to get home and get some sleep!”
Candy motioned at me, and I followed her into the bedroom.
“First thing, go into the bathroom, take off your clothes, take a hot, soapy shower, and when you come out I’ll be in bed.”
“I took a bath before I drove down here,” I replied weakly.
“Dammit, do what she says, kid!”
Royce must have had his ear crammed next to the door.
“I’m so nervous I don’t think I can turn the shower knob on. Could you show me?”
Candy was smarter than she looked because she cocked her head, as though she knew what I was thinking.
“Sure, little boy. This way.”
After we entered the bathroom I turned the shower on and closed the door so Royce couldn’t hear us.
“So you’re the Candy Barr, Jack Ruby’s girlfriend?”
“Well, let’s just say friend. Jack’s not exactly boyfriend material.”
I couldn’t help but smile. “So you know a lot about who killed Kennedy?”
“You don’t want to know, little boy.”
“Yes, I do. Listen, I’m not going to go to bed with you. You seem like a nice lady, but, no offense, you’re really too old for me.”
“Thank God, somebody in Royce’s family has some sense.”
“So we’ll go back into the bedroom, bounce on the mattress while you whisper stuff about the assassination in my ear. Then I give you the hundred bucks, and Royce will get off my back, okay?”
She nodded and turned off the water. As we walked back into the bedroom she whispered, “Your brother likes a lot of noise, you know what I mean?”
“Oh, you’re really hot!” I screamed as we sat on the bed and started bouncing.
“Thatta boy, kid!” Royce yelled on the door, banging it with his open palm.
“Oh, yes, yes, yes,” Candy purred as she leaned in and began murmuring all the good dirt on what happened that day three years ago.
“Wow!” That was actually in response to what she told me, but it also pleased Royce to no end.
“That’s it! That’s it!”
I had some theories of my own about who shot President Kennedy, but I would have never guessed the truth.
“What’s goin’ on in there? I don’t hear any action!”
“Now! Now! Now!” Candy was in hysterics. I decided she would be a good actress.
My mind went blank, so I had to improvise.
“Oh, come all ye faithful!” I sang. It was all I could think of.
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” Royce was enjoying this way too much.
While I put my clothes back on, Candy muttered one last thing in my ear. “By the way, little boy, you can’t ever tell anyone this, because some big thug will come in the middle of the night and blow your head off.” She put her hands on my face and smiled. “And it’s such a sweet little head, too.” Then she kissed my forehead.
I handed her the hundred dollars and opened the door. Royce hugged me, unintelligibly congratulating me on my transition into manhood.
“Was it great?”
“Words can’t describe it.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Thirty-Three


Ward Hill Lamon
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton held President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. He guided his substitute Lincoln through his first Cabinet meeting. Then he told Lincoln’s bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon into believing Lincoln and his wife were in hiding because of death threats. Lincoln’s secretaries realize something is wrong but are afraid to say anything. Janitor Gabby Zook, caught in the basement room with the Lincolns, begins to think he is president. Mrs. Lincoln decides to befriend him.

One mid-afternoon, after two months of ruminations about his confrontation with Secretary of War Stanton and his henchman Lafayette Baker over the disappearance of Abraham Lincoln and the substitution of a double, Ward Lamon climbed the steps of the Executive Mansion,. Entering the door, he nodded at guard John Parker, who, he noticed, was already glazed of eye from an early beer. Coming down the stairs was Stanton; Lamon quickened his step. Stopping abruptly when he saw Lamon, Stanton pursed his lips.
“Mr. Lamon, what are you doing here?”
“Remember, it was your idea I come back,” Lamon replied. “After all, Abraham Lincoln is a personal friend of mine. He allowed me to pretend I was his law partner once. Even if I don’t work for him anymore, I’m still his friend.”
“Lamon…”
“And people might wonder why I never visit my old friend anymore.”
Stanton puffed, stammered, but ultimately walked away. Lamon mounted the grand stairway, skipping every other step, eager to meet the impostor. Going down the hall, Lamon looked around and spotted the new Mrs. Lincoln, obviously a double because she had kinder eyes than the real Mary Lincoln. Opening the door, Tad smiled at Lamon.
“Mr. Lamon! I haven’t seen you in a coon’s age!”
“Good to see you, Tad.” He patted the boy’s shoulder. Despite the opinions of others, Lamon liked Lincoln’s rambunctious son, because he reminded Lamon of himself as a child. If Tad survived his childhood, he would make a good bodyguard or policeman. “The marshal’s office has kept me busy. I promise not to be a stranger anymore.”
“Good.” Tad ran down the hall. “Tom Pen! Tom Pen!”
Continuing the other way, Lamon was eager to see the double, wondering if he measured up to the original. He went through the glass panels and turned right into the first office. The bearded man at the desk looked up, momentarily went blank, then smiled in recognition.
“Mr. Lamon, so good to see you again.”
Frowning, Lamon carefully shut the door, pulled a chair close to the president’s desk, then sat and leaned close the double.
“You’ve never met me before in your life and you know it.”
“I—I don’t know what you mean.”
“I know you’re a fraud, supposedly because my Mr. Lincoln is hiding out somewhere. I don’t believe it. Abraham Lincoln never hid from anybody.” He paused to examine the man’s eyes to detect what lurked behind them. “Where’s Mr. Lincoln?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“Why not?”
“Mr. Stanton wouldn’t like it.”
“I don’t care what Mr. Stanton likes. What would Mr. Lincoln like?”
“I assume Mr. Lincoln wouldn’t like it either. After all, this entire situation is Mr. Lincoln’s idea. If he wanted Mr. Stanton to tell you, you’d know.”
Fluttering eyelashes betrayed him. Lamon decided the double was afraid of Stanton and couldn’t tell the truth. Standing, Lamon patted him on the shoulder.
“Well, we shall be friends then,” he said. “Don’t be bothered if I drop in from time to time for an aimless chat. I visited Mr. Lincoln often, and he enjoyed it.”
“Then I shall enjoy your visits too.”
Lamon left and went to the secretaries’ office. He had known Nicolay and Hay since the carefree days in Illinois. Lingering at their door, he listened to their conversation.
“…and she’s a senator’s daughter, in addition to being attractive and extremely well-mannered,” Hay said. “I think she’s potential matrimonial material.”
“Ja,” Nicolay replied. “And the president can give you away.”

James Brown’s Favorite Uncle The Hal Neely Story Chapter Thirty-One


Manuel Noriega
Previously in the book: Nebraskan Hal Neely began his career touring with big bands and worked his way into Syd Nathan’s King records, producing rock and country songs. Along the way he worked with James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, who referred to Neely as his favorite uncle. Eventually he became one of the owners of Starday-King, until the other owners bought him out.He found himself sitting further back in music industry room.

In 1989 Hal Neely and Victoria Wise left the problems of Nashville behind and moved to Orlando, Florida. They looked forward to new careers in music, film, and education based on the connections they had made over the years.
For example, Neely had been a judge in the Miss Panama beauty pageant which was part of the Miss Universe franchise. During this project he met a former diplomat to the Vatican and a retired actor who was a member of one of the seven families that formed the core of Panama’s society in the early 1900s. He also befriended President Manuel Noriega.
In Florida Wise wrote a screenplay called “Panama Bay,” an Indiana Jones-type adventure and encouraged Neely to find investors to finance it. Neely contacted his old friend Noriega, told him about the film project and talked him into spearheading it along with his other influential friends.1
Noriega was not exactly the best government leader to be doing business with at the time. He had a reputation as a corrupt and heavy-handed dictator.
Noriega came into this world under corrupt circumstances, the result of a liaison between an accountant and his maid in 1934. Five years later a school teacher adopted him. He received a scholarship to a military academy in Peru where he graduated with a degree in engineering. When he returned to Panama Noriega became a favorite in the Army of Col. Omar Torrijos. Noriega took control of Panama after Torrijos died in a mysterious airplane crash. His reign over the Panamanian people became so oppressive that the United States considered intervention.2
Neely and Wise apparently were more interested in their film project than keeping up with the current political situation. Even today, years later, Wise becomes enthusiastic describing the plot.
“The movie opened on the sea at dawn as a B-52 buzzed a hotel on a small island owned by a young woman named Hattie who came from a rich family,” Wise explained. “A vast treasure had been found on Hattie’s island.” This drew the attention of the Indiana Jones character which Wise called Ace. A love triangle developed between Hattie, Ace, and an old sea captain. Wise wanted the main characters played by Sheree North, Sheb Woolly and Burl Ives. “I had a lot of fun writing it,” Wise said. “I’m kind of glad no one changed it around.”
In December of 1989 Neely and Wise flew to Panama to scout out shooting locations for the movie. Noriega arranged for them to go through the exclusive route at the airport. After they got off the airplane, Neely showed Wise to the VIP lounge. As they were enjoying their cocktails, men in uniform escorted them to an interrogation room where they demanded to know what Neely and Wise were doing in the lounge. Neely said nothing but gave them a telephone number to call. It turned out to be the personal number of Noriega’s mistress. After the mistress explained the situation to the men in uniform, the officials were very polite and escorted them to their hotel. The next few days went very smoothly. Noriega gave Wise a necklace which consisted of two pieces of Plexiglas, one side yellow and the other side blue.
Then Neely got a call from the office of Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker telling him to leave everything, including his clothing and film equipment, at the hotel and go immediately to the airport to fly home.3
Operation Just Cause, a full-scale attack with 24,000 American troops, had just begun. Over the next four days several hundred American troops and thousands of Panamanian soldiers died. Noriega surrendered to the Vatican Embassy on January 3, 1990. The United States convicted him on drug charges, and the new Panamanian government wanted to try him on murder charges.4 “Panama Bay” was never produced, which became a pattern of behavior for Neely, according to his friend Art Williams who also moved to Florida in the 1990s. Neely became easily excited about business deals which never came to fruition.5
Perhaps the most fortunate meeting in Neely’s later years came at Orlando International Airport in 1989 when by chance he came upon musician Roland Hanneman who had brought a mutual acquaintance to catch a flight. After the man had boarded his airplane Neely and Hanneman realized they had quite a bit in common. The man who had just left them had taken them both for not inconsiderable amounts of money.
“He would shake your hand with one hand and give you a rubber check with the other,” Hanneman said. “Hal told me that this fellow had sold him music which he didn’t own and that he was always one step ahead of federal authorities.”
Over the next few years Neely and Hanneman worked on several small music projects. Neely produced albums for people in country and gospel music.
Hanneman, a native of Great Britain, is also known in the entertainment industry as John St. John. He studied music at the Cambridge College of Arts. After moving to the United States, Hanneman worked for Miami’s WINZ as production director. He has recorded and/or produced for the Miami Sound Machine, Mary Hart, Jon Secada, Clint Holmes, Jimmy Buffett, the Orlando Philharmonic and many more musical projects. He has written music for two Orange Bowl Shows and composed and/or produced more than 241 records and CDs. He has his own production company.6
“Hal was an extremely generous man and was always helping people. But he could see through people in seconds,” Hanneman said. “I would run people past him to get an opinion, and he was never once wrong about any of them. I asked him once how he could judge people so well and he replied, ‘I’m a hustler, and a hustler can always spot another hustler.’
Hal described his life as being fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and somewhat charmed, but he was always–to his dying day–looking ahead to some kind of business venture. It was difficult for him to accept the industry had changed and the paradigm had shifted. At one time, 200,000 records were a lot but now it’s half a million.”
Hanneman learned Neely’s technique of using ego to get his way with an artist. One time Hanneman was trying to get payment from a client who had recorded at his studio. Neely volunteered to get the money for him.
“Hal called the guy, identified himself as ABC Records and offered a record contract on his cassette and a plane ticket to California. ‘You do own all the rights, don’t you?’ Hal asked him.” Neely offered him $10,000 for the master tape remix. The man immediately called Hanneman for the master tape, but Hanneman told him he had to pay the full amount of the studio fees to get it.
“The next week he called Hal who told him this song might be used in a movie so he increased his offer to $25,000 and again reminded the man he had to have the master tape.” He called Hanneman again and agreed to pay the full amount and was at his doorstep the next morning with the cash. He received his master tape, but he never heard from the guy from ABC records again. 7
Neely’s relationship with Wise resulted in marriage in October of 1990, one day after his divorce from Mary Stone Neely was final. He was seventy years old, and she was in her middle forties.
Wise had fond memories of her years with Neely. They would pack a lunch and a bottle of wine, go on long drives in the country and have conversations about acoustic theories. For example, she said, boys between the age of 10 and 11 are at the peak of their hearing capacity to discern low-level tones. They even talked about the sound of wooden posts as they drove by would change according to the thickness of wood, speed of the car and spacing of the posts
“Hal would write letters with poor grammar to somebody about credit card issues, threatening lawsuits and saying he was sending copies to officials,” Wise said. “And then he would sign my name.”
Wise said she was bothered because she did not notice Neely’s decline into dementia but only concentrated on how hurt she felt during his emotional outbursts.
“He was like an angry gorilla throwing things.”
When Neely’s brother Sam came to visit them in Orlando they would wait at the curb right in front of a liquor store, Wise related. Sam went in, but when he came out he didn’t recognize the car. “I could see it (the cognitive decline) in Sam but not in Hal.”8
His finances began to decline also, to such an extent that Neely had to sell off personal items, Hanneman said. Neely had a Baldwin grand piano which had belonged to Liberace. Neely thought the provenance would make it more valuable, but he had trouble selling it for a good price. The person who finally bought it never paid for it.
Neely and Wise moved to an apartment in Tampa so she could study geriatrics at the University of South Florida.9
***
It was during this time James Brown was paroled from the South Carolina prison where he had spent 2 1/2 years of a six-year sentence. Upon his release in February of 1991 he announced a Freedom Tour.
“I am hotter now than I ever was in my life,” he announced to the press. In March of 1991 he starred in a live, pay-per-view concert from Los Angeles, and by the end of the year produced a new album “Love Over Due.”10
***
Neely’s marriage to Wise steadily declined throughout the 1990s while she continued her studies and eventually worked at the University of South Florida in Tampa. As she studied, Neely produced gospel music for small groups in central Florida. Eventually they separated in 2003, and Neely came to rely more and more on his friends Hanneman and Williams.
“Hal would come to my house to sit by the pool and cry about the way Victoria treated him and talked to him,” Williams said. “I told him to go back to Mary who had a farm in Nebraska.” When Mary died she left the farm to her family members who, according to Williams, detested Neely.
Sitting around the pool, Neely also complained about business deals which had gone badly for him, particularly the sale of Starday-King master recordings to Moe Lytle of Gusto Records.
“He hated this guy(Moe Lytle). They would tell anyone wanting rights to sell not to deal with the other one. Each claimed the same catalog. It ended in a stalemate with no one buying the rights. Hal was always involved with threatening to sue people and writing letters. One of his lawyers would filter them. He had no follow through on legal matters.”
Neely told Williams he was going to serve Wise with divorce papers but he never did.
“I told Hal to sue her for support,” Williams said
Williams also suggested to Neely that he should apply for Medicaid. “As long as Hal sat there and talked about his million-dollar catalog he wasn’t getting Medicaid. He had to admit he was broke.”
Another mutual friend told Williams he should help out Neely financially, but he declined. “I had lent him thousands of dollars over the years. People who loved Hal took care of him, and it may not have been the best for him.
“Hal never lost his optimism and always thought the deal was about to happen. The catalog deal was always about to break.”11

1 Wise Interview.
2 http://notable_biographies.com/Ni-Pe/Noriega_Manuel.html.
3 Wise Interview.
4 http://notable_biographies.com/Ni-Pe/Noriega_Manuel.html.
5 Williams Interview.
6 Hanneman Interview.
7 Ibid.
8 Wise Interview.
9 Hanneman Interview.
10 The Life of James Brown, 183.
11 Williams Interview.

The Haunting of Maude

Many things didn’t measure up to Maude’s standards. If she didn’t like the way her daughter Janet made her bed Maude would remake it herself before Janet came home from school. When Maude retired to Florida and had a heart attack, Janet and I moved to live close to her. We spent the first weekend after Thanksgiving decorating her house for Christmas. The next time we came over we saw that all the decorations had been changed by her housekeeper. Maude explained it had to look just right in case her church friends came to visit.
When things didn’t go exactly the way she wanted, Maude’s feelings were hurt, although she always insisted nothing hurt her feelings. I pressed that I could tell something had gone wrong. She snapped, “Of course my feelings were hurt.” I should have had the good sense to know her feelings were hurt without forcing her to say so.
But she was haunted only one time, and the haunting lasted for years.
She and her husband Jim flew down to Texas for Christmas when our son Josh was about two years old. Janet and I found Tonka trucks on sale and bought two for him. They were almost big enough for him to ride. When Maude and Jim saw them, they had to buy three more.
Call me old-fashioned, but I felt like I was spoiling Josh by getting him two. Now he had five, and I don’t think he exactly knew what to do with them all. Janet, better acquainted with her parents better than I, gave me strict instructions to smile and thank them for buying him enough trucks to start his own landfill company.
Finally that blessed day came when we drove them to the airport. At the gate I handed Josh over to say good-bye to Grandpa and Grandma. I think he misunderstood my intentions because when he was ensconced in Maude’s arms he turned to look at me and, with tears in his eyes, said, “Good-bye.”
“Oh no, dear, you’re not saying good-bye to your mommy and daddy,” Maude explained. “You’re saying good-bye to us.”
When the situation was made clear, Josh leapt from her arms back into mine. He started stroking the back of my head. With a sweet smile he looked back at his grandparents and said, “Good-bye.”
Okay, I have to admit I liked having him pat and stroke the back of my head as we returned to our car. This was going to be one of those memories tucked away in the recesses of my brain and brought out when I needed a nice smile.
Of course, with Maude, that was not to be. For the next several years when we gathered together she would talk of the time when Josh was handed to her and he thought he was going home with them instead.
“Oh, the look in his sad little eyes,” Maude emoted, “and then the look of joy as he jumped out of my arms to his father. It just haunts me.”
A couple of years later when we visited them in Virginia, Maude purposely told Janet and me to stay at their home while she took Josh to her husband’s office. When they returned, Maude was elated. She told us that as they walked in, my son squealed, “Granddaddy!” and ran into his arms.
“The look on Jim’s face was pure joy. The women in the office ‘oohed” and ‘ahed’ about how much Josh adored his grandfather.” Maude inserted a dramatic pause worthy of any tragic actress. “That’s why I was glad Jerry wasn’t there. Otherwise, Josh would have stuck to his father and not gone to Jim.”
She repeated the stories of the haunting throughout the years until, against my better judgement, I asked her why it bothered her so much that Josh clung to me as a child.
“Oh, it didn’t bother me.”
“But the word you chose to describe it was ‘haunted’.”
“Well, I just meant it stayed with me.”
“That’s not what the word haunted means. Haunted means it covered you with gloom.”
As she often did when a conversation turned in a direction she didn’t like, Maude looked off into space as though she were talking to someone who didn’t exist.
“I just can’t say anything around him without him becoming upset.”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Eight


Great white
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. As his voyage home to the Bahamas, he recalls his early life.

“We’re almost there,” old Joe said softly to the young man returning from his adventure. “Be sure to tell your mum Dotty that I sent my best regards. If I had been blessed with a wife and family, I would have been proud to have a son like pop Jedidiah or a daughter like Dotty.”
Leon smiled. The old man’s comment took him back many years when his family told him the story that it had been Joe who first hired Jed to work on his fishing boat. Joe taught him all the skills needed to be a successful fisherman. It was Joe who sold his best boat to Jed to start his own business. After Cyrus disowned Jed, Joe became his surrogate father. And it was Joe who saved Leon’s life two years ago.
It happened when Leon joined Jed on the boat to learn how to be a good fisherman. Jed often told him the stories of Moses and Cyrus Johnson about how their ancestors in Africa were lousy fighters and that was why they were sold into slavery. Jed taught Leon how to fight. “Learn good reflexes—attack first if possible,” Jed told him. “If not, respond fast with overwhelming force. With surprise on your side, you can defeat a larger foe.”
“Pop, I can’t imagine having a better father than you,” Leon said, with the innocence of a sixteen years old. He was being completely truthful. “If I spend the rest of my life doing the same job you have done, I will be proud.”
“I’m glad you’ll be proud, but we’re fishing right now.” Jed did not lecture on the virtues of fishing. He lived the virtues of fishing.
Leon’s memory of that day was disjointed. The last thing he clearly remembered was pulling in a net filled with fish.
“Let it go,” Jed muttered. “Let it go. We’ve got to get out of here.”
The boy did not understand. They had been fishing in these waters for years. “Why? We have a good catch.”
“I said drop the net, now!”
When Leon looked up to his horror he understood the need to to leave immediately. A great white shark headed right toward their small vessel.
“Maybe it will be a distracted by the fish in the net,” Jed said as he started casting the sail for a swift escape.
It was too late. The shark was not interested in the fish net. It rammed the side of the boat, knocking Jed off balance. “Get in the bottom of the boat and hold on. No matter what you hear don’t let go. If the boat capsizes, hold on. The hull will protect you.”
By this time the shark circled around and rammed the boat again. From his position in the hull, Leon could see his father fly off the side. Against his father’s orders Leon peeked over the side to see Jed splash in the water. The shark attacked, chomping down with the full power of its huge jaws into his father’s body. Jed screamed as blood exploded everywhere. Leon slowly slid back to the bottom of the hull, awaiting a similar fate. But there was only silence. All was still. Should he look up, he asked himself. No, he had already disobeyed his father’s orders once. Just hold on. Just hold on, he repeated in his mind. Tears streamed down his cheeks. No more disturbance from the ocean. But still he held on.
“Ahoy there!” a familiar voice rang out. “Are you there, boy?” It was Joe.
Leon stuck his head up. There was no net of fish. His father was gone. And he noticed a crack in the wooden hull. The boat was slowly sinking. Joe reached out to him.
“I saw the whole thing from shore,” Joe said. “I got here as soon as I could.”
“My pop is dead, isn’t he?”
Joe pulled Leon into his boat. “You know, it’s not best to dwell on it. Others who saw it on the beach have probably already told Dotty.”
They returned to the small Johnson home where Dorothy had a meal on the table. Places were set for herself, Leon, his three sisters and Joe, but not for Jed. His mother knew that Jed was dead, but she did not speak of it. Leon studied her taciturn face and saw nothing, no tears, no grief, no fear. Dotty had always been like that. No need to speak of things that could not be changed. They ate in silence.
The next day, Joe came by and offered Leon a job on his boat. “Same deal your pa had,” he said.
“So I can turn out the same way?” Seeds of doubt began to grow in Leon’s mind about the virtues of being a fisherman.
Joe shook his hand. “You know where I live.” He turned and walked away.
Leon took the opposite direction, looking for a different life. He had only walked a mile or two down the beach when he came across a high adobe wall with a wrought-iron gate. He paused to look inside. Beyond the courtyard was a severe plantation home, a popular style in those parts of the Caribbean but this one was different. It had an air of something suitable for a place like Sweden, Germany perhaps but probably Russian. Leon was intrigued. He sensed a lifestyle never before seen on Eleuthera.
He continued staring through the gate bars for what may have bordered on being inappropriate. Finally a man in a white tunic shirt and jodhpurs strolled with authority across the courtyard.
“Have you come for the security position?”
“Yes.” That, of course, was a lie but he somehow felt his ancestors would have approved.
The man appraised his appearance. “You don’t look like someone who could handle himself in a difficult situation.”
“Yesterday a great white shark broadsided my father’s fishing boat.” He paused, knowing it would cause a dramatic effect. “My father died and I survived to apply for a new job today. My credentials are years of fishing in a flimsy boat and surviving.”
The man disappeared into the house and returned a few moments later. He took Leon directly to a grand room decorated with gold columns and stained glass. A couple, looking to be in their late forties or early fifties, sat at a long table eating lobster and rice. Although their clothing appeared to be summer casual suitable for the Bahamian climate, a closer examination revealed a deeper weave and subtle details. They were very wealthy.
Leon noticed fine Egyptian cotton and exquisite linen in the shorts and shirts. Each wore impressive rings upon their fingers. The woman had multiple strands of pearls around her delicate neck. From time to time, the man put down his utensils to puff on a cigar. Leon could tell by the aroma it was made of fine Turkish tobacco. While Jed could not afford such a lifestyle he certainly was aware of it and frequently pointed it out to Leon. The boy certainly knew the high life when he saw it.
Smiling, Leon decided Moses and Cyrus would have approved of service to such grand personages. He waited for one of them to speak.
“What is your name?” The man did not shift his attention from his plate.
“Leon Johnson, sir.”
“My butler tells me your father died yesterday.”
“Yes, sir.”
“You must be a cold-hearted little bastard to go hunting for a job the day of your father’s funeral.”
“It’s not so much the matter of a cold heart as much as empty bellies. My family must eat,” Leon replied in such an intelligent, slightly humorous manner so not to be disrespectful.
“Dear,” the wife said. “If the boy’s father died in a shark attack there would be no need of a funeral. Because there would be no body.” She turned to appraise Leon. “And how many are in your family?”
“My mother and three sisters. We also have several elderly neighbors who are in need of assistance. My father strongly believed in matters of charity, ma’am.”
The man coughed. “There’s no need to ramble on like you were writing a Russian novel.”
“I think Leon will do quite nicely,” she said and then sipped her tea.
“Have you gone mad?” Her husband was practically apoplectic. “He’s just a child!”
“How hold are you, Leon?” she asked.
“Sixteen.”
She asked her husband, “Did you watch your father die in the jaws of a giant animal when you were sixteen?”
“That’s ridiculous! Of course not!”
“That one fact makes Leon more qualified as a personal bodyguard than you. In addition, I imagine he is quite strong from years of dragging in the fish nets. Most important of all, Leon is wise and compassionate.”
“Why don’t you run off and marry a Bolshevik and get it over with?” the man muttered.
“Ignore him, Leon. He has been out of sorts lately. There are rumors of revolution back home. That is why we have taken up residence here in the Bahamas and why we have need of a personal bodyguard.”
“And what may I call you?” Leon tried to remind them they had not given their names.
“Sir and madam,” the man sneered.
“We are Mr. and Mrs. Heinrich Von Ribbentrop,” the woman replied. She looked beyond Leon to the butler standing at the door. “Gregory, take young Mr. Johnson to the servants closet to fit him out.” She returned her attention to Leon. “Of course, you must sleep in. I’m sure your family will understand. After you settle into your room go see my private secretary. He will give you two weeks wages in advance so you can take it to your mother.”