Stories From a Friend–Shoeshine

Note: The author of this story is my new friend, Clyde J. Hady of Brooksville, Florida. His business Facebook is Hometown Electric. Check out his latest invention on You Tube.

In 1937 I was 12 years old, and my Father was the most important man in town. It was a small town, we knew everybody, well my Mom and Dad did. We owned the forge in town, (the forge was where we melted metal and made parts that went all over the United States), and we hired most of the people in town. When we walked down the street everybody would greet us. I thought we had it made. Life was great, and we were important.

Every morning my Dad left for the factory, and he would stop in two places on the way in. First he would stop at the paper corner and get his paper (newspaper). Then he would go down the block and into the barbershop. He didn’t always get his hair cut, but he did get his shoes shined every day.

I remember going with him, when I was 12. Everybody respected my Dad! As we walked I said, “Dad, you have the most important job in the whole town, don’t you?” I remember he smiled, but he didn’t say anything. That meant he didn’t agree with what you said! So I asked him, “Isn’t your job the most important in town?” So he asked me, “What makes a job important?” Well I figured I didn’t know the answer. That’s the way my Dad was. He was always asking you questions that he knew you didn’t have the answer for right away.

So we walked past the paperboy, and headed toward the barbershop. I didn’t say anything, because it never helped to rush my Dad. He’d let you know in his own good time what the answer was.

When my Dad sat down to have his shoes shined, the shoeshine boy started talking and shining at the same time. It was mostly small talk, but then he said, “I’m sorry it’s taking so long, but you scuffed this one good. Sometimes it just takes a little longer to accomplish the same task.” Now a shine only cost a nickel so I was really shocked when my Dad gave him a dime and said, “Keep it, you deserve it today.” Why a whole nickel, that was a weeks allowance for me.

My Dad could see I was wondering why, so he said, “I’ll tell you why!” He said, “Today at work I am going to make decisions about things I don’t even know yet! Some of those decisions are going to be easy, some are going to take more thought. And when I am thinking about the tough decisions I’m going to look at these shoes. I’m going to notice that these shoes look brand new, and because I look my best, I’m going to feel more confident about myself and my decisions. I’m also going to remember that it took longer today, to make them look this good. But Bill didn’t ask for more money, he just did the job that was necessary. His job was a little more difficult, but he simply put more effort into it. Today, Bill had the most important job in town, because he allowed me to do my best. The importance of a job is much less what the job is, and much more how the job is done.”

That night I did my chores extra good, and to this day when I look at my shoes, I remember to do the very best job that I can, because my job is one of the most important jobs.

Burly Chapter Twenty-Two


(Previously in the book: For his birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life. As Herman grew up, life was happy–but mama died one night. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives. Brother Tad tore up the burlap bear Mama had made for him. Tad died during World War II. The family came together for the memorial service.)
Burly was frightened; Herman was seventeen, the same age Tad was when he destroyed Burly Senior. He knew he really had nothing to worry about. Herman was much kinder than Tad ever was and would never tear him to pieces. Still, Herman was no longer the sad-eyed little boy who cried on him and gave him life many years ago. Herman was tall, straight and strong. He worked harder and longer than Tad had when he was on the farm. Now in the middle of the afternoon Burly would notice papa coming in the door and going to his room to nap while Herman stayed out in the field or in the barn. Of an evening after supper dishes were washed, Herman pored over his school books, completing his homework and studying the next lesson beyond that. Burly was very proud when Herman showed him his report cards and there were all As.
“Very good, Herman,” Burly told him.
Herman shrugged his now broad shoulders. “I’m not that good. The teachers in Cumby are impressed, though.”
“But your father isn’t impressed,” Burly offered.
“I don’t know if he is or not.”
Burly shook his head. “Then who are you trying to impress?”
Herman smiled. “Me, I guess. The more I read the more I see how little I know.”
“Now you are getting smart,” Burly said, impressed with his young friend.
Herman put Burly aside. “I’ve got to study now.” Then he opened his book and didn’t speak to Burly the rest of the night.
That was what scared Burly. For years they had talked into the night until Herman slumbered away in mid-sentence. Now he fell asleep with his face in a book. In fact, there were days when Herman wouldn’t speak to Burly at all.
“Are you mad at me?” Burly asked one night after almost a week of being ignored.
“Hmm?” Herman muttered, his eyes still on his book.
“I said, are you mad at me?”
Herman put down the book and gave Burly a quizzical smile. “Why would you say that?”
Burly turned his little button eyes down. “Well, you haven’t talked to me in several days.”
Picking the bear up and hugging him, Herman said, “I’m sorry. You know I still love you.”
Feeling a bit more secure, Burly asked, “What are you reading?”
“Government.”
“Do you like it?”
“Yes.”
“What is government?”
Herman put the book down again. “I guess a burlap bear wouldn’t know anything about government, would he?”
“No, I don’t,” Burly replied, embarrassed.
“It’s the system by which all the people in the country operate,” Herman tried to explain. “It’s laws, rules we live by, so we don’t hurt each other and help us help each other better.”
“Can’t people just decide to love each other without making laws?” Burly asked.
Herman laughed. “But that doesn’t get any roads built. Or schools run. And it doesn’t defend our country either.”
“Oh.”
“It’s really interesting. I think I like this subject more than anything else in school.”
“That’s nice.”
“In fact,” Herman said, turning more to Burly, “I’ve decided to become a lawyer when I get out of school.”
“A lawyer?” Burly asked. “What’s that?”
“That’s a person who makes it his business to make sure the laws are carried out properly.”
“You mean like a sheriff?” Burly remembered the night the sheriff came to the house to help when Herman’s mother died.
“No, a lawyer’s paid by individual people to represent them in court and to make sure their businesses follow all the laws.”
“Court?”
Herman smiled and shook his head. “Let’s just say that’s what I want to do. It’s too complicated to explain.”
Burly felt sad. “I’m sorry I don’t understand. I’ve spent all my life in this loft so I really don’t know much.”
Hugging Burly again, Herman assured him, “You know the most about what counts, love.”
Feeling encouraged, Burly asked another question. “What kind of law would you do, the kind for businesses or—what did you called them?”
“Courts,” Herman supplied the missing word. “Courts.” He gathered Burly close as though he were sharing a secret. “Remember the Johnsons? The black people who helped us one year? And remember that show we went to, how all the black people had to sit in one place? Well, I want to help them, all the black people, so they won’t be treated differently anymore.”
“That’s very nice, Herman.”
He blushed. “Well, it’s something I think should be done.”
Burly thought a moment and then asked, “You won’t be able to do all that and stay here on the farm, will you?”
“No.” Herman looked nervous and picked up his book.
Burly didn’t ask any more questions that night. He was afraid of the answers he might receive.

Of Mice, Men and Giggling at Dirty Words


My introduction to John Steinbeck came in 1961 when I was 13 and my brother was doing a one-act play based on part of Of Mice and Men at the local community college. We sat on the bed reading roles. He was George. I was Lenny. Ours was a strict Southern Baptist home, and such words were never to be spoken in front of Mom, but Mom wasn’t there.
It was the thrill of my life to say those dirty words, one right after another, sentence after sentence of words that Mom would have whacked my bottom for saying. Before long we both were giggling and rolling over speaking words of literature from a Nobel laureate in literature. This was classy stuff. This was dirty, and we loved it.
Our older brother stood in the doorway, his arms crossed, and puffing on a cigarette with fire and brimstone in his eyes. We didn’t care. I was helping my other brother with his homework. What could be wrong with that? And, besides, it was so funny.
At least the words were funny. After we were finished and the play was done and my brother had taken his bows, the story stuck with me. It wasn’t so funny anymore. Our folks, of course, lived through the Great Depression but never talked about it much.
“How can you lose everything if you didn’t have anything to begin with?” Mom said, and that was that.
Of Mice and Men was not only my introduction to dirty words but also my introduction into that dirty, miserable and unfair world of the 1930s. There were the men who owned the farms and there were the men who worked the farms and therein lay a huge gap. No matter what Lenny and George’s dreams were, not matter how much they wanted them to come true, they never would.
All Lenny ever wanted was something soft to pet and take care of. But as Robert Burns said, such are the schemes of mice and men.
As I got older I wanted to read more of John Steinbeck. The local librarian asked my age and said I’d have to wait a while to read East of Eden. It was worth the wait. Then came Grapes of Wrath and all the others, except Travels With Charlie. I don’t know. His road trip with his dog didn’t interest me.
What started with adolescent humor built into a life-time of reading about what the world is really like and what we can do to change it. I know literature did this for more than me, not only novels and plays, but now movies and television programs that dare me to think. Luckily I married a woman who loved to read too. That way we learned twice as much. She told me about her books, and I told her about mine.
I am 70 years old and, yes, when I go to see an R-rated movie, I still giggle at the dirty words. And they still make me think.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Thirty-Four


Previously in the novel: Mercenary Leon fails in a kidnapping because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the spy world is socialite Wallis Spencer, who dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol, has an affair with German Joachin Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David and Wallis officially meet at Thelma’s party.
David decided not to tell George the real reason to go to Argentina. Yes, they did put on their morning suits and top hats in order to cut the ribbon to open the British Empire trade Exposition. He promised George a good time because they were staying at the large estate of millionaire scion Jorge Ferrara near Sugar Loaf Mountain and Ipanema Beach. When they returned to the mansion to change for the casual evening festivities, David planned on locking George in his bedroom to let the agony of withdrawal begin.
He knew it was a risk to bring Jorge in on the secret of George’s addiction. David had known the gadabout for years. Jorge spent as much time in New York and London as he did in Buenos Aires, which meant David knew all of his secrets too. Sometime ago, for example, Jorge pitched woo to talented show girl Jessie Matthews who was featured in her first Broadway show. When leading lady Gertrude Lawrence fell ill, Jessie was promoted to star. In celebration Jorge lost control and forced himself on Jessie. The sexual assault resulted in a pregnancy and a dangerous illegal abortion.
Jessie, with her own career in jeopardy, pretended as though nothing had happened. David thought Jorge should have been relieved. However, he didn’t change his behavior. The prince suspected Jorge had not learned any moral scruples. In any case the prince thought the playboy would allow confidential use of his house in exchange for the assurance the reports of his violent criminal act on Jessie would not make it into the British newspapers.
After the ceremonies David and George were about to enter Jorge’s limousine when a messenger intercepted them. He wore a tan service uniform. David was confused. If the messenger were military he would have had insignia and stripes.
“My employer wishes to have a word in private with the two princes.” A slight Bahamian accent infiltrated his English articulation.
David pushed George into the car. “And who is your employer?”
“He wishes to keep this meeting, shall we say, clandestine? But I can assure you that once you have met him you will recognize him.”
David sensed danger in this situation he did not mind for himself but felt George was not up to the challenge. He shut the car door and waved the driver on.
“Very well. Lead on.”
The messenger lead David on narrower and darker lanes away from the lights and music of the trade exposition. The sun was setting which heightened the urgency of the situation. He had to jog to keep up with the man in the uniform.
“How long have you known your employer?”
“I don’t know him.”
“But you said—“
“He called the message agency that employs me. They told me to seek you out and take you to a certain address.”
“Have you been here before?” David began to pant.
“I follow directions well.” In a few moments he stopped in from of a dark two-story office building. “First door at the top of the stairs.”
David took the first step up and look at the man. “Aren’t you coming with me?”
“Why should I?”
David hoped he would remember the route back as he climbed the steps and knocked at the door.
“Come in.”
The voice sounded familiar. When he opened the door, he saw four men sitting at a table playing poker. A nearly empty bottle of tequila sat between them. One of the men was James Donohue. He looked up and smiled.
“What took you so long? Where’s your brother? This isn’t what I wanted. I wanted both of them—George to have fun with and Edward to be reassured I hadn’t really kidnapped George. I don’t want to play poker with Edward. You know what I’m trying to say, don’t you, Edward?”
“Poker’s not our game.”
“It’s not mine either.” He threw down his cards and looked at a short stout man. “How much do I owe you?”
The man muttered in Spanish an amount that even the Prince of Wales found exorbitant. James pulled a wad of bills out of this pocket and tossed it on the table.
Muchas gracias,” James slurred. “Now adios.”
After the men left, James waved at a chair opposite him. “Oh, I guess I should show proper respect to the Prince of Wales and bow.” He stood, bent over while trying to keep his balance and fell back into the chair.
“You’re drunk.”
“Like you don’t get drunk.” He pointed at the bottle. “And your brother’s a drunk. And worse.”
James reached for the bottle to empty its last drops. “I want to have fun. George and I were having great fun last fall. Everybody likes to have fun with George. I mean, everyone. Even your little friend Jorge has designs on your brother. Anyway, I like the way George tangos. Then my wife tugged on my rope and I had to go home.”
“Why did she let you come here?”
“Trade expo. Business, you know.”
“How much money will it take to make you leave George alone?”
“You buy me?” James spat tequila across the table. “The Wales family is a five and dive operation.” He had a crooked smile. “Get it? Five and dive? Woolworths? Five and dime?”
“You do know I represent the British Empire. We are a mighty killing machine.”
“Killing me?” James turned up the bottle, found it empty and threw it at David. “Get in line. My wife has already said she’s going to kill me. I am a dead man.”
The door swung open and the man in the tan uniform strode in.
James blinked his eyes and had trouble wrapping his lips around the words he wanted to say. “Who are you?”
“I have a message for you.”
“What?”
“Time to go home.” He punched James in the gut then delivered an uppercut to his chin which knocked him out. The man in the tan uniform threw him over his shoulder and marched downstairs. David followed. The man in the tan uniform whistled. A car pulled up. He opened the back door and laid James in. “To the pier. His boat sails in an hour.”
The car pulled away, and the man started walking away.
“You do this for a living, don’t you?” David called after him.
“Yes.”
“Do you take on quick side jobs? I pay very well.”
He stopped and turned around. “What do I have to do?”
“First, get us a cab to take us to Jorge Ferrara’s house. I’m beginning to think it’s not as safe a house as I first thought. Then wait for me outside. If you don’t see my brother and me in in five minutes, do what you just did. Knock out anyone who gets in the way, pick up my brother and get him out of there.”
The man smiled and whistled. A few minutes later the taxi arrived in front of Jorge’s mansion. David knocked at the door and the butler let him in.
“The master, Prince George and a guest are in the royal bedroom.”
“A guest?” David trotted up a marble staircase and went to the last door on the left. He knocked. “George? Jorge? Who’s in there with you?”
“It’s me!” A female voice sang out. “Join the fun!”
Damn. It’s Kiki. David opened the door to find all three of them naked in bed. He stopped. “What are you doing here?”
Kiki held up her silver syringe and squeezed some clear liquid poison through it—cocaine, heroin, morphine, whatever.
“I thought the Windsor family told you to leave George alone.” David sounded as imperious as his father.
“You said in London.” Kiki giggled. “This is Buenos Aires.”
David switched his attention to Jorge. “When I wired you about our visit I told you it was confidential.”
“I am only an Argentinian,” Jorge replied, running his fingers through George’s light brown hair. “What is this confidential?”
The man in the tan uniform stormed into the room. He went to the side of the bed where Jorge lay. Grabbing the playboy by the arm, he swung him off the bed. Jorge tried to rise and punch the intruder but the mercenary smashed his fist into Jorge’s nose. Jorge became preoccupied with stemming the flow of blood with the silk sheet now strewn on the floor.
“Kick the bitch out of bed.” David felt his face burning in righteous indignation.
The man looked at the prince. “I don’t hurt women.”
With fury in his heart, David stepped to the bed, wrapped his fingers around a clump of Kiki’s hair, pulled her off the bed and dumped her on the floor. “Don’t come hear my brother again, or you will regret it.”
The man in the tan uniform reached over, grabbed George’s naked limp body, tossed him over his shoulders and headed for the door. “Get his clothes,” he called back to David.
As they came down the staircase, the butler stood agape and opened the front door.
“Your royal highness—highnesses—and guest, are you leaving so soon?”
David followed the mercenary who carried George out the door.
“Gather our personal things together and pack them like a good chap. I’ll send someone—eventually—around to pick them up,” David called out to the butler.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Fifty-Eight


Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns captive under guard in the White House basement. Stanton selects Duff, an AWOL convict,to impersonate Lincoln. Duff learns how to conduct cabinet meetings. Alethia, the woman playing Mrs. Lincoln, has had a carriage accident. He goes to see her at the hospital in Maryland.
As Duff rode back from Anderson Cottage, he thought about Alethia and Tad. His heart raced as he remembered the touch of her soft skin. The tenderness in her eyes raised hopes that she loved him as much as he loved her. But there were secrets, secrets, secrets—even the clanging of the carriage wheels pounded out the secrets, secrets, secrets. Duff smiled as he thought of how much Tad had matured in the last year. He had been inconsiderate, brash, and irresponsible, never thinking of others’ feelings; now, he put aside his enjoyment of the street parade to comfort a woman he knew was not his mother.
Back at the Executive Mansion, with the sun already setting beyond the Potomac River, Duff listened for the impending march, pounding of drums, and crackling of torches down Pennsylvania Avenue. He looked forward to the parade, an event yet to be experienced, even though those around him thought he had experienced it before.
“The parade’s turning the corner,” Tom Pendel said. “The window’s all prepared, sir. All the candles are lit.”
Smiling at the white-haired doorman, he tried to find a stance that Lincoln would take. Duff breathed in deeply as Pendel pulled open the curtains and breathed out in relief as he heard the roar of the crowd on the street. Pendel held the tall candle just out of view at window’s edge. Feeling the warmth of the flame, Duff briefly felt imbued with confidence, until he realized the candlelight lit his neck and chin, not his full face. Glancing down, he saw Pendel looking at the floor, his arm raised routinely high enough to illuminate Lincoln’s face. Evidently, Duff was slightly taller than the president. An awful moment of revelation passed slowly when Pendel’s eyes moved up and he became aware the candlelight was in the wrong place. Quickly he raised the candle, but his eyes stayed fixed on Duff’s face. Duff was flushed with humiliation. What would Pendel say? Several minutes passed as Duff waved to the crowd before it went down the street and turned toward the Mall, where a stack of old wood and trash waited to become a bonfire. As the lights dimmed from sight and the bonfire lit the evening sky, Duff turned to Pendel and forced a smile.
“Too bad Tad decided to stay at Anderson Cottage. He always liked the candlelight parades and bonfires.”
“Yes, sir.” Pendel kept his head down as he blew out the long candle.
Duff excused him and fled to his bedroom, where he threw off his clothes and put on his nightshirt. He did something he had not done in years. He fell on his knees, clasped his fingers together, and emitted moans from his heart only God could hear.
“Forgive me,” Duff said in guttural tones from the bottom of his belly. “Forgive me for my sin, my secrets, and my many offenses.”
“Father?”
Recognizing Robert Lincoln’s voice, Duff stood, buttoned the top of his nightshirt, and turned, hoping Robert had not heard him.
“I heard what you were praying.” Robert sounded uncertain.
“Robert, I thought you weren’t coming home.” Duff stood, grabbed the bedpost, and smiled. “Your mother’s fine.”
“No, she’s worse. The train stopped at Anderson Cottage long enough for me to see her. She got worse after you left. Tad’s there.” He paused. “I know I haven’t been as cooperative as I should.” Robert’s eyes went to the floor. “When I saw those bandages on Mother’s head, I realized parents don’t live forever.”
“It’s not all your fault, son. Sometimes, I’m sure, you feel I don’t trust you enough to tell you the truth.”
“You don’t have to apologize, Father,” Robert said. “I know you have to keep secrets from me, and I know you feel responsible for all the deaths in the war. God forgives you.” He scrunched his face in pain. “But I need you to forgive me. Please forgive me.” He stumbled toward Duff with his arms outstretched, pleading. As Duff hugged him, he burst into tears.
“I forgive you,” Duff whispered, even though his mind wandered to Alethia and if she would forgive him if she knew his secrets, his deep, horrible secrets.

Story From a Friend–Grandma’s Tomato Tub

Note: The author of this story is my new friend, Clyde J. Hady of Brooksville, Florida. His business Facebook is Hometown Electric. Check out his latest invention on You Tube.

Grandma was a big woman, at least that’s how I remember her. She was as tall as most of the men I saw, and more rotund. I don’t think she was really oversized, but she did a lot of what was termed as men’s work at that time. Her stern ways fit well with her build, and her disposition fit easily into the hard routine of everyday life. When Grandma whispered she was as gentle as any person I have ever known, but when Grandma spoke, I swear the whole town could hear, and the smart ones listened. She had a reputation that demanded respect from most men, and fear for most women. But she was gentle, honest, and fair. Unfortunately the only thing Grandma could ever bank on was her word, she never had anything else.
Life wasn’t easy for a woman on her own, and to this day I’m amazed at how well she did.
By the time I showed up, Grandma was working on her second set of children. There was me, I don’t remember where my parents were, and a whole passel of cousins. There were three cousins whose parents had died in a car accident, and two whose Momma went crazy after their Daddy had died in the war. We were there all the time, but there were others too, who would show up for days or weeks at a time. I never did know why, but I suspect Grandma was helping to ease the burden of unwanted responsibility. I never did hear Grandma say anything about the missing parents who weren’t dead, but she was always saying that we had to learn to be responsible, because she wouldn’t be around to help us. In retrospect, I feel a terrible shame for not fully understanding how much she was helping us at the time, but as children we just understood that others were not going to be responsible for us.
Grandma didn’t have real running water, just a pump in the front yard and the only hot water she had was the water she put over the fire. She had this kind of fire pit with a wall of stones around it, just the right size to set her tomato tub on. She called it a tomato tub because when tomatoes were in season she used it to can tomatoes with, but most of the time it was used for washing and cleaning. Once each week everyone took their turn in the tub, whether you needed it or not, no talking back either.
I remember when Tommy came to visit, it was during canning season and Grandma had been canning all week. But when Saturday came round she readied it for baths. We had a heck of a time finding Tommy. Seems someone had told him that Grandma liked canning things at some point during the week and he was bound and determined that Grandma was not going to can him. He didn’t care how fresh it would make him feel, he was not going to be canned.
When she finally got him into the tub and finished getting him cleaned up, she asked him, “Now that wasn’t so bad was it?”
His only retort was “I don’t like being canned!”
Grandma just smiled, but that was the last time Tommy spent the whole week with us, so I guess you could say he was only canned one time.

Burly Chapter Twenty-One


(Previously in the book: For his birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life. As Herman grew up, life was happy–but mama died one night. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives. Brother Tad tore up the burlap bear Mama had made for him. Tad died during World War II. The family came together for the memorial service.)
Then Leonard walked up at Tad’s memorial service, bumping into people and tripping over his own feet. He was drunk. Grabbing papa’s hand, Leonard pumped for several moments. “I’m sorry, Mr. Horn. I’m very sorry,” he mumbled.
Papa pulled his hand away. “Don’t you know any better than to show up here like that?”
Leonard shuffled his feet. “I know. I know I shouldn’t have. But you see—“
Papa turned and walked away. “I see that you’re drunk.”
Lunging toward papa, Leonard tried to stop him but papa quickened his steps. Then Leonard turned to Callie and Herman. “We just got word today. Stevie was killed some place called New Guinea out in the Pacific.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Herman said, not changing his expression. “We’ve got to go now.”
“No, wait,” Leonard pleaded with them. “I’ve got to apologize.”
“What for?” Callie looked at him with a blank face.
Leonard wiped his nose. “Because they’re dead, and I’m still here.” He paused to look down. “You see, I cheated on the physical. There’s nothing wrong with me. I just knew some tricks to make it look like there was something wrong with me.”
Herman felt sorry for him. Leonard’s puffy eyes and pitiful expression nearly erased the memory of the cocky, wise-cracking youngster who teased him to the point of tears. Herman couldn’t quite forget Leonard probably was the one who made Tad destroy Burly Senior.
Callie, however, was not sympathetic. “You’re wrong, Leonard. There is something wrong with you. It’s something that would never show up on any doctor’s test. You have absolutely nothing worthwhile inside you.” Grabbing her brother’s arm, Callie walked away, leaving Leonard standing there crying, trying to explain to others in the crowd who also turned their backs to him.
Herman rode back to the farm in Uncle Calvin’s car with Callie. Papa had refused to ride with them but instead took his pickup.
“I guess Woody will never change,” Uncle Calvin said.
Aunt Joyce eyed Herman and Callie. “No, I suspect not.”
No one spoke in the car on the ride home. Uncle Calvin was about to pull onto the dirt road leading to papa’s farm when Callie put her arm around Herman. “Come live with us in Houston,” she whispered.
Herman looked at his sister and frowned. “But Papa needs me.”
“Has he said so?” she asked.
His eyes went out the window to watch the approaching farm house. “You know he would never say so. But I know he needs me.”
“You think he’s going to love you for doing this for him?” Callie continued, becoming a little angry. “You could bury yourself on this farm all your life and he will never love you.”
“Callie,” Aunt Joyce said with sadness, “it’s not nice to say things like that about your father.”
“Well, they’re true,” Callie replied.
“No,” Herman interrupted. “It’s just that he can’t show love.”
“Woody Horn was never one to show how he felt, even in the old days,” Uncle Calvin offered.
Herman looked Callie in the eyes. “And I’m not going to bury myself on this farm. I’ll stay here as long as I’m in school. But then I’m leaving. I’m going to college and I’m going to have a life of my own.”
“There’s a lot of good colleges in Houston,” Aunt Joyce said.
Callie hugged Herman tightly. “I love you,” she whispered in his ear.
“I love you too,” he whispered back.
Herman got out, and they left. He watched the car pull back on the blacktop and fade down the road before he went inside. Papa was in his bedroom with the door shut. Herman politely rapped and said, “They’ve left.”
After he climbed the ladder to the loft and took off his Sunday clothes and put on his work clothes, Herman came back down to fix supper. He ate his meal, knocked on the door and said, “The food’s on the stove.” He then went back to the loft and watched his father slowly come out of the door and eat a few bites.
“He doesn’t walk as tall as he used to,” Herman said to Burly. “And he doesn’t have worms on his arms anymore.”
Burly nodded. “That means he’s getting older.”
“Do you think he’ll live a long time?”
“I don’t know,” Burly replied. “Why?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“Are you afraid you’ll lose another member of your family?”
Herman shook his head. “No.”
“You don’t want him to die, do you?”
Herman paused a long while and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know.”
After papa ate and went back into his room, Herman came down to clean the dishes and straighten the kitchen. When he finished he turned to go to the loft but stopped by his father’s door to say, “I’m going to bed now.” Of course, there wasn’t a reply, but Herman told him anyway.
“You still love your father, don’t you?” Burly asked, a little worried.
Herman hugged him as he settled into bed. “Of course I do. It’s just that—“ he paused to collect his thoughts and continued, “I’ve gotten to the age to know he’s never going to love me the way I want him to, that’s all.”
Burly leaned into him. “Poor Herman.”
Herman chuckled sadly. “Yes, poor Herman.”
He tried to go to sleep, because he knew he would have a full day of work on the farm tomorrow since they had missed so much for the memorial service, but for some reason he couldn’t.
Then he was aware of someone coming up the ladder. For an instant he thought it was Tad, that the years had rolled back and everything was like it was before mama died. But that thought didn’t last long. He soon saw that it was papa coming up with the American flag under his arm. For another instant Herman considered saying something but he figured papa had waited this long to come up so he would be asleep. Therefore, he pretended to be asleep because he knew that’s what papa wanted. Through half slit eyes he watched his father open the lid to the old trunk at the end of the room. Papa gently lifted mama’s wedding dress, smelled it and kissed it tenderly. Then with a sad pat, papa put the flag in the trunk and closed the lid. Herman thought he would go back down the ladder but instead papa walked over to Herman’s bed. It made Herman nervous, but he continued to pretend to be asleep.
Papa picked up Burly. “Well, little bear, he talks a lot to you, doesn’t he?”
Herman tried not to stir.
“I wonder what all he says?” After a pause he added in a cracked voice. “I know he wants to talk to me, tell me all the things he tells you, but I can’t let him. I don’t know why I can’t, but I just can’t.”
And then papa cried softly. Herman wanted to jump up and hug him and tell him everything was going to be all right, but Herman knew everything was not going to be all right. He also knew if he let papa know he was listening it would embarrass him. So he just lay there until papa put Burly down and went down the ladder to his room.
“You see,” Burly said softly. “Your papa does love you.”
But Herman didn’t answer. He was sobbing into his pillow.

Into Himself

(Author’s note: For the record, I have nothing against pot and I like hippies. This story happens to be true however, and the person in question was a bit pretentious which I found funny.)
I once knew a pot-head hippie who lived in a tent on two acres of pine forest just outside of Austin, Texas. He had a pile of wood on the property which he claimed he was going to use to build a music studio, but I think he was more interested in cultivating his garden of marijuana plants instead. He had a nasty scar between the eyes which I tried not to stare at or ask any questions about.
He was the musical director of a play I was in, and after rehearsal one night he asked me for a ride home because his car was in the garage for repairs. When we arrived he invited me to walk through his woods to the tent for a glass of rotgut whiskey on the rocks. As he was pouring the cheap liquor he said he always gave something to anyone who did him a favor so they couldn’t accuse him of being ungrateful later. We discussed the possibility of writing an opera based on a play of mine which ended with my father snoring. He swore a snore was in the key of G flat. I swore I would never let myself get so bored that I would have this type of discussion with a pot-head hippie again.
“I guess you wonder where I got this scar,” he finally said.
Admitting my curiosity, I expected a story of a fight with a bunch of bikers. He wasn’t a biker himself. He was kind of puny but had a real sarcastic mouth on him. Most people smart enough to belong to Mensa usually do, which can provoke bikers to want to beat them up. But no, he responded, it happened right there on his happy two acres of wilderness.
“If you notice,” he said, pointing with his full glass of whiskey, “I have my phone attached to that tree over there. It didn’t used to be so close. Originally I had it on a tree by the road. I thought the longer it took for me to answer the phone the more likely unwanted callers would just hang up.”
I nodded. I had learned not to argue with a man who had an outdoor john, showered with a garden hose and bought a bag of ice every night to keep his bacon and eggs fresh. It was easier that way.
“Anyway, one night I heard the phone ring and I jumped out of bed and ran to answer it. I sleep naked so there I was at one with nature, the moon shining, the crickets chirping and me just as God made me. I felt at one with nature, running just like a wild animal through the trees. The only thing was, I forgot there was a low hanging limb between the phone and me. I hadn’t cut it because I figured anyone who really wanted to see me should have to go to the trouble of lifting the branch as he came down the path. It caught me right between the eyes. I couldn’t afford stitches so I just let it heal on its own.”
I guess he also forgot he was a whole lot taller than the average wild animal running through the woods at midnight. Actually, the average wild animal would have had enough sense to let the phone ring.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Thirty-Three


Previously in the novel: Mercenary Leon fails in a kidnapping because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the spy world is socialite Wallis Spencer, who dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol, has an affair with German Joachin Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. Each are on the Tanganyika Express to get their hands on the stolen Crown Jewels. David and Wallis officially meet at Thelma’s party.
Finally the Prince of Wales stood to excuse himself from the parlor filled with card players to retire to his bedroom. Wallis noticed he took particular effort to avoid eye contact. She also noticed that Thelma was aghast her hunting weekend party had just had a deathly pall descend upon it. Wallis shrugged. She couldn’t help herself. Then she watched General Trotter stand and go to the prince’s side to whisper. He turned to guide Edward to her.
“What a wonderful evening,” Trotter announced in a strong baritone that could be heard across the room. He leaned in for the ears of the prince and Wallis alone. “The three of us must have breakfast on the terrace.”
“We must?” The prince wrinkled his handsome brow.
“That won’t be necessary,” Wallis demurred.
“Yes, it will.” Trotter’s tone was tinged with an iron will developed through years of ordering soldiers into battle. “Wallis, meet your new companion in espionage, code name David. “
David and Wallis stood at attention.
In the morning General Trotter insisted they take breakfast on the terrace even though the temperature was brisk. The surrounding garden was filled with plants, birds and squirrels. All three were seated wearing appropriately heavy sweaters and scarves. The only purpose, Wallis decided, was to ensure they would be alone in their discussions.
Wallis and David sipped their coffee and began to cut triangles off their toast as General Trotter spoke in a soft, authoritative voice.
“You must have realized by now that MI6 had selected you to marry each other within five years. Last night was your first official meeting, surely to be recorded in the society pages of newspapers around the world.”
“It didn’t exactly go well, did it?” Wallis paused to puff on her cigarette.
“Which couldn’t have been better.” Trotter smiled with a smugness developed through years of well thought-out military strategy. “Your next encounter will be equally awkward. Wallis, you and your husband will be presented at court.”
“Ugh.” David choked on his toast. “Will that be necessary?”
Wallis looked at him askance. “I will not miss an opportunity to wear a pretty dress.” She smirked. “And Ernest won’t miss a chance to wear a pretty uniform.”
“Sometimes even a pretty dress cannot rescue a disaster in the making.” David lit a cigarette and blew smoke in Wallis’ direction.
Her hard eyes looked him up and down. “You’re skinnier than I thought. Frankly you look like a fourteen-year-old boy who’s lost his way.”
David sat erect. “Fourteen year old, perhaps; lost his way? Hardly. You’d be surprised what I did at ten.”
“Nothing about you would surprise me.”
“And that would be your downfall.”
“You wouldn’t have a chance against me in a fight.”
He leaned back. “Perhaps, but you had better kill me because if I survive, I will track you down in the middle of the night slit your throat, dissect your body and bury the parts in my garden at Fort Belvedere.”
Wallis blew smoke through her nostrils. “Kinky. I think I could fall in love with you after all.”
Trotter coughed. “So glad you resolved your differences. In the meantime, David must tour South America with Prince George.”
“Does he know yet?” David asked.
“No, that’s your job,” the general replied. “Officially the trip is to cut the opening ribbon at the British Empire Trade Exposition in Buenos Aires.”
“And unofficially?” David tapped out his cigarette in his poached egg.
“George is on heroin and cocaine again,” Trotter explained. It’s up to you to sweat it out of him.”
“So why do I have to know about this?” Wallis flicked her cigarette into a nearby potted plant and lit another.
“You travel in much the same circles as George,” Trotter explained. “If you hear certain things from certain people, you need to tell us.”
“What people?” she asked.
“Kiki Preston,” Trotter replied.
“Kiki!” Wallis guffawed. “I thought George had better taste than that! Isn’t she the socialite known as the girl with the silver syringe? Silver? How tacky! Please tell me he’s bedded someone better than Kiki.”
“Jessie Matthews.”
“Loved her shows.” Wallis smiled.
“So did George.” David crossed his legs and looked away.
“This is getting fascinating.” She picked up her coffee. “Tell me more.”
“Noel Coward and Barbara Cartland.”
Wallis spewed coffee across the table. “My God, sounds like a smorgasbord.”
General Trotter stood. “Kiki is our main concern, but also listen for gossip about this American James Donohue.
Both David and Wallis leaned forward, their brows furrowed and their moods subdued.
“He’s the one who spirited George away last night,” David said.
“He’s the one with the ugly wife and diamonds.” Wallis put her cigarette aside in an ash tray and folded her hands under her chin.
“You both bungled that one,” Trotter announced with a hint of judgement in his voice. “We think Donohue and his wife were behind the Crown Jewel heist. That’s why we want to keep him away from George.”
“That’s a big order.” Wallis lowered her hands. “Keeping anyone away from George.”
“I don’t know. I always thought the most dangerous person who might influence George was—“David began in hesitation.
“I know what you mean,” Wallis interrupted. “The man who tried to steal the jewels from me on the Tanganyika Express was a German. He said something about Von Ribbentrop being surprised that I was involved.”
Trotter frowned. “Von Ribbentrop knows you?”
“Yes.” Wallis picked up her cigarette. “He gave me a white carnation one time.”
“So what are you saying?” The general was becoming impatient.
“Don’t laugh at our suspicion,” David said.
“Our suspicion?” Wallis was a bit incredulous.
“I had the same idea.” David shrugged. “Of course, unless you were thinking of someone else.”
Now Wallis was irritated. “I think it was Adolph Hitler. He would do anything to make England look bad thereby increasing his chances of becoming German chancellor.”
“I agree. Adolph German.” He glanced at the general. “That’s why I asked you not to laugh. It’s rather ludicrous, isn’t it?”
Trotter was stoic. “I would never laugh about Adolph Hitler.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Fifty-Seven


Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns captive under guard in the White House basement. Stanton selects Duff, an AWOL convict,to impersonate Lincoln. Duff learns how to conduct cabinet meetings. Alethia, the woman playing Mrs. Lincoln, has had a carriage accident. He goes to see her at the hospital in Maryland.
Entering the small hospital room next to Anderson Cottage, Duff was taken aback by how small Alethia looked in the bed, how fragile, with gauze wrapping the side of her head. She appeared asleep, but when he closed the door, she opened her eyes and smiled, her cheeks moist with perspiration.
“How’s Tad? Was he upset he couldn’t see me?”
“First words out of his mouth were about you. He’s calm. He told me to say he loved you.”
“He’s such a dear boy.” Her head relaxed on the damp pillow. “Even though he knows I’m not his mother, he loves me.”
“He says I’ve a fat butt, but that’s all right.”
“Don’t make me laugh. I’ve this frightful headache.” She closed her eyes. “Is Mr. Forbes all right? They haven’t told me anything since he wrecked the carriage. I overheard someone say the bolts had been loosened on the driver’s seat.” She sighed. “Someone’s trying to kill you, Father.”
“Can I get you anything?” Duff sat on the edge of the bed and patted her hand.
“Send Mrs. Keckley up here tomorrow. I hate to take the nurses away from the men. I know she won’t mind waiting on me.” Alethia paused. “She’s so kind. I think she knows who I am—or rather, who I’m not—but she doesn’t care.”
“I thought you might like to read this,” he said, pulling from his pocket Rose Greenhow’s book and handing it to her. “My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolitionist Rule at Washington.”
“Rose wrote a book!” Her eyes widened. “I didn’t know she was out of prison.”
“The book says she was released last fall to the Confederates. She went to London, found a publisher, and wrote her memoirs.”
“I knew she could talk her way out of anything.” Alethia opened the front page and squinted at the dedication. “To Alethia Haliday, our unknown hero who disappeared in Old Capitol Prison while in service to the Confederacy.” Her mouth flew open. “There’s my name!”
“Shush. Don’t tell anyone.” Duff smiled as he squeezed her hand.
“At least I know Rose is alive and well.” Alethia smiled and squeezed his hand back, lifting it to her lips to kiss.
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
“I’m sure.” She paused. “Does Robert know?”
“I sent him a wire.”
Touching her head, Alethia moaned.
“Let me get the doctor.”
“No, not yet. I’m enjoying your company.”
“Then I won’t return to Washington tonight.”
“With the nation celebrating a victory? You have to be there for the candlelight parade.”
“You would’ve have been a wonderful politician’s wife.”
“Besides, Tom Pen wouldn’t get to light the oval room window as you stand waving to the crowd. He’d be so disappointed.” Her smile faded as she moaned again.
“I must get the doctor.” Duff left the room and grabbed the first doctor he saw to have him attend to Alethia’s head wound.
Back at Anderson Cottage, Tad waited, sitting on the floor, meticulously unraveling the rug, strand by strand. When he saw Duff, he jumped up and opened the screen door.
“Is she all right? Does she still have a fever?”
“Yes, the fever’s returned, but it’ll pass. She asked about you.”
“She did? I’m glad.”
“Do you want to go back to town with me? There’s going to be a candlelight parade tonight.”
“With bonfires?”
“I suppose.”
“And Tom Pen’s going to light the window with candles, and you and me can stand there waving to all the people?”
“Of course.”
“Gee, I ain’t stood in the lighted window with Papa—I mean, with—I ain’t stood in the window since last July Fourth. There ain’t been no big battles won since—in a long time.”
“Yes, it’s been a long time.”
“She still ain’t feeling good, is she?” Tad looked off at the long white barracks where Alethia lay, wracked with aches and fever.
“No, she isn’t.”
“It’d make her feel good if I stayed here and sat with her tonight, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes, it would.”
“There’ll be other candlelight parades.” He narrowed his eyes in deep thought and sighed. “The lady needs me right now.”
“You’re a good boy, Tad.” Duff hugged him and bent down to whisper in his ear, “I’d be proud to have you as my own son.”
“You better go now.” Tad stepped back and rubbed his nose across his arm. “The people need you.”