David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Fifty-Two

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on a mission because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer, also a spy, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David becomes king. Wallis divorces, David abdicates and Leon declines to kill.
Wallis awoke in Chateau Cande the morning after the wedding to the sight of David wearing nothing but a winning smile as he stood over her.
“Well,” he asked, “what do we do now?”
She was taken aback because someone in MI6 always told them what to do next. It wasn’t up to them. “How the hell would I know? I’m only the simpering bride.”
“Why don’t we blow up a train?”
“Before lunch?”
“Oh no.” He sat on the bed and leaned into her. “We have three months of honeymooning in an Austrian castle to work out the details. General Trotter slipped a note into one of our wedding presents that I happened to open last night. The Germans are up to something and we have to derail a train before it reaches an Italian port.” He shifted his body. “Do you mind my being so close?”
“I didn’t know you cared.”
“I haven’t made up my mind yet.”
That afternoon they packed their bags and boarded a train to Venice where they spent a couple of days doing the usual tourist things, like riding a gondola trough the Grand Canal, meandering through St. Mark’s Square and touring the Doge’s Palace. The next day they continued on to Venice where they connected to another train to the village of Villach in the Austrian Alps where they were to reside in Schloss Wasserleonburg for the rest of the summer.
As they stepped off the train at midnight, a local children’s choir serenaded them. An attendant handed Wallis a dozen white carnations.
“Oh dear. I didn’t think Joachim would be trailing us like a lost puppy.” She sighed.
“Ribbentrop. This might prove serendipitous. If he contacts you, agree to meet with him.”
Her eyebrow arched. “On our honeymoon?”
David guided her through the crowd to a waiting limousine. “Remember. We must learn what’s on that train. Remember? So do it for the King.”
“The King?” A smirk crossed her face.
“You know, my dippy brother. Bertie.”
That night a lone white carnation arrived at the dinner hour. The note attached was addressed to Wallis:
“Organ concert, 8 p.m. St. Jakob-Kirche.”
She showed the note to David who smiled.
“At least you know he won’t try seduce you in a church.”
“You don’t know Joachim very well, do you?”
When Wallis arrived at the ancient church in downtown Villach, the pipe organ concert had already begun, and classic religious music echoed through the vaulted ceiling. If Ribbentrop didn’t arrive soon, she decided as she settled into a pew in the shadows, she’d return to the castle.
“You know St. Jakob is the oldest Protestant church in Austria,” a voice whispered into her ear from behind her.
“For God’s sake, Joachim,” she muttered, “if you want to talk, at least sit on the same pew with me.”
Ribbentrop wasted no time scooting in next to Wallis. “Did you get my carnations?”
“Yes.” She paused. “The white roses the mayor gave me were beautiful. Your carnations were, after all, just carnations.”
“You drive me insane, my dear.”
“How thrilling, the organ master, I mean.”
“The Fuehrer was indignant the Parliament forced King Edward from the throne because of his support of the Nazi regime.”
She looked at him and furrowed her brow. “I thought David gave up the throne for the woman he loved, and I presumed he meant me. I don’t remember National Socialism coming up in any of our conversations during the abdication.”
“That was what the newspapers said, but the Fuehrer knew better.” Ribbentrop’s breathing was labored.
“Of course, he did.” Irony licked her every word.
“I understand it would be inappropriate for us to spend special time together while you’re here in Villach.”
“Yes, it is my honeymoon.”
“But this October, if you and your husband could visit Germany, perhaps we could carve out a few hours just for the two of us.”
His proposal caught her attention. An extended visit with Adolf Hitler. Wallis, with her extensive knowledge of poisons and long sharp hat pins, could make a valuable contributions to the cause of peace in Great Britain. Of course, she could not appear too interested.
“Germany. In October. All you’ve got to offer me is a month of drinking beer?”
“Yes!” He tried to control his exuberance. “Of course, we cannot make it too obvious. I could use our mutual friend Princess Stephanie to place the idea of inviting the duke and duchess of Windsor for a visit in the mind of her current lover Fritz Weidemann, Herr Hitler’s adjutant. Your husband and the Fuehrer could discuss world peace and the plight of the working man while we discuss us.”
“World peace? That’s the best you can come up with?” Wallis scoffed.
“Don’t dismiss world peace, my dear. War is on the horizon. Germany is preparing.” His tone turned serious. “Even as we listen to this angelic music, munitions are on trains to the furthest corners of Europe. And England and France don’t even know.”
Wallis’s mind immediately went to David’s conversation the day after the wedding about blowing up a train. This was information which MI6 must have. She looked Ribbentrop and fluttered her eye lashes.
“What were you saying? I was distracted by this marvelous concert. He’s playing Mozart, isn’t he?”

The Last Halloween

I was in the sixth grade when I celebrated my last Halloween. That is to say, the last Halloween as a child who enjoyed the Halloween Festival at school and trick-or-treating.
Each classroom was transformed into a special treat. One was a haunted house, another a cake walk, a fishing pond, white elephant sale and many more, each costing a dime or quarter to participate. At the end of the evening was a variety show put on by the parents who all acted very silly. The kids loved it. All the proceeds went to the PTA.
When I was selected as one of five boys to be the “spook” in a Hit the Spook with a Marshmallow game I was thrilled. My mother drove me downtown to a five-and-dime to buy a mask. She stayed in the car while I went in to get something to protect my face from all the marshmallows that were going to be thrown at me. When I reached the big table in the middle of the store with the Halloween masks, I froze.
My mother had a way of criticizing every purchase I ever made. I picked up a mask that I liked but put it back because it cost too much. I looked for something really cheap but they looked like something a first grader would wear. Finally I picked out a face paint kit that cost very little. Pleased that I was going to escape my mother’s wrath for wasting money, I ran out to the car where my mother had been waiting.
“Where have you been?” Her tone was withering. “I thought I was about to die in this heat. (author’s note: we lived in Texas which is still very hot even in the last week of October) I thought you were going to just run in, grab something and be right back out! How long does it take to buy a silly Halloween mask anyway?”
I showed her the makeup kit and tried to explain how cheap it was when she interrupted me.
“Now how is that going to protect your face from those marshmallows? I thought the whole idea of getting a mask was to protect yourself.”
Back home I sewed together some old sheets into what I thought looked like a ghost costume. I use the term sewing very loosely. I used an old treadle machine which my mother and threaded for me. At Halloween sunset my mother told me she was too tired to drive me back to school and I would have to walk. It wasn’t that far so I didn’t mind.
Halfway there, however, I remembered I had not brought my money which I had carefully put aside for the past month just for spending at the festival. It was too late to go back home to get it and be at the school on time.
When I did arrive I found out none of the other boys had shown up so I had to be the only “spook” getting pelted by marshmallows. It was that night that I realized I really wasn’t that popular at school. Too many of the boys were way too thrilled in throwing marshmallows at me. This went on for an hour.
Finally the teacher closed down the attraction and said I could go enjoy the rest of the festival. Only I couldn’t. I didn’t have any money to pay to play. I couldn’t even see the variety show.
One woman—I can’t remember if it were a teacher or a parent—who asked me what I was dressed up as. “Are you supposed to be a little girl.”
“No,” I responded weakly. “A ghost.”
“Well, you look more like a little girl.”
When I walked home I didn’t even feel like trick-or-tricking at the neighbors’ houses. The bloom was off the pumpkin, so to speak.
The next time I remember having a good time at Halloween was when I had small children and chaperoned them around trick-or-treating. We decorated the house with fake cobwebs and jack-o-lanterns. Now the kids are grown and the local parents sent out emails asking if everyone was participating in trick or treating. I’m old and tired so I replied no.
Ah, but in the early years, that was fun, before the last Halloween came along.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Seven

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. Mary talks Gabby into attacking Adam.
Bellowing, Gabby jumped on Adam’s back, causing the soldier’s knees to buckle.
“Good!” Mrs. Lincoln screamed. “Force him to the floor! You’ve got him now! You’ve got him down!”
Gabby bounced on Adam’s back, trying to break him and force him to his knees, and then prone on the ground.
“That’s it! Ride him down! Break him!”
With a groan from the pit of his stomach, Adam regained his balance and allowed himself to fall backwards. Gabby landed flat on his back on the cold hard floor, heard a noticeable crack in his spine, and whimpered. Adam rolled off him and pounced on Gabby’s chest, pinning his shoulders to the floor with his knees.
“What the hell are you doing?” Adam slapped Gabby’s face several times.
“Stop it!” Mrs. Lincoln screamed as she tried to pull Adam off Gabby. “It’s not his fault! I made him do it!”
“What the hell’s going on?” Lincoln, in his nightshirt, appeared through the lace curtains.
“Quick, Father!” Mrs. Lincoln stopped pulling on Adam and ran to her husband. “Kill him! Get us out of here!”
“Molly! Shut up!” Lincoln yelled. He charged Adam, who was still on Gabby. “Get the hell off him!”
Before Adam could do anything, Lincoln grabbed him by his armpits and threw him across the room. After gasping for air, he reached for Gabby, who cringed and pulled away.
“No, Mr. Gabby, you’re all right. Does anything hurt?”
“I don’t think so.” Gabby sat up carefully and reached around to feel his back. “I thought I heard something crack, but it must not have been important, because it doesn’t hurt now.”
“That’s good.”
“I guess it was bad to jump him like that.”
“Try to forget it.” Lincoln went down on his haunches to smile into Gabby’s face. “Don’t take seriously anything that Mrs. Lincoln says.”
“Then I’m not president?”
“No.”
“And you’re president?”
“Yes.”
“Good,” Gabby said. “It works out better that way.”
Lincoln stood and walked to Adam, offering him a hand to help him up.
“This is Mrs. Lincoln’s fault. She’s not stable. It’s your responsibility as the military authority here to keep a handle on things.”
“Yes, sir.” Adam straightened his back.
“Good. Now go about your duties.”
Adam looked down, avoiding eye contact with Gabby and Mrs. Lincoln, and left the room.
“You fool!” Mrs. Lincoln snarled, rushing her husband. “You could have killed him, and no one would have cared! One word from you, and Mr. Stanton would be off to the Old Capitol Prison in chains!”
“And if the nation discovered someone had put the president in the White House basement for two years and no one knew, what confidence would the people have then to fight a war?”
“So you’re on Mr. Stanton’s side?”
“I’m on the Union’s side,” he replied. “Only the Union is important.”
“Yes, sir.” She pursed her lips.
“Don’t do this again, Molly.” Lincoln pointed at Gabby. “You could get him killed. You could get us all killed.” He sighed deeply. “I think it’s time to sleep.” He disappeared behind the French lace curtains.
“So you’re not my wife?” Gabby stared a long time into Mrs. Lincoln’s face, expecting to detect a trace of remorse.
“No.”
“I knew I kept having memories of New York and not Illinois.” He paused to compose his thoughts as well as he could. “Why did you do it?”
“Because I want to get out of here.”
“Well, that’s all right. I’d rather have Cordie as a sister than you as a wife, anyway.”

Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Fourteen

Previously: Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with hints of parody 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. Tent threatens Cecelia’s daughter Millicent. The man in red saves her.
By the time Bedelia returned with a bobby, the Man in the Red Underwear had mysteriously disappeared in the heavy London fog. Inspector Tent had retreated to a corner to lick his wounds, and the crowd had settled back into a nice, boring existence of dancing to proper waltz music. Cecelia and Millicent made a convincing argument to the bobby that Bedelia had merely mistook a prearranged entertainment as a real duel. He bowed and made a quick exit.

“Who wants some fish and chips?” Bedelia called out.

Men abandoned their dance to dash for the bags of food. A minor brawl broke out and half of them ended up rolling on the ballroom floor trying to grab fried fish fillets from each other’s hands. Curiously, Lady Snob-Johnson grinned and leaned in to speak to Millicent.

“Remind me next year to order fish and chips.”

Before Millicent could reply, Bedelia grabbed her around the shoulders. “So was that actually the Man in the Red Underwear?”

Millicent glanced about the room and directed Bedelia to the library. Eddie followed like the faithful puppy that he was. She carefully shut the door behind them.
“Yes, that was the Man in the Red Underwear.”

“How exciting!” Bedelia beamed with bobbysoxer glee until she remembered she should maintain a modicum of civility. “I mean, how terrible that such a criminal should invade the sanctity of your home!”

Millicent nodded knowingly. “You can’t judge a criminal by his appearance. Speaking of appearances, you know Andy may be different than he appears.”

“In my deepest heart of hearts I still love Andy.” She shook her head and took a few steps away. “But after seeing him tonight, I don’t know.”

Eddie loped up and put his arm around her shoulder. “Why not? He’s a prince of a fella. Uh no. I’m the prince, ain’t I? I keep fergittin’ that.”

“Eddie, shut up.” Millicent pushed him toward the lounge. “Bedelia dear, what’s wrong?”

“If only I could fall in love with someone brave and dashing.” Her eyes softened in wistfulness. “You know, the way Andy used to be.”

“You mean, like the Man in the Red Underwear?” Millicent asked teasingly.

Before Bedelia could answer, Inspector Tent opened the door. In the background, the orchestra was playing a rodeo hoedown. Eddie jumped from the sofa, grabbed Millicent and began a muscular polka. Then he broke into rhapsodic verse.

Hey, that’s my kind of music! I love that sound! Let’s go to town!
We git low down! Go round and round! Do si do rodeo hoe down!

And with that Eddie and Millicent polkaed into the ballroom. Tent carefully shut the door, leaving the library ominously quiet. He approached Bedelia with a smile that was more menacing than endearing.

“My dear Miss Smart-Astin, I must apologize you had to be upset by the appearance of that terrible criminal.”

As he came closer Bedelia eased away toward the liquor cabinet. “Oh no. That’s quite all right.”

“No, it’s not all right.” Tent chose to ignore her attempts to escape. “It’s my duty as chief inspector of Scotland Yard to protect young ladies from the likes of him. Especially beautiful young ladies.”

Just as he was going in to grab her hand so he could kiss it, Bedelia picked up a bottle of brandy, using it as a sort of barricade to his advances. “Would you care for a drink, chief inspector?”

“No, thank you.” Tent took the bottle from her hand and returned it to the cabinet. “But I would care for something else.”

What better time for a torrid verse of seduction and resistance? Bedelia began with a palm in Tent’s face, but with eyes filled with ardor.

Nyet. Not yet. Before we lust, at first we must begin the dance of hot romance, the Russian tango!

Tent accepted the invitation and placed his arm around her slender waist.

Not one for fussin’ but the Russian? Don’t you mean the Argentine?

She adjusted her stance and stared straight ahead.

The Argentine is so routine. Don’t bore me with the Argentine.
I want it vulgar from the Volga, so stop your fussin’, it’s time to Russian!

They began to glide across the library floor, reciting in unison.

Let’s do the Russian tango! Let’s go as far as we can go!
Oh go, girl, go! Oh go man, go! Let’s do the Russian tango!

Being the chief inspector, Tent never strayed far from his intentions of yearning and then interrogation.

And while we’re dancing cheek to cheek let’s drink some booze
And I’ll suggest while we’re chest to chest, that we go on a cruise.

Bedelia stopped in the middle of this pas de deux to glow with excitement.

Oh how divine! Yet I draw the line, no marriage talk—

This entirely broke the spell for Tent, sending him back into prose. “What?”

“You said go on a cruise.” She crinkled her cute little nose. “That sounds like matrimony.”

“It’s just a little cruise. Don’t stand on sanctimony.”

Bedelia put her hands on her tiny little waist. “Then what do you mean?”

Now this did put Tent into a bind. An immodest proposition loses all of its luster if the gentleman has to spell it out in minute detail. Instead, he punted and returned to his previous dance position. “Let’s tango!”

Before they knew it, they were slithering across the floor again.

Let’s do the Russian tango! Let’s go as far as we can go!
Oh go girl go! Oh go man go! Let’s do the Russian tango!

For practical purposes Tent decided to forgo pursuing his dalliance and practice his interrogation skills.

Let’s talk instead about the man in red, who do you think this cad could be?
He must have friends to meet his ends. He must have two, or maybe three.

I know you’re right, it’s such a frightening thought but they are here tonight.
It’s Millicent, her mom Cecelia, and her hot steady, dumb Prince Eddie.

Tonight, you see, is coming for me a packet of some great import.
I’m sure the man in red will want to steal this serious report.

You have my word I’ll watch this world of gaiety and vice.
I’ll tell you when they make their move. The man in red will pay the price.

All this criminal investigation talk made them amorous again.

Let’s tango!
Let’s do the Russian tango! Let’s go as far as we can go!
Oh go girl go! Oh go man go! Let’s do the Russian tango!

Before they could go any further, Bedelia snapped her fingers and looked into the inspector’s eyes. “Should I keep an eye on Andy, too? Do you think he’s a member of the conspiracy?”

“Naw,” they said in perfection harmony.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Fifty-One

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on a mission because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer, also a spy, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David becomes king. MI6 to test him to see if he can be both king and spy.
On the morning of her divorce hearing, a crisp October day in 1936, Wallis could not see anything but the haughty contempt in the eyes of the judge, Sir John Hawke. Crimson and ermine robes and a white judicial wig obscured the rest of his shrunken elderly body. She was not sure he had a mouth or nose except when he sneezed and coughed up nasty clumps of phlegm.
The ordeal began several weeks earlier when news of the divorce broke in newspapers around the world. William Randolph Hearst in particular was interested in any photographs of her hair blown astray, her fingernail disentangling a bit of roast beef in her teeth or of her getting out of an automobile in such a clumsy manner that her dress rose up to her thigh. Wallis, fortunately, had spent years practicing the finer arts of good manners so no pictures of that nature would ever appear in print.
A week before the hearing she took a small cottage in Felixstowe in Suffolk. All the London divorce dockets were filled so she had to look to a country court to finish this business as quickly and as efficiently as possible. David told her the smaller setting would make it easier to control the crowds. Screaming fans tossed flowers at her and newsmen flashed their cameras as Wallis walked out of the cottage that morning. She thought it couldn’t have been worse if she had been in Piccadilly Circus.
Her lawyer, Norman Birkett, tried to guide her through the proceedings as gently as possible. He produced a letter from Mary Raffray declaring her love for Ernest Simpson. Mary, of course, wrote the note at the urging of Ernest, who had conveniently left it on Wallis’ dressing table. Birkett handed it to the judge who blew his nose before reading it.
“I can’t make heads or tails of this,” Judge Hawke grumbled in the style of an irritable old English squire. “I can’t even vouch that this is a woman’s handwriting.”
Birkett quickly presented a typed transcription to the judge who just then had a coughing fit. It was all that Wallis could do not to gag a bit herself. She watched the judge squint at the document.
“What kind of evidence is this?” he demanded. “It’s not even romantic. Why anyone would get excited over this bunch of puffery is beyond me.”
Wallis knew she should have insisted MI6 send an emissary to the judge’s home last night to impress on him the importance to national security to approve the divorce decree. Hell, she muttered to herself, they should have threatened to kill the old bastard.
“After finding that letter,” Birkett continued, “Mrs. Simpson employed a detective agency to follow her husband on a weekend trip to the Hotel de Paris at Bray on the Thames during Ascot week. They observed Mr. Ernest Simpson accepting a breakfast tray from a hotel employee at his room which he shared with a woman who was registered as Buttercup Kennedy but was almost certainly Mary Raffray.“
“You mean to tell me you don’t know if the woman sharing Mr. Simpson’s room was indeed Mary Raffray rather than this Buttercup person?” the judge bellowed.
“Whether the woman was Mary Raffray or Buttercup Kennedy makes no difference,” Birkett countered. “It was not Mrs. Simpson. Mr. Simpson was consorting with a woman who was not his wife.”
Judge Hawke blustered for several minutes without saying much of anything of consequence until Birkett interjected all that was left for the judge to do was issue a decree nisi, divorce with final adjudication in six months.
The old man blew his nose again. “I suppose I must under these unusual circumstances. So you may have it.”
Several reporters accosted Wallis on her way out of court.
“Do you plan on returning to the United States?’
“Why should I? The press there has been atrocious to me.”
“Did you know your first husband Win Spencer was divorced from his second wife?”
“No, and why should I care?”
“He released a statement that he hoped you were happy. He was sorry he could not provide the social life that you wanted. He particularly stressed he wished you all the happiness in the world.”
***
David relaxed in his favorite chair in front of the fire at Fort Belvedere awaiting the arrival of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. It was the first week of December, and snow was on the ground. Nursing a glass of brandy he thought of the many happy times he had spent at the old place—fixing it up, creating the garden, hosting parties. He tried to remember how many women he had bedded in his boudoir but he couldn’t quite come up with an accurate number.
Baldwin had spent the day with members of Parliament and with David’s mother, brother Bertie and the tweedy types that hovered around them. They were going to make a list of demands and consequences for David if he followed through with his threat to resign and marry Wallis—or, as his mother called her, that adventuress.
He wouldn’t miss the official duties at all. As long as he could have an occasional dinner with his mother Queen Mary and go riding with his brothers, George, Bertie and Harry, all would be fine. He could do without the Duchess of York Elizabeth. He was rather fond of Lillibet and Margaret Rose. David looked around the wood-paneled parlor of Fort Belvedere and smiled. Yes, he had been willing to risk his life on missions for the empire, then enjoyed coming home to the Fort to recuperate.
He heard a knock at the door, and the butler allowed Prime Minister Baldwin to enter and guided him into the parlor. David could not tell by the look on Baldwin’s face how the negotiations had gone. He knew for certain that the prime minister himself was against it. David didn’t care what the old prune-faced gent thought about the situation.
“Would you care for a brandy, Prime Minister?” David asked, as most congenial hosts would have offered.
“No, thank you.”
“Then please have a seat.” He pointed to a comfortable padded armchair across the fireplace from his own.
Baldwin took his time settling in before looking directly into the King’s eyes. “I would be remiss if I did not make one last plea that your majesty to relent in your pursuit of Mrs. Simpson and continue in your duties as our monarch.”
“There are more reasons than I am willing to elucidate at this time why that position is untenable,” David replied, returning eye contact with the prime minister.
“Well then, let us get down to the details. The abdication news will be released tomorrow to all outlets, which are expected to comment editorially. Read them or not, that is your privilege. Your majesty shall prepare a statement to be read on the public airwaves sometime in the next few days. Shortly after that you will sign six copies of the Act of Abdication.”
What the prime minister was saying blurred in his mind. He had no problem with the procedure. He wanted to get back to his life of espionage.
“Now we have the financial situation to consider. You and your brother the Duke of York own Sandringham and Balmoral. Arrangements have been made for the duke to buy them from you. You have considerable income coming from the Duchy of Cornwall which has been invested. However, you have never paid income tax. As a private citizen your tax rate would be seventy-five per cent. The alternative is,” the prime minister hesitated before stating, “that you never live in England again.”
“That wouldn’t be so bad.” David paused to consider the consequences. “Wait a minute. What about Fort Belvedere?”
“Of course, it would go back to being part of the Royal preserve. What the trustees do with it is anyone’s guess.”
David stood and walked around the room. This place had been his refuge for many years. After the abdication, the fort would no longer be his. David took pride in his existential views of life, that nothing much matter, people, castles, friendship, love. But he did love this home. He felt a lump in his throat.
“Very good.” He smiled at Baldwin. “One place is as good as another.” He lied.
***
The news from England spread to the Bahamas quickly. All the passengers on the ferry from Freeport to Nassau talked about the abdication of King Edward VIII and his move to France to be near his lover Wallis Simpson. Her divorce was finalized in the spring, so everyone expected the couple to marry sometime in the summer of 1937.
Leon sat by himself, puffing on a cigarette of Egyptian tobacco, and listened to but not engaging in the conversation. He wanted to give the impression that he cared nothing about the private lives of the former king of England; but in reality, he was deeply involved with the newly created Duke of Windsor and his lady. He knew for certain the duke was an international spy and his fiancé Mrs. Simpson was surely his accomplice. He spared their lives once on a dock in Corsica, and he wondered how many other times he would compromise his own orders to repay the duke for sparing his life many years ago in Canterbury.
The sun set by the time the ferry arrived in Nassau. Leon looked forward to seeing the blonde card dealer in the casino at the Rialto. When he returned from his walk that morning, Leon took a note from the disheveled plant pot in front of his Eleuthura house. The organization had a new assignment for him. He hoped it was on the other side of the world from the duke and his paramour.
Leon was about to hail a carriage to the Rialto when two men grabbed him and rushed him into a warehouse on the docks. They pushed a burlap sack over his head, shoved him down onto a chair and tied him to it. So this is my end, he thought. So be it. Leon wished he could have lasted another couple of years so his son Sidney would have completed his training and taken his place with the organization. But this was the way of life.
“The organization is not pleased with you.”
Leon recognized the accent to be from the American South although he could not ascertain the exact region from which it came. It was not the earthy drawl of Texas. It did not have the sweet lilt of Mississippi. Nor the soft glide of the Georgian tongue.
“You didn’t complete your mission in Corsica. Are you able to explain why?”
“They moved too fast. I couldn’t get a shot off.” Leon was pleased with himself with his justification, although it was blatantly a lie.
“You would have already been dead, but the organization’s commandant has a high regard for your previous work.”
“I am flattered.”
“You have been given one last chance to vindicate yourself.”
“How generous.”
“The former King of England Edward VIII now known as the Duke of Windsor will marry Wallis Simpson at Chateau de Cande near Tours. A large wooded park surrounds it, so there’s maximum security. However, we have contacts within the staff of Cande’s owner, industrialist Charles Bedaux. We can supply you identification papers to infiltrate the wedding party. Once inside you will assassinate the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.”
Leon gathered his thoughts before he spoke. “Very good. My congratulations to the operative who originated the plan. I have only a few observations.”
“Continue.”
“Why kill the couple? Once he abdicated he was of no use to anyone.”
“You know why.” The voice turned sinister. “We know you deliberately chose to spare his life and that of Mrs. Simpson on Corsica. You must prove your loyalty by killing them now.”
“Hmm.” Leon cocked his head. His mind raced. Pooka must have told someone. If he survived this night, he would take pleasure in killing her. But his captors did not need to know his plans. “And why do you think they would allow a black man into the wedding party?”
“You will be dressed as a servant, of course.”
“Does Monsieur Bedaux have other black servants?”
“I—I don’t know.”
“My guess would be no.” Leon hurried on to his last point. “Finally, why put me to a test of loyalty since this is obviously a suicide mission. Simply put a bullet in my head now and let the Duke and Duchess lead their merry, meaningless lives. I mean, you truly don’t believe MI6 will continue to use them as agents now that their cover has been exposed?”
A long silence ensued. Leon had made his point.
“They told me you were smart, very smart it seems.”
“I know.”
“Untie him. Send him on his way. I have to confer with the commandant on how to proceed.”

A Dark and Stormy Halloween Night

It was a dark and stormy Halloween night, and the trick-or-treaters stopped their visits early because it was about to rain. At first I was pleased that I was going to have all those bite-sized Snickers and Three Musketeer bars to myself. Then, after a particularly loud clap of thunder, my eighty-pound Labrador retriever jumped into my lap, causing me to scream in agony. She jumped and spun around to stare at me which meant her huge paws dug down deeper into my crotch.
“Arghh! Get off me!”
Before the dog could move, another clap of thunder shook the house. Whimpering she shuffled her feet in the exact same plan and spun around to gawk out the window.
“Get off!”
She whipped her head when I yelled at her again. Her large head crashed into my nose. Anytime I had ever been hit in the nose, my eyes filled with tears. This was especially embarrassing because the last thing a little boy wanted to do in front of the other guys was cry.
My dog forgot about the storm when she saw the tears roll down my cheeks and leaned forward to lick them away. Crack! Another thunder eruption made her lunge forward, bumping into my nose again.
“No!”
She backed up, her paws unfortunately pushed down into my crotch another time. I did not know which hurt more—my nose or my crotch. I started whimpering which, I think, confused my dog because I sounded just like her. When she got confused she lifted her left paw to high five me. It was a trick I taught her when she was a puppy, and whenever she began to feel unloved she high fived me for reassurance. I was so obsessed with not crying that I did not see her big paw coming right at my nose.
“Dammit!”
The fourth round of thunder was too much. She lost control of her bladder and wet herself. Because she sat on my lap she wet me too. Blubbering, I tried to push her away but she pushed back and put her paw up for another high five. I hadn’t been this frustrated since I found out I couldn’t climb out of the crib. Or maybe I just dreamed I wasn’t able to get out of the crib; anyway, I knew I was frustrated and started stomping my feet. What I didn’t realize was that the movement of my legs under the dog scared her even more. She peed on me again. I thought she wouldn’t have had any more urine after the first gusher. I was wrong.
“Stop it!”
Neither of us needed a fifth clap of thunder, but it burst out on the scene nevertheless. I would have shrieked again when her paws dug in deeper, but I was distracted by the sudden warm droppings on my pants. Oh crap. When the dog started howling, I thought my eardrums were about to burst. Right at that moment my wife walked into the room.
“Will you please stop screaming? You’re scaring the dog!”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Six

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. Christy kisses the cook Phebe. Neal the butler becomes jealous.
Gabby’s head turned sharply when he thought he heard the crash of a plate. Something was happening out there, he could sense it, and his body shook with fear. Since that morning in August when he had been able to think again, Gabby had become increasingly nervous, never knowing when his mind would clear and when it would cloud, when the people in the basement with him would be nice and when they would be mean, and when would he ever see Cordie again.
Mrs. Lincoln came to the edge of Gabby’s crates and barrels. He shuddered, wondering if he had done something wrong again.
“Mr. Gabby,” she said, “may I come in for a visit?”
“That’s all right, ma’am.” He stood. “I’ll come out.”
“No, I don’t mind.” She swept around the corner and stood just inside his curtain and smiled. “Sit, so we can chat.”
Chatting with her husband, that is what she should be doing, Gabby thought. It was not right for her to be chatting with him. Cordie should be chatting with him, but she could not, because he had to be in the basement and she had to be at the hospital tending sick soldiers.
“Please sit.”
“All right.” Gabby sat on the far end of his pallet.
“Mr. Gabby, do you remember the things you told me?”
“What things?”
“Sweet things.” She sat on his pallet.
“Did you hear a crash or something?”
“No. You’re right about Mr. Stanton.”
“I thought I heard a crash. I’m not sure of anything anymore.”
“He’s evil.”
“I don’t even know what month this is.” He looked at her. “What month is this?”
“It’s the middle of October.” She clenched her jaw. “Pay attention to me. You’re right about Mr. Stanton being evil.”
“Then it’s been two months since…”
“Only an evil man would put good people in an awful place like this.”
“There were rats here.”
“Yes, you told me.”
“I think I caught them all.”
“Thank you.” She sighed deeply and closed her eyes.
“You’re welcome.”
“Mr. Stanton’s calling people by the wrong names. There’s people upstairs he’s calling Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln.”
“I know.”
“He’s calling you Mr. Gabby…”
“He doesn’t call me Mr. Gabby,” he interrupted. “He doesn’t call me anything.”
“But you’re Mr. Lincoln, my husband and president of the United States.”
“What?” Could those thoughts lingering in the back of his mind be true?
“For reasons known only to himself, Mr. Stanton calls the White House janitor Mr. Lincoln, and you the janitor.”
“Oh.”
“But this has gone on too long. It can’t continue. When Private Christy comes in with the clean chamber pots, jump him, wrestle him down, and get the keys so we can escape. You can do it.”
“All right.” Gabby knew he was strong. He remembered how he could wrestle Joe into submission every time they wrestled on Long Island beach. But if he were Lincoln, how would he know Joe? Maybe Joe had been Lincoln’s friend, but that meant they had to be from Illinois. How could they have wrestled on Long Island beach? Gabby fretted. Maybe it had been on the shores of the Ohio River.
“So when Private Christy comes in,” Mrs. Lincoln was saying, “I’ll distract him, and you jump him and get the keys.”
“You don’t want me to kill him, do you?”
“No.” A shadow crossed her face. “I don’t want him dead. I just want to be free.”
“Should we take Mr. Zook with us?” Gabby asked. “After all, he might have a sister or somebody waiting for him.”
“Yes, we’ll take Mr. Zook with us.” Mrs. Lincoln smiled. “I wouldn’t want to leave him behind.”
“Good,” he replied. “He needs to see his sister.”
Adam unlocked the door, fumbling with the pots. Both Gabby and Mrs. Lincoln jerked their heads to the door.
“I’ve got to go.” She stood. With a flourish of her billowing skirt, she disappeared through the curtains.
Gabby went to the edge of the crates and barrels to listen.
“Mrs. Lincoln,” Adam said, “are you busy right now? I mean, there’s something I need to talk to you about.”
“Of course,” she replied. Looking at him closely, she added, “Private Christy, you’ve a touch of blood at your temple.”
“I know. That’s what I want to talk to you about.”
“Come over here, and I’ll straighten everything out for you.”
Gabby stepped out around the corner to see that Adam had left all three chamber pots by the door. He stood next to Mrs. Lincoln by the billiards table, his back to Gabby. Looking down at the chamber pots, he wondered if he should use one to bash Adam’s head. No, that would kill him, and they just wanted to be free.
“I did a bad thing tonight,” Adam said.
“Tell me what you did, and I’ll tell you whether it was bad or not.” Mrs. Lincoln looked over Adam’s shoulder to make eye contact with Gabby. Get it over with, she seemed to be saying.
“I kissed Phebe.”
“The colored cook?” Her eyebrow rose.
“Yes. I know it was wrong. She hit me with a plate.”
Gabby knew he had heard something. He frowned. He liked Phebe. She was one of the few people he ever knew who treated him nice. Adam was right. He did a bad thing.
“Was it one of the good plates?” Mrs. Lincoln asked, holding her breath.
“No.”
“That’s good,” she said in a murmur. “Did the girl do anything to provoke you, make you think she wanted you to kiss her?”
Gabby did not like that question. Phebe was a good girl. She would not do anything like that. She was too honest. Gabby was ready to hit somebody.
“No, not really, I guess,” Adam replied.

Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Thirteen

Previously: Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with hints of parody 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. Tent threatens Cecelia’s daughter Millicent.
A tapping at the window interrupted this terribly tense encounter between Tent and Millicent. Tent walked over, opened it only to find an excruciatingly plain woman wearing what looked like a costume from an American Civil War melodrama. He could not see her face because she kept flapping a fan across it.
“Is this the party with the man in the tight red underwear?” she said in a high squeaky voice.
Tent looked over his shoulder at Millicent. “I think it might be.”
She scrambled over the window sill into the library, almost knocking Tent over as she began to flounce about the room. “So bring that hunky stud! I hope his chest is bare!”
“Who invited you?” he demanded.
“You’re so rude! I know. You’re a Yankee dude!”
“English!”
“Just as bad.” Molasses dripped from her Southern tongue. “You oughter watch your mouth ‘cause no one tells the Colonel’s daughter what she oughter do!
“Excuse me, ma’am, your behind is obscene. I do believe your problem is too many sweet pralines.”
(Author’s note: Yes, yes. They’ve broken into rhyme. There’s no reason for it.)
“And don’t you dare imply I’m fat, you mean old so and so,” she spit back. “You’ll find your skinny ass in boiling hot water. Don’t piss off the Colonel’s daughter!”
“Excuse me, ma’am, I don’t give a damn!”
She walked over to Millicent shaking her head. “Ooh! What he said!”

“Excuse me, lass, remove your ass!”
“Daddy’s goin’ to be so mad!”
Tent put his hands on his hips in exasperation. “Don’t you know who I am?” He put his right hand over his heart. “I am Malcom Tent, chief inspector of Scotland Yard! And I intend on arresting the Man in the Red Underwear tonight!
“So you want to see the red-hot man as eagerly as me?”
“Yes!”
With extreme dexterity and adroitness, the person threw off the dress and wig, revealing that it was not a woman at all but indeed the Man in the Red Underwear.
Millicent pointed at Tent, tattling on him just like he were a mean little boy in school who had just pulled her pigtails. “He’s trying to blackmail me with a letter I wrote to Eddie into revealing your identity!”
“That’s not very nice.” The Man in the Red Underwear apparently was from England, as evidenced by his talent for understatement.
“So what are you going to do about it?” Tent retorted, sounding more and more like a mean little school boy.
The Man in the Red Underwear glanced to the mantle of the fireplace, noticing two crossed swords. “This!” He grabbed one of them and took a proper fencing position. “En garde!”
Tent rushed to the mantle, grabbed the other sword and took his own intimidating stance. (Please remember that these swords belonged to Sir JohnBob Snob so the worst either could inflict upon the other is maybe a little booboo which would turn black and blue the next morning.)
Millicent clapped. “Ooh, this is going to be good!” She ran to the door and swung it open. “Hey, everybody! Look here! Fight!”
“Finally! Some real entertainment!” Cecelia exclaimed.
“Quick, mother! Get our pom pons!”

Right! “Cecelia clambered up the grand staircase.
Bedelia almost spilled her rum punch. “A fight? But that’s against the law! I’m going to get Scotland Yard!”
As she ran out the front door, a lone male voice, possibly the same person who pleaded for some real food earlier, called out, “Bring back a couple bags of fish and chips!”
Tent and the Man in the Red Underwear lunged and parried their way from the library to the center of the ballroom. The orchestra broke into a rousing rendition of “When the World Was Turned Upside Down.” (This is a really obscure historical joke. Look it up and then you’ll laugh.)
“Look! Tent dramatically pointed into the crowd. Is that someone actually eating one of Lady Snob-Johnson’s canapes?”
The Man in the Red Underwear turned his head in that direction. “No! You’ll throw up!”
Tent kicked him in the rear, knocking him to the floor. “Ha ha. Fooled you.” He aimed his sword at the red-clad chest. “So ends the brief career of the Man in the Red Underwear.”

As the crowd let out a collective gasp, Millicent jumped on Tent’s back.
“Quick! To your feet!” she yelled.
In a single, graceful bolt, he was up and grabbed his sword.
“Get off my back, you silly woman!” Tent growled.
“Yes, our side must play fair even if he doesn’t,” the man in red announced.
The guests applauded politely and whispers of “Good show, very proper” made their way around the room. Millicent dismounted the inspector’s back as charmingly as possible, considering the circumstances.
Cecelia broke the brief atmosphere of civility as she slid down the bannister, her arms filled with pom pons. She tossed pairs to Millicent and Eddie. All three gathered in front of the orchestra which switched tunes and began playing the Iowa Fight Song. After all, she said they could play any song in the world, even ones that hadn’t been written yet.
Tent and the Man in the Red Underwear resumed their fencing match, while Cecelia, Millicent and Eddie went into their cheerleading routine.

We love our pretty pom pons as much as we love chocolate bon bons!
Let’s make it loud, show we’re proud by beating on our tom toms!
Gimme a red!
The crowd roared, “Red!”
Gimme a Under!
“Under!” they loudly repeated.
Gimme a Wear!
“Wear!” They almost took the roof off with that response
Put it all together and what have you got?
Red Underwear! Red Underwear! Red Underwear!
The Man in the Red Underwear shows up everywhere!
So if you’re bad and are a cad, you better beware!
Two bits!
Four bits!
Six bits a dollar!
All for red underwear
Stand up and holler!
Since they were already standing, Cecelia’s party guests jumped up and down, waving their arms in the air and grabbing each other in inappropriate places.

You got to be a dashing hero and don red underwear
If you want us to cheer for you and shake our bouffant hair!

The Man in the Red Underwear finally flipped Tent’s foil from his hand which landed at Cecelia’s feet. She quickly picked it up and investigated it to make sure no harm had befallen her family heirloom. In the meantime, the man in red held his sword at Tent’s throat and motioned for him to turn over the letter.

“Curses! Foiled again!” Reluctantly Tent pulled it from his pocket and handed it to Millicent who quickly ripped it to shreds.

“Millicent, what was in that letter?” Cecelia asked.

“Nothing, Mother.”

“It must have been something or else why all the bother?”

Millicent turned to the crowd and threw up her arms. “Come on, everybody! One more time!”

The guests joined in.

The Man in the Red Underwear shows up everywhere!
So if you’re bad and are cad, you better be aware!”

Heather’s Ghost Nanny

Heather was a very precocious little five-year-old girl. She knew how to smile and giggle and always get exactly what she wanted. She and her family, mom, dad and brother, recently moved into a nice house with a swimming pool in a new town. She heard how her parents were very excited about the good price they got for the house, much lower than they expected. Heather’s bedroom and her brother’s bedroom were across the house from the master bedroom, so she thought she was going to be able to get away with a lot of naughty things after her family had gone to sleep.
That was before the first night she slipped out of bed after midnight to turn on the television to watch the shows her mom and dad didn’t want her to see. After she punched the on button and turned to sit on her bean bag chair, the television promptly turned itself off. Hmph, she thought to herself. That never happened before. So she stood and went back to punch the on button again but it went off even faster than it did before.
Frowning, Heather decided that wasn’t any fun so she went back to bed. A few days later a nice lady from next door came to welcome the new family to the neighborhood.
“Of course, you know about the Andersons,” she said.
“The couple who lived here before us,” Heather’s mom said.
“Yes,” the neighbor lady said.
“All we know is that their children seemed eager to sell the house,” Heather’s dad said. “They lowered the price very fast.”
“That’s because they both died in the house.”
Heather wasn’t really paying attention. She really wanted to go out to play but she knew she had to make a good impression on the neighbor. She might be giving out freshly baked cookies one day and Heather wanted to get one.
“Oh,” her parents said in unison.
“He died in his sleep in the master bedroom,” the neighbor said. “His wife died a year earlier.” She paused. “In the swimming pool.”
“What?”
“Mrs. Anderson was a sweet lady but she had a drinking problem. Went to AA meetings but it didn’t seem to do much good. When she went on a bender her husband could not stand to be around her. One night she was particularly out of control, so Mr. Anderson left the house and just sat in the car, waiting for her to pass out on the floor so he could go to bed. An hour later he heard no more banging about inside so he figured it was safe to come back in. It was then he saw her floating face down in the swimming pool. Evidently she had staggered out to the patio and fallen into the pool and was too drunk to get out. I don’t think he ever forgave himself. For the next year he just sat in a lawn chair, staring at the pool and smoking a cigar, until he finally died.”
“So that’s why we got the house cheap,” Heather’s dad said.
Heather was only vaguely aware of what all that really meant to her. After all, she was only a five year old girl. That night she got up after midnight to turn on the television again, and again it promptly turned itself off.
“Mrs. Anderson, is that you?” she whispered.
She could swear she felt a dripping wet hand firmly but gently pushed her toward her bedroom. Heather never tried to watch television again after midnight. As she grew up, however, Heather seemed to forget about Mrs. Anderson from time to time, until the dripping wet ghost decided to become her nanny.
When her girl friends came for a sleep over, Heather was never able to get the refrigerator door open so they could sneak ice cream. No matter how hard the girls tried, the door was stuck, until morning, that is, when her mom easily opened it to get out milk for the girls.
By the time Heather turned thirteen, all the boys in the neighborhood knew the way to her house. She had parties all the time but when she and one of the boys wanted private time in her room, the door would never shut. Each time they tried to close it, the door would swing open and stay open.
By the time she was eighteen, Heather had started going steady with one boy after another. She was always the one to call it off and always had another boy willing to be her plaything for awhile. One night, on the front porch when Heather was saying good night to her latest boyfriend, he decided to get a little closer than she wanted.
Suddenly he felt a hard slap, right between his shoulder blades.
“How did you do that?” he asked, wincing in pain.
“Do what?” Heather asked.
“Slap me on the back,” he said.
Heather told him to turn around and, sure enough, there was a wet hand print on his shirt.
“Oh that’s my ghost, Mrs. Anderson. She thinks she’s my nanny.”
Needless to say, she never saw him again. A couple of years passed and finally Heather met a nice young man. One night he shyly started talking about marriage. He jumped and Heather asked what happened.
“I could swear I felt someone kiss me.” He felt his cheek. It was wet.
“My nanny ghost, Mrs. Anderson, must like you very much.”
By the next spring, Heather married her nice young man and had the wedding reception by the swimming pool. When the pictures were developed, there stood the beautiful bride and her groom, and standing behind them, very clear in the photograph, was an elderly woman, drenching wet and chugging on a bottle of gin.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Fifty

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on a mission because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer, also a spy, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David becomes king. MI6 to test him to see if he can be both king and spy.
Wallis and Ernest sat across from each other at a table covered in white lace in the gardens at Buckingham Palace one humid afternoon in July 1936. David invited them to his first garden party as king in honor of the season’s debutantes. However, he preferred that the Simpsons sit in the back so as to not attract too much attention.
The couple sipped their tea and ate biscuits but did not speak to speak to each other. Wallis thought if she heard Ernest crunch into one more biscuit she would scream. She was about to issue an icy retort but then she noticed the merry glint in his eyes as young ladies passed by in their frilly dresses and flowery hats, and her heart melted. He was such a child at royal events like this. Rather sweet, Wallis conceded.
What a shame she was about to ask for a divorce. It might break his heart; on the other hand, Ernest was involved in a long-distance affair with their friend Mary Raffray in New York. David, who had been king for almost six months, issued an invitation to the both of them to join him on holiday in August along the Dalmatian Coast on the Adriatic Sea. Wallis had visited the western coast in Italy but had never seen the eastern side, which consisted of tiny fishing villages of Croatia. Ernest immediately informed her he could not go because of important business pending in New York. Wallis knew the only pending business he had in New York was to continue his affair with Mary. That thought convinced Wallis that she didn’t care if she broke his heart or not.
“I keep remembering how much fun we had last fall when Mary came back from New York with you,” she said. “It was great seeing her after all this time. She was the one who introduced us. You remember that, don’t you?”
“Of course.”
“Don’t you just love her?”
“Um, I suppose.” He crunched into his biscuit again.
“Ernest darling, we need to tell the truth.” Wallis smiled. “Well, you tell the truth. I’m incapable of telling the truth.” She paused. “I’ll make it easy for you. You just yes or no. Mary Raffray is a beautiful woman, isn’t she?”
“Yes.”
“You see her frequently when you’re in New York, which you are, frequently.”
“Yes.”
“You two have been copulating like rabbits, right?”
Ernest hesitated before replying, “Yes.”
“Well, do you love her?”
“Yes.”
“If you had your way, you’d marry her and live happily ever after.”
“Yes.”
“But you won’t stop being my friend, will you?”
“No.”
“Good.” She sipped her tea. “Now do something I can use as proof of adultery so we can start this divorce going.”
“Anything you say, darling.”
“Pass the biscuits, please.”
By the first week of August at the port of Calais, Wallis boarded the Orient Express train with David and a host of their most intimate friends—Herman and Katherine Rogers, Duff and Lady Diana Cooper, Mrs. Joseph Gwynne, Archie Compston, John Aird, Godfrey Thomas and Tommy Lascelles. Some were old friends of Wallis, like the Rogers and Mrs. Gwynne. Others were friends of David, the Coopers and Compston who was his favorite golfing companion. Aird was David’s new equerry, and Thomas and Lascelles were his private secretaries. The boon companions began drinking as their private car on the Orient Express pulled out of the station so the all the picturesque scenery of Austria and Yugoslavia was a blur to them. They finally arrived at the port of Sibenik, Croatia, where Lady Cunard and Lord and Lady Brownlow joined the party. How the hell were they going to pull off even a minor spy mission baffled Wallis, but she put on a brave smile and played the perfect hostess.
They boarded the large sparkling yacht Nahlin to proceed down the Dalmatian Coast. Most of the time, David toured the Mediterranean on the royal yacht Victoria and Albert but he decided it was too moldy and cramped for this occasion. He chartered the Nahlin which was practically brand new and shinier than the family boat with large awnings, teak decks and wicker tables and chairs.
Local peasants, dressed in their finest native garb, gathered on the pier to wave good-bye. Everyone leaned against the railing to wave back.
“What if one of them was supposed to be our contact?” Wallis whispered to David.
“Too late now, isn’t it? Anyway, Sibenik isn’t officially part of the Dalmation Coast, is it? Frankly, I’m hoping to miss the connection altogether. Being king is beastly, all these people around.” David pointed out to the bay to the Adriatic Sea. “See those two navy ships? They’re the destroyers HMS Grafton and Glowworm, assigned to protect us all the way to Istanbul.”
“How dreadfully unromantic.”
Most of the cruise down the Dalmatian Coast was dreadfully unromantic to Wallis. At this point the rumor mill ground away, wondering if or when the royal lovers would ever announce to the world they planned to marry—to hell with the quaint customs of the English monarchy.
The first morning of the cruise, the Nahlin docked in one of the many sun-drenched coves in the Balkans, and everyone enjoyed breakfast on deck. As was her custom, Wallis never sat during a holiday meal like this. She was too busy making sure everyone was happy.
“Where is that dear sweet husband of yours, Mrs. Simpson?” Compston asked, a wicked smile lurking in the corners of his mouth.
“He’s off tending to his shipping line in New York.” Her tone was light and airy, and she didn’t break stride as she focused on her closest friends, Herman and Katherine Rogers. She slipped into a chair next to Katherine.
“Archie can be such an ass,” her friend whispered. “You know his wife has moved permanently to their seaside cottage in Brighton.”
“Yes. Well.” Wallis exhaled cigarette smoke. “At least he still has his balls to play with.” Across the table Mrs. Joseph Gwynne tittered. Wallis widened her eyes. “His golf balls. He loves to play golf with David. You know, he had to give up soccer because of his health. So his golf balls are the only balls he has left.”
Mrs. Gwynne snickered as Wallis left the table to inquire of Duff, Lady Diana Cooper and Lady Cunard if they were enjoying their breakfast. Before they could reply, David appeared on the deck wearing comfortable sandals, beige shorts and a hairless bronzed chest.
“I don’t think I shall ever become accustomed to seeing an English king sans shirt,” Lady Cunard announced before taking a sip of her Earl Grey tea.
“My dear, if you had seen King Edward or David’s father King George, stripped to the waist, you wouldn’t mind David so much,” Wallis replied and turned to hug David.
Each day began with the same ritual. The entire party strolled down the gangplank and waved to the natives who gathered to greet them. David always led the way, enveloping himself into the crowds, much to the chagrin of his equerry and private secretaries.
“The King must be mad, pressing flesh in such an aggressive manner,” Aird muttered to Wallis.
Wallis sucked in cigarette smoke and exhaled through her nose. “Well, I think he’s more like Hamlet than Richard II. There’s a method to his madness.”
“Huh?” Aird was befuddled.
Wallis walked away and caught up with David to shake as many hands also. Soon both of them disappeared into the crowd. To no avail, she decided, because no peasant-clad native shoved a note or anything else into their hands.
In the afternoons David and Wallis slipped off with Tommy Lascelles to secluded beaches where they could swim and fish without enduring the usual courtier chinwag. But they were never approached by a wandering peasant with a note.
When they reached their final stop on the Dalmatian Coast at the fishing village Cetinje in Croatia, they decided they had missed their contact which was fine with them. They found it inconvenient to be shadowed by two large naval destroyers. After supper with the whole gang, David and Wallis strolled down the plank one last time. They found the village mystical and ethereal after sunset.
“Please remind me never to travel with such an entourage on holiday again,” David announced with a sigh.
“Oh shut up.” She elbowed him. “You grew up around people like this. You enjoy it and don’t deny it.”
David laughed. Wallis surprisingly found herself pleased with his laughter, as though they actually did love each other.
“And what did you grow up around?”
Wallis flicked the cigarette into the dark waters of the Adriatic. “Drunks and hillbillies.”
David laughed again. The streets of Centinje lit up with hundreds of torches. The entourage walked down to the pier where they saw local citizens dressed in their finest attire approaching as they sang their favorite local folk songs. Wallis couldn’t help but put her head on David’s shoulder. It was the first time she had ever shown that much affection towards him, and she didn’t know why.
A peasant man ran toward them, waving a note. By his side was a Catholic cleric. David’s equerry and two secretaries appeared from behind the couple to thwart the oncoming strangers.
“No, no, that’s fine,” David ordered. He smiled and motioned him forward, thinking that this was the message they had been awaiting.
The humble minister spoke. “My parishioner speaks no English so he asked me to write the note for him. I hope you understand.”
David took it from the man who just stood there, as though anticipating a reply. David read it, looked at the man, shook his head and said, “Thank you, but no.”
The peasant walked away, slumped in disappointment against the minister who put his arm around him. David handed the note to Wallis. She read it in the lights from the yacht.
“Don’t marry the skinny old woman. My daughter is young and fully rounded. She can give you many children.”