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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.”

The Turtledove

Everything was looking up on our farm just outside Cumby, Texas, during the Great Depression. Pa, Ma, me and my brother Bill worked hard to keep the homestead going. Finally, that fall a big crop of cotton was about to pop open. On top of that, Ma had just had a baby, a little girl just like she always wanted.
For the first time in a couple of years Pa had to hire a family to help bring in the cotton bolls before they rotten in the fields. The Jones family had worked for us before. The father was a big strapping man, somebody you wouldn’t want to sass. The mother was short, kinda rolly polly with a big bosom and a big heart. And, boy, did she love to talk. She could practically talk the cotton bolls off the stalks. Which was good because it made the day go by faster under the hot Texas sun and it made you forget how much your back ached from dragging that long cotton bag all day.
The Joneses had two boys that we used to play with but they were almost grown up now and didn’t look like they’d care to bother with a couple of li’l ol’ boys like Bill and me.
Anyway, one day, halfway through the cotton fields Miz Jones finished one long story about the sickness her boys had been through but they were just fine now ‘cause they was big strong healthy boys and she worked hard to keep them that way. Fed them good food, made sure they got plenty of milk, meat and greens.
“And, of course,” she added in a low, secret-like voice, “you got to keep them away from the magic.”
“The magic?” I asked.
“Oh, there’s all kinds of magic in the world,” Miz Jones said. “And all of it is bad. Some folks says there’s good magic out there to protect the babies but I says all magic is bad. If it ain’t come from the Lord it’s bad.”
“Is that so?” Bill said. I could tell he was busting a gut trying not to laugh out loud. “Like witches and such? Potions and voodoo?”
“Well, there’s bad folks out there. I don’t say that. They can do some mighty hurt with them poultice bags, but the worst magic comes from old Mother Nature herself. She’s done got tricks up her sleeve, ooh. You gotta be on your guard day and night.”
“Like what?” Bill hung his head low so she wouldn’t see his smile.
“There’s a lotta bad magic out there but I say just about the worst has to be from the turtledove.”
“The turtledove?” I asked.
“Now I tell you, if you ever have a turtledove get in the house, nestling in the rafters going, ‘Coo…coo,’ you done had it. There’s going to be a death in the family for sure. No doubt about it. Once you hear a turtledove cooing in the house, boy, it’s all over. Somebody’s gonna die.”
Bill and me, we thought we done real good in not guffawing at Miz Jones. Ma had always said it wasn’t nice to laugh at somebody to their face. Besides, those Jones boys looked like they could beat the tar out of us if we made fun of their ma.
The next day Pa pulled us aside. “You boys been working so hard in the fields that you deserved a day off to go hunting.”
So Ma packed us a lunch, we oiled and polished our .22 rifles, and off we went through the woods. We got us some squirrels and rabbits. Mostly we just lollygagged about, joking and laughing about anything and everything. The day was just about over when we heard it:
Coo…coo…
Bill and me looked at each other and smiled. The best joke of all. We stalked lightly through the brush until we spotted the nest. Mama turtledove had just flowed off, looking for food. There they were, three babies cooing their heads off. We gently stuck out our hands into the nest and scooped up one of the chicks. We hurried back home before the others came out of the cotton fields. We snuck into the field hands’ cabin and placed the baby turtledove up in the rafters.
We grinned during supper.
“Well, you boys must have had a good time hunting,” Ma said as she ladled out the squirrel and rabbit stew made from our catch.
“Yes, Ma,” we mumbled.
“That’s good.” She cuddled our baby sister on her lap as she settled in to eat. “Good times. We’re having good times right now.”
Just then there was a loud rapping at the door.
“Mr. Cowling! Mr. Cowling!” It was Mr. Jones. “Come quick! Miz Jones is terrible upset!”
“What on earth…” Pa muttered as he pushed away from the kitchen table.
“Can we come too, Pa?” Bill asked.
“I guess.” He looked at Ma. “Is that okay with you?”
“Sure. They done finished their supper.” She stood holding the baby close to her. “I’m putting the baby down to bed.”
So Bill and me scampered behind Pa to the Jones’ cabin. When we walked in Miz Jones was waving her arms, her eyes wide with fright.
“Oh, Mr. Cowling! Somebody’s going to die!”
We tried not to smile because those Jones boys was watching us mighty hard. Mr. Jones was trying to put his arms around his wife but she wouldn’t have none of it.
“There’s a turtledove in the rafters just cooing away. I swear somebody’s going to die, Mr. Cowling, I just know it.”
Pa stood tall and held up his hand. Miz Jones got quiet right away.
“If someone who is not a member of the family takes the turtledove out of the house, the curse is broken.” Pa then climbed up in the rafters and retrieved the little turtledove.
“Oh, praise the Lord!” Miz Jones said, her hands going to her cheeks. “Thank you, Mr. Cowling, thank you, sir. You done saved our lives.”
With much pomp and ceremony Pa held the turtledove, which was still cooing, in his hands high above his head.
“Hallelujah, Mr. Cowling. Thank you, Mr. Cowling,” we heard Miz Jones say we closed the door behind us.
When we got back to the house Pa placed the cooing baby turtledove in the kitchen sink. The bird began cooing again. He turned to stare hard at Bill and me.
“Are you boys behind all this?” he asked. His jaw was tied up in a knot.
“It was just a joke,” Bill mumbled.
“These are good, hard-working people,” Pa lectured us. “We’re lucky to have them working for us. They can’t help it if they’re superstitious. If you pull anything like this again I’ll—“
Ma came running into the kitchen from their bedroom. “Pa! Come quick! The baby’s not breathing!”
He ran into the room and leaned over the crib. As he put his mouth over the baby’s mouth trying to breathe life into her, Ma fell to her knees sobbing.
Then Bill and me, we heard something behind us.
Coo…coo…
We looked at each other.
Pa glared at us and shouted, “Get that turtledove out of this house right now!”
Bill and me grabbed the turtledove and just as we crossed the threshold of the front door, our baby sister sucked in a lot of air and started crying loud. Ma and Pa cried too, picking her up, kissing all over her little face. Bill and me didn’t say nothing, just stared at each other.
Coo…coo…
Maybe Miz Jones knew more than we did about the magic of Mother Nature.
The cooing of the turtledove.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Five

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 was not big; Adam was taller than him by a head, and Adam was only average size. Neal’s face was very pale for a Negro and covered with light brown freckles. Her mother had told her if one of the light-skinned servants in the big house wanted to marry her, she should let him; but when Phebe looked at Neal, who, by her mother’s standards, measured up to be the perfect husband, all she saw was a feisty, friendly, constantly yapping dog.
“What happened?” he repeated.
“It was my fault.” She concentrated on the last of the dishes, wanting to finish her chores, disappear into her room and forget what had happened.
“Who touched you, girl?” Neal took her arm and turned her toward him. He looked into her eyes.
“No one.” Phebe pulled away from him. “Forget it. I’ve got to finish the dishes. It’s late.”
“No.” Neal positioned himself between her and the sink. “It was the soldier boy, wasn’t it?”
“I handled it. I hit him upside the head with a plate.”
“What did he do?”
“He kissed me.”
“I’m gonna whip his ass!” Spinning around, Neal rushed to the door.
“No, you’re not,” she said, following him. “You’re a Negro. He’s white. You’re a butler. He’s a soldier.” Phebe now stood between him and the door. “Whose side do you think the law is gonna come down on?”
“Damn the law!”
“No! The law will damn you!” She sighed in guilt, having yelled at Neal. “Please,” she said, “we’re Negroes in a white man’s town. There are things going on in this house. Evil things.” Phebe stepped closer. “He told me something’s bad’s going on. He said if word got out, Tad could die. He said he could die. He even said I could die.”
“Did he threaten you?”
“He didn’t threaten me. He warned me. Neal, if I could die, you could die.”
He was quiet a long time. Then, staring at her intently, he asked, “Did you like it?”
“Like what?”
“Did you like the kiss?”
“No. If I had, I wouldn’t have broken a perfectly good plate.”
“Have you ever had a good kiss?” Neal stepped closer.
“Yes.” It was a lie. She did not want him to kiss her.
“I know how to kiss.” He pulled in his lips, moistening them so they shined in the whale oil light.
“So find somebody who cares,” Phebe said as she pushed past him to return to the sink. Washing the last glass, she dropped her head. “I’m sorry, Neal. I like you. But I don’t want to kiss you any more than I want to kiss Private Christy.”
“Why?”
“Because I hope for a better life.” She turned to look at him, drying her hands on a ragged cloth and twisting in fear. “If I kiss you—or any man—I might relent and allow you to have me. Then, alone with a baby, I’d have no chance for a better life.”
“I wouldn’t do that. If you let me kiss you, I know you’d love me. I want to marry you.” He paused. “I’m not a common dog.”
“I know, Neal.” What an unfortunate choice of words. Phebe restrained herself, not wanting to hurt him anymore.
“I love you, Phebe, but you’ll never love me, will you?”
“I’m sorry.”
A long sigh escaped Neal’s lips as he turned to leave, softly adding, “I lied about kissing. No girl ever let me kiss her.”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Forty-Nine

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on his first mission because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the spy world is socialite Wallis Spencer, who dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. Old King George finally dies.
By the next morning David had been hustled by courtiers to St. James Palace which was in the heart of London next to the Green Park for the meeting of the King’s Accession Council. After a few customary comments privy councilors broached the topic of Mrs. Simpson, which David fully expected. General Trotter, however, instructed him to act apprehensive and queasy. They finished and voted their approval of the proclamation of accession at noon. David went to his apartment in York House, a wing of St. James overlooking Friary Court where the proclamation would be read to the public amidst much pomp and circumstance.
General Trotter instructed David to call Wallis to join him in the window above the court to observe the ceremony. This would serve two purposes, he said. The world would be shocked to see him at ceremony. No British king had ever watched his own proclamation before. Proper society would shudder when his mistress sat by his side when he did.
Wallis, dressed in a subdued black outfit with a fur collar and modest hat, arrived by way of a side street through the Colour Court and made her way upstairs to the prince’s quarters. Just as four state trumpeters in gold-lace draped tunics marched onto the low balcony over the courtyard, Wallis stepped into the light of the window and sat in chair, followed by David who stood with his arm around her shoulders. Everyone gathered in Friary Court. The crowd flowed out onto Marlborough Road. The observers immediately turned their heads to the window and pointed. News photographers shot pictures at window. Newsreel cameras also focused on the couple instead of the balcony where the proclamation was taking place.
“Good, good, exactly what we wanted,” General Trotter muttered, standing apart from them in the shadows.
“Should we wave?” Wallis asked.
“Heavens no,” Trotter replied. “Just sit back and enjoy the show.”
Sergeants at arms hoisted their royal maces high. The trumpet blasted. Garter King Sir Gerald Wollaston, accompanied by equally garishly dressed attendants, appeared and pulled out the proclamation to read in a loud official voice.
“By the way, Wallis,” Trotter continued, ignoring the royal pageantry, “I must inform you that I am leaving my post as equerry out of protest of your close companionship with the king. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. I have nothing but the highest admiration for the way you conduct your espionage missions. But the new crush of attendants around David will make my private role more difficult. Out of the official inner circle, I can be more efficient in passing on MI6 orders.”
“That’s nice to know,” she said in a tone that conveyed she didn’t really care what was being said.
“And you, David, I don’t know if you will be able to stay on the throne,” Trotter informed him.
“God, I hope not,” the prince replied in derision, even though he kept smiling as the proclamation reading. “Bertie would be much better at this kinging business than I ever would.”
“He doesn’t think so, nor does his wife. But your mother and the prime minister would be pleased if he were king.”
“I suppose we couldn’t let him in on our little secret,” David offered.
“Of course not,” Trotter snapped. “You knew from the very beginning your family could never know.”
“So when can I stop being king?”
The long-winded King of the Garter Sir Wollaston finished the proclamation, and the regimental band in the courtyard blared “God Save the King.” Wallis couldn’t help herself and burbled a full throated laugh.
“Sorry,” she said, pulling a handkerchief from her purse to cover her mouth. “The timing of the anthem right after your question was quite ironic.”
Trotter raised an eyebrow then ignored Wallis. “Next summer when you take your holiday you’ll visit several countries by train and by yacht. The itinerary will be a bit of gobbledygook. You have to skip Italy because Mussolini invaded Ethiopia.”
“Well, we all knew that was coming,” David said. “Anyplace else we can’t go?”
“Cannes,” Trotter replied. “The election of a leftist government might provoke radicals to try to assassinate you.”
“Oh great,” Wallis said with great disgust. “Where can we go?”
“The Dalmatian Coast,” Trotter answered.
“How exciting,” she announced with a sarcastic wit. After a pause she asked, “May I have a cigarette now?”
“Not as long as there’s a crowd lingering in the courtyard,” the general said.
“Why don’t they leave?” David asked.
“Because you are still in the window,” Trotter explained. “This is one of the problems MI6 faces.”
Wallis stood. “Let’s move into another room so I can have my damn cigarette.”
Once they settled into an inner parlor, the general explained the test mission. “You will spend most of your time on the Dalmatian Coast in secluded coves sunbathing and in tiny towns letting the local peasants gawk at you. While all this is going on, someone in the crowd—one of our agents—will pass a note to you. It will say, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5.” If you are able to complete the mission without undue attention being drawn to you, we might continue with you as king; otherwise you will have to abdicate.”
“That sounds simple-minded. Who came up with that childish idea?” Wallis asked.
David smiled. “Remember the poem. Ours is not to reason why….”
“By the way,” Trotter added, “I have a couple who requested to see you today. I’m sure you remember them, David. They’ve been quite useful on a few of your missions. They’re retiring and wanted to say good-bye.”
Glancing at the door he saw the old couple who had passed on parts of messages throughout the years. The last time he had seen them they were working in the background at Ribbentrop’s apartment. They were holding hands which made David smile. He turned to Wallis.
“This couple has been invaluable to many operations passing on information. You may have noticed them at dinner parties with the Ribbentrops.”
Wallis stood, crossed to them and extended her hand. “Of course I remember you. Mrs. Ribbentrop raved about how she couldn’t host a party without you getting things done.”
They shook her hand and the woman curtsied.
“They’re responsible for securing the information on the Hitler conference in ’35 and Ribbentrop’s recent visit to Paris,” Trotter explained.
“My, you are valuable, aren’t you?” Wallis responded. “So why are you retiring?”
“Who wants to work for a king the likes of him?” The woman pointed at David.
“You’ll have to excuse me old lady,” the man said. “She has a Cockney sense of humor.”
“Excuse her? I want to hug her!” Wallis reached out and took the woman in her arms.
“You’re a bit of a bag of bones, but you’re a sweet one for sure,” the woman muttered, her voice cracking a bit.
“Oh, my dear, you don’t know the half of it.” Wallis winked.
“No sir,” the old man continued. “We decided it was time to call it quits. The German mission was the most important thing we ever did, so we’re leaving while we’re at the top of our game, so to speak. When you get old, you make mistakes, and we’ll have none of that.”
“So where are you going?” Wallis asked the woman.
“New York,” she replied. “Love the Coney Island hot dogs.”
Wallis patted her hand. “Trust me. Baltimore has better hot dogs.”
Everyone laughed, except David who pondered the man’s comment about age. He was forty-two now. How many years did he have left before making a fatal mistake?

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Four

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. Lincoln substitute Duff confesses his sins to Alethia.
Phebe washed and dried the last of the pots and pans, rubbing hard as she thought about the past two years and Adam’s lies. The door opened and he entered with the evening tray. She had not lit the whale oil lamp yet, so deep shadows fell across his face.
“I’m sorry the dishes are so late.”
He was on his way out the door when Phebe said, “I hope Mr. Gabby enjoyed his meal.”
Adam stopped and turned. Wiping his red locks off his forehead, he opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
“Mr. Gabby’s in there, ain’t he? When those people moved into the billiards room, Mr. Gabby disappeared. Nobody would fire him. From what he said, he got his job because his uncle was a general.”
“General Zook died at Gettysburg. Then he could be fired.” Adam looked down. “Mr. Stanton didn’t like him.”
“Mr. Gabby disappeared almost a full year before Gettysburg.”
“Your memory isn’t that good.”
“My memory is just fine.”
“I’m tired tonight,” he said. “I could explain all this real good, but my mind’s fuzzy.”
“What about Master Tad?”
“What about him?”
“You carried him down here.”
“I don’t even remember that.”
“Don’t remember?” Phebe grunted. “You’re too big of a coward to tell the truth.”
“I’m not a coward.” Adam stepped toward her. “Don’t call me that.” He sank into a chair. “Don’t press me on this. You don’t understand. If I say too much,” he said, choosing each word carefully, “Tad could die. I could die.” He looked up. “You could die.”
“I’m sorry.” She bit her lip, fearing she had been too hard on him; after all, she did not dislike him. If anything, she liked him more than she wanted to admit. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“You don’t know how hard this is.” Adam put his head in his hands. “I’d never been out of Steubenville until I came here.”
Phebe had never been off the plantation until she was sold, so she knew those feelings of isolation and fear.
“My mother is dead—she died when I was young,” he said. “She was the one who always solved problems for me.”
Her mother had been sold before her eyes. She had been Phebe’s protector, her hope, her salvation, and her key to all knowledge—language, arithmetic, religion.
“I’ve said too much.” Adam sniffed and looked at Phebe. “I’m sorry I’ve been mean. From the first time I saw you, I liked you very much.” He paused as she looked away. “I like the way you smell like soap.”
“Thank you.” She tried not to smile. “It’s late. I have to wash those dishes.” Phebe went to the sink.
“Let me help you.” Adam came up behind her. “To make up for me being such a fumble-mouth.”
“That’s all right—” Phebe turned and was startled by his closeness. She looked into his open, naïve blue eyes, and could not complete her sentence.
“I…” Adam could not finish his sentence either.
Slowly they came closer, until he impulsively kissed her. Phebe’s eyes widened, startled. Her hand frantically reached for the sink; she grabbed a plate and shattered it against his head.
“I’m sorry.” Adam staggered back, fingering his temple to find blood.
Phebe wanted to lash out indignantly, but the words were not there; perhaps she felt sorry for him, and maybe she was angry at herself for hitting him.
“Pardon me.” Adam stumbled toward the door. “I should have never…” Then he was gone.
Phebe knelt to pick up the shards of plate from the floor, berating herself. Mama would be wagging her finger if she were here. There was no excuse. After putting the bits of broken plate in the trash barrel, she returned to the sink and vigorously scrubbed the rest of the dishes.
Walking into the room and removing his butler’s jacket, Neal asked, “Do you want me to dry?” After she nodded, he joined her at the sink and started wiping. “Those white folks get later and later finishing their supper, don’t they?”
“Will you please stop it about the white folks?” Phebe said, tensing her back.
“All right,” he replied, glancing over at her. After a few moments, he asked, “What’s wrong, Phebe?”
“Nothing.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“You’re a good man, Neal.” Looking at him, she smiled.

Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Eleven

Previously: Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with hints of parody of Zorro and The Scarlet Pimpernel and a dash of social satire on gender roles and class mores. Cecelia throws her annual society ball, where former lovers Andy and Bedelia meet. Andy and friends try to stop villain Malcolm Tent. Cecelia falls for henchman Billy Doggerel.
Millicent returned to Andy and Eddie at the chaise lounge to continue their plans to snatch the packet from the chief inspector. Tent and Billy looked out the window as though they were entranced by the gas street lights.

“Is everything arranged for tonight?” Tent asked.

“Aye, boss,” Billy replied, nodding his head. “I pick up the packet in ‘alf an ‘our.”

“Good, then bring it back to me.”

Bedelia returned to library, wiping tears from her eyes and then cracking her crop against her pants, which, for some odd reason, which can only occur in a bunch of silliness like this, caused everyone else to freeze. This allowed her to go right into a full blown soliloquy.

I’ve had my cry. Now is the time to act. I must in fact
Discover the identity of that red under-wearing rat.
That will impress our properly dressed Lady Cecelia.
A deed the whole town will likely cheer, hip hip hoorah.
Let’s see who can this villain be, could he be in this room?
The suspects are before me now, it’s easy to assume.
The illegitimate daughter of the recently retired chief inspector of Scotland Yard
I’m on the job, I’m more than smart, I’ll never rest until that man’s behind jail bars.

Now who can I suspect? Old Malcolm Tent, oh no, not he.
He was so loyal to my dad, a villain he could never be.
I don’t know who this person is—
He’s so filthy I don’t even want to think about him.
And our dear host, what can I say—
Lady Cecelia loves to gossip and bray.
She would tell all that she’s the one in bright red underwear.
Of course I’m not the one I’m looking for, I know my underwear!
And Millicent wants Eddie’s body—
Too busy for red underwear.
Dear Eddie’s much too dumb—oh dear, he lost his shirt!
Which leaves the dandy, my sweet Andy—
He can’t be the man in red. He’s much too randy.
But never fear I know he’s near, that man in underweer—wear!

Bedelia turned to leave, paused to look back and then cracked her crop against her pants again which caused everyone to unfreeze. (Don’t try to figure it out. Go with the flow, so to speak.) She closed the door with an unexpected bang which caused Cecelia to lose her balance and stumble into Billy.

‘Ey, watch it, ducks,” Billy warned her.

Cecelia rubbed her hands up and down his thick arms. “You are a solid beast, aren’t you?”

I ain’t no cream puff, if that’s what ya thought.”

“If I fancied any notions that your bulk was anything but hard muscle I was mistaken.” A school-girl grin danced across her face.

Tent tried to wedge himself between Cecelia and Billy. “Lady Snob-Johnson, my associate and I are trying to carry on a private conversation.”

“Oh. Well. Carry on.” She broke out in giggles. “I wouldn’t mind carrying on with your associate myself.”

“Thanks. Yer kinda cute too, ducks.” Billy winked.

“You think so? I mean, I do have a grown daughter, you know.” Her hands went to her cheeks, as though trying to smooth away the wrinkles.

“Lady Snob-Johnson, given your propensity for gossip, I must ask you something.” Tent finally nudged Billy out of the way. “Did you just overhear anything?

“You mean you were talking? All I saw was that beautiful chest heaving up and down, up and—“

“Billy, get out of here before she starts to hyperventilate!” Tent ordered.

Before he took his leave, Billy clucked Cecelia under her chin. “Anything you say, boss. ‘Ey, ducks. I likes the ones that’s been around the block a few times. You know what I mean.”

Impulsively, she followed him as he walked to the door. “Will I see you again, soon?”

“If yer lucky.”

Before he could open the door, Billy found Andy blocking the way.

“Yoo hoo. Excuse, me, sir.” Andy tried fluttering his eyes, but his coquette skills were not up to par with those honed by Cecelia.

“Yeah, what do ya want?”

Andy tapped at the lapel of Billy’s coat. “I was just curious how you managed that divine shade of brown on your jacket.”

“It’s dirt.” Billy shoved Andy out of his way and left.

“How original.” Andy took out a lace hanky to wipe his hands.

Cecelia rushed up and spun Andy around. “Lay off of him. You hear me. He’s mine!”

“Anything you say, dearie.” Andy looked over at Millicent and Eddie to point at the retreating bulk of Billy Doggerel. He nodded at them and Millicent nodded back in agreement. Eddie was too busy picking his nose to notice anything important going on.

Cecelia rushed to the front door to wave at Billy as he went down the stairs. “Until later, mon amour.”

The orchestra members began tuning their instruments which brought Cecelia back to reality.

David , Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Forty-Eight

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

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Three

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

Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Ten

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

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

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

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

“Chief Inspector Malcolm Tent.”

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

“Billy Doggerel.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I agree.”

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

“What!?” Millicent’s mouth flew open.

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

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

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Forty-Seven

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