Tag Archives: historical fiction

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty-Six

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Mrs. Surratt confronts Gabby’s sister Cordie at the boardinghouse about spying for the South. Lincoln impostor Duff must deliver the Gettysburg Address.
Cordie awoke early, went downstairs to the kitchen to have a cup of coffee and a muffin with Mrs. Edmonds. After that she solicited sewing jobs from other boarders, and asked if anyone wanted a nice, sturdy, plain quilt, cheap. Several young men gave her socks, and Cordie slowly climbed the steps. She had to finish her mending by noon, so she could volunteer at Armory Square Hospital. Every morning was similar: busy, hectic, and tense. She never knew when Mrs. Surratt would appear and demand information from the Executive Mansion. Her chest was beginning to hurt, but she decided it was just a bellyache and chose to ignore it. Settling in her chair by the window, she jumped when she heard a forceful knock at the door. Only Mrs. Surratt knocked that hard.
“Miss Cordie? Are you there?”
“Yes, Mrs. Surratt,” she replied. “Come in.”
The landlady entered, her hands cupped together, a smile cemented to her face and her eyes hardened with determination.
“Isn’t it a beautiful November morning, Miss Cordie?”
“Yes, ma’am, very nice.” She kept her eyes on her darning.
“May I sit on your bed?”
“Of course, ma’am.”
“Thank you.” Mrs. Surratt sat primly on the edge of the mattress, her back stiff. “Have you heard from your brother lately, dear?”
“Yes. He’s doing quite well, thank you.”
“And the young man, the private. How is he?”
“Very well, too, ma’am.” Before she knew it, she was blathering. “He has a new spring to his step. Keeping himself groomed, clothes washed.”
“It’s very rude not to look at people when they talk to you, dear.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry, ma’am.” Cordie looked up, her eyes beginning to well with tears.
“You mustn’t sound so contrite,” Mrs. Surratt said. “After all, we are comrades in the good fight.” She looked into Cordie’s eyes. “And there’s no need to cry. You start to cry every time I visit you.”
“I—I don’t have anything to say,” Cordie whispered. “I don’t want to be put out in the street.”
“That young man is still being uncooperative? After all these months?”
“Yes, ma’am.” She fought the urge to return her eyes to her darning.
“That’s a Yankee for you. Never thinking of others.”
“He’s very considerate. He’s nice to me. And to his lady friend, Miss Home. But then we’re nice to him. I mean, I don’t mean you’re not nice, ma’am.”
“I swear, if you call me ma’am one more time…” she said lightly, then paused to laugh. “I shouldn’t say such things. You take them so seriously. So what are we going to do about this situation?”
“I don’t know, Mrs. Surratt,” Cordie replied. “He doesn’t seem like he’s going to change. Maybe he doesn’t know anything to tell.”
“Hmm.” Mrs. Surratt opened her hands, revealing several gold coins. “I think I have another way the Confederacy can help you.”
Looking over, Cordie saw the coins, and her eyes widened.
“What do I have to do for that?” she asked, thinking she could never do anything wicked enough to earn that much money.
“Oh, dear me.” Mrs. Surratt laughed. “This isn’t for you. Your reward is staying here. These coins are for our gallant men in Virginia.”
“I—I don’t understand.”
“Downstairs I have two dresses, and you will sew the coins into the hems,” she explained. “Tightly, so no one can hear them as the ladies move around.”
“I’m busy with my darning.”
Mrs. Surratt took the torn socks.
“What do we have here? Oh. These can wait,” she said, tossing them to the floor.
“But the boy needs them…”
“I don’t care what the boy needs.” She stood and put the coins in Cordie’s lap. “I’ll bring the dresses right up.”
“This doesn’t sound right.”
“Some terribly sweet lady friends of mine wish to wear these skirts when they take a leisurely carriage ride through the Virginia countryside tomorrow morning. What is wrong with that?”
Cordie sighed deeply, causing Mrs. Surratt to put her hands on her hips.
“Now what?”
“It’s just that…” Cordie searched for the right words. “I feel guilty.”
“You feel guilty?” Mrs. Surratt took a deep breath. “It’s the damnyankees who should feel guilty!”
“I wish you wouldn’t use that word,” Cordie said softly, looking down. “I’m a Yankee.”
“Haven’t I told you how they’ve burned whole towns?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Taken livestock, food, left our people to starve?”
“Yes, you’ve told me.”
“Do you think I’m lying?” Mrs. Surratt’s eyes narrowed. “Am I not a woman of honor? Am I not letting you stay in my boardinghouse?”
“You said I can stay in your boardinghouse only if I sew the coins in the dresses.”
“I didn’t put it that crudely,” Mrs. Surratt said with a sniff, “but it’s a reason for you not to feel guilty then, isn’t it?”

Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Three

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, in the middle of a crime wave in Soho. Chief Inspector Tent grills her but the Man in Red intervenes.
Malcolm Tent finally untangled himself from the cape. Taking a moment he looked under the fabric to find a stuffed turtle, which had created the illusion of a hump. How infantile. Tent stood and stomped around the chaise lounge, obviously furious that his dignity had been defiled. Cecelia was not intimidated.

“And now, Chief Inspector Malcontent—“

“That’s Malcolm Tent,” he corrected her with irritation. It was one thing to be pushed down on his rump and be covered by a cape with a fake hump, but quite another to have his name repeatedly mispronounced.

“I must request you leave my home immediately.”

“I will not! I’m expecting to receive—“ The inspector stopped. He stammered about a bit, leaving an unbiased observer to assume he was about to let the cat out of the bag about something either highly unethical or socially irredeemable or both. “I’m expecting to receive all the respect and hospitality due my office.”

“And why should I do that?” Cecelia held both of her chins as high as possible.

“Because if you throw me out I’ll tell everyone you’re nothing but an old gossip!”

“Very well. You may remain.” She wagged a bejeweled finger in his face. “But don’t expect me to be very nice.”

Millicent entered from the ballroom with a tray of canapés. Cecelia immediately put her finger away and turned to smile innocently at her daughter.

“All the guests have arrived,” Millicent announced, looking down at the tray with a disdain that should be reserved for pigs in a blanket. “The canapés are rotten, as usual.”

Cecelia’s mixture of dismay, disappointment and frustration launched her into another soliloquy.

What can I say? I make some really lousy canapés.
The word around town, you can’t keep them down.
The recipe has anchovies and nice sharp cheddar
And chicken liver, just a sliver so thin. I make it to please.
No matter what I do, my guests still claim they taste like poo.
I must find ways to make much better trays of canapés.

Tent tried to escape back into the ballroom. “I swear you make me pull out my hair. I don’t care! I just care about the lair of the Man in the Red Underwear!”

Cecelia placed herself in front of the doorknob.

I still remember it made my day when Lily Langtry stopped by to say,
“Cecelia dear don’t be so sad. These canapés can’t be all bad.”
And she ate two right away but turned an awful shade of gray.
And then in a poof my friend went woof which through the roof.
She said just give the rest to me and off she flew in a hustle
To force feed them to that man trap slut, her enemy Lillian Russell.
Canapés, canapés, they won’t eat any of my canapés.
Come on and be a good sport. Eat one of my canapés.

“No, thank you.”

“No, I insist.” She took one of the canapés from the tray and crammed it into the inspector’s mouth before he could make another protest.

While Tent made a valiant effort to masticate the inedible glob, Millicent handed the tray to Cecelia.

“Here, Mother. No one in the ballroom wants one.”

“Are you sure?”

“Most of them were at Lily Langtry’s last week and –“

“Never mind.” Her ladyship sighed.

Bedelia Smart-Astin, the daughter of same Hardesty Astin, whom Cecelia had disdained only moments earlier, entered from the ballroom and took a jaunty stance, displaying her nifty riding outfit, the pants a flattering shade of mauve. “Millicent!” She waved her crop proudly over her tightly woven chestnut colored hair.

Millicent rushed to her and hugged her. “Bedelia, darling!”

Cecelia was clearly displeased to have a relative of one of her gossip victims invading her social event of the season. She marched over and stuck the tray of liver drops under Bedelia’s nose. “Canapé, my dear?”

“How sweet of you, Lady Snob-Johnson, but I’m watching my figure.”

“Too bad.” Cecelia receded to the chaise lounge where she considered for the briefest of moments eating one of her concoctions herself.

Millicent took Bedelia by the elbow to guide her to the chief inspector. “Bedelia, let me introduce you to—“

“Of course! Malcolm Tent! We’re old friends!” She thrust her hand toward him.

“We are?”

“Don’t you remember me?” she said and then, by the sheerest of coincidences, broke into rhymed iambic-pentameter also. There must have been something in the air.

Mom didn’t marry Dad and that’s okay with me.
She had the cause, whatever it was, but she still loved me.
She told me always to wear pants and never heed those who say can’t.
I’m better than boys so I treat them just like they’re toys.

“I don’t care, ma’am,” Tent muttered. “Give a damn, ma’am! Ticker’s dam, ma’am!”

His protestations did not deter her at all.
Now Daddy dear married last year a girl named Dumb.
I think Marie is not too bright but sweet as a plum.
My Mom decided from the start to keep the family name of Smart.
So Marie decided that she would do the same thing too.

Tent could see this coming a mile away. “So she’s called—“

Marie Dumb-Astin.
Marie’s hyphenated name won such acclaim that I
have done the same to show the world my family pride.
Which I know will be long lastin’ and I became Bedelia Smart-Astin!

Cecelia swept over to her daughter to whisper in her ear. “Why did you invite her to my party?”

“I invited Bedelia because Lord Andrew Taylor wanted to see her,” Millicent replied.

“Andy’s back in town?” Pleasure erupted across Cecelia’s face. Now she had a genuine social elite attending her party. “I approve of the Taylors. Andy was such a charming, athletic, handsome young man when his family moved to their estate in Wales.

“I must warn you,” Millicent cautioned her mother. “Andy has changed quite drastically.”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Forty-One

Previously in the novel: Mercenary Leon fails in 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 Joachin Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. Ribbentrop aligns himself with both Hitler and the “organization.”
David knocked at the door of George’s suite at the Majestic hotel in Paris in the fall of 1933 when the heat had subsided and the trees had taken on shades of auburn and beige.
“Open up, George, it’s me.”
A light-hearted voice called out, “George Gershwin is down the hall!”
“This is not funny. Let me in,” David demanded.
George opened the door wearing a tuxedo and a goofy grin. “Make it fast. I have to be at the Ballet Russe in an hour.”
“No, you’re not.” David pushed him back into the suite and closed the door. Placing his palms on each side of George’s face, he peered into his brother’s eyes. They were clear, but not entirely intelligent by nature. “Thank God you’re not on the drugs again.”
“I take offense at that.” George pulled away, stepped to the closet and reached for his overcoat and top hat. “Now if you please I have a friend who has the starring role in Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird.”
“He’s not your friend.” David grabbed George’s shoulder before he could take the coat from a hanger. “Buckingham Palace received a letter from him last week asking for a princely sum not to reveal he’s bedded you several times in the last few weeks. He says he has engraved cigarette cases and lighters to prove it.”
“I don’t believe it.” He looked at his brother and blinked. “Boris isn’t like that.”
“Yes, he is.” David paused. “How would I know about the gifts you gave him, if not from him. Who introduced you?”
George looked away. “Kiki.”
“I rest my case. Don’t dismay. I have a charming evening planned for you. Get your hat and coat. We’re going to the small but respectable apartment of the deposed king of Greece and his family,” David informed him.
“Good God, what have I done to deserve that?” He raised his eyebrow. “I withdraw the question.”
Growing impatient, David went to the closet and took the hat and coat out himself and handed them to George. “They have a lovely daughter, Marina—“
“That mousey thing?” his brother interrupted.
“She is not mousey,” David corrected him as he opened the door and pushed George through. “She just doesn’t have the proper funds to buy the right clothes and have her hair fixed.” They went to the elevator and pushed the down button. “Oh. And be nice about the food. I understand the queen cooks it herself.”
After the elevator door closed, George groused, “Boris still has the cigarette cases and lighters. What are you going to do about that?”
“Don’t worry about it.” David smiled. “They’ll be back in your possession by morning. And that dancer will never bother you again.”

Wallis sat in the front row of the Ballet Russe yawning with boredom as she waited for the curtain to rise on The Firebird. She had never liked that ballet much. She preferred movies. And she didn’t care for the way she was dressed. Wallis wore a platinum blond wig, bobbed. Her eye shadow was blue and her lipstick black. Her hands, decorated with a bluish black fingernail polish, held a red patent leather clutch. The filmy magenta dress barely covered her skinny little bottom. She fit in with the style of les annees folles or the crazy years. It was all right for Josephine Baker but not for her. She preferred a more lady-like fashion. Of course, she was not a lady, but she was trying to be. The seat next to her was empty. She was waiting for Kiki Preston to arrive. Minutes before curtain, Kiki, also dressed in a dramatically short dress, plopped into the seat.
“Kiki, darling! I’m so please to see you!” Wallis lowered her voice and tried to hide her Maryland twang.
Kiki frowned. “Do I know you?”
“Of course, you do!” She grabbed Kiki’s little hand in a tight grip which made the girl wince. “I’ve always wondered. Do you pronounce it Keekee or Kickee?” Wallis kicked her calf, which caused the surprised woman to wince again.
“Why did you do that?” Kiki asked as she tried to pull her hand away.
Wallis dug her nails into Kiki’s palm. Leaning in, she whispered, “Take my advice. Leave right now, and never see George or the Russian dancer again.”
“But Boris and I have a date tonight.”
Wallis tightened her grip. “No, you don‘t.”
Kiki bit her bottom lip to keep from crying.
“If you stay in that chair, you will die in that chair. The custodians will find your lovely body intact except for a nasty needle mark behind your right ear.” Wallis slapped Kiki’s ear with Kiki’s own hand. “Do you understand me?”
Without another word, Kiki stood. Wallis grabbed her wrist.
“Oh, and by the way, tell Princess Stephanie to mind her own damned business.”
Kiki raced from the auditorium as the lights lowered and the orchestra began the overture. The curtain raised, and soon the corps de ballet entered. Boris made an impressive entrance as he bounded, as though free of gravity, across the stage.
“My God,” Wallis muttered, “why do all those dancers have to be so damn skinny?”
After the performance, Wallis made her way backstage and found Boris’ dressing room. Without knocking, she opened the door to find him naked, his skinny body glistening in sweat.
“Oh. I hoped to find you this way,” she announced as she stepped in and closed the door behind her. “Kiki sends her regrets. She had a crushing engagement and couldn’t make it.” Before Boris could say anything she embraced him and planted a kiss on his shocked lips. She pulled away and smiled. “No dinner. Let’s go straight to your apartment.”
Boris fumbled as he put on his street clothes, he asked, “Excuse me, who are you?”
“The best night you’ve ever had.”
He quickly finished, putting on his overcoat, throwing a scarf around his neck and putting a smart fedora on his head. Wallis snatched it away and put it on her own bewigged head.
“I’ll wear that.”
After they arrived at his small apartment near the Moulin Rouge, Wallis pushed him on the bed. “Make yourself comfortable.” She looked around. “Where do you keep your booze?”
His mouth agape, Boris pointed to the dresser. Wallis poured a splash of bourbon in two small glasses, adding a white powder to the one intended for her dancer friend. After he drank it, he passed out. When he awoke an hour later, Wallis had stripped him naked and tied his hands and feet to the bedframe. She straddled him.
“My, this brings back memories of Uncle Sollie.”
“Who?” Boris twisted his wrists in the bindings. “What are you doing?” he yelled.
“Shut up and listen. While you’ve been napping, I’ve been a busy girl. First I got you trussed up like a turkey, then I went through all your drawers and found these little trinkets.” She held up the cases and lighters. “With love from George.” She paused. “Are there any more?”
When he didn’t reply, she slapped his face.
Boris’ eyes widened. “No! No, that’s all.”
“Are you sure, Boris? I don’t like liars.” She slapped him again.
“Please believe me.” He began to cry. “That’s all.”
“I don’t like babies either.” She opened her red patent leather clutch and pulled out a long hat pin. Wallis leaned over and grabbed between his legs, inserting the hat pin.
He wailed in a high pitched yelp.
“You sound like a little girl.”
“I am a little girl,” he whimpered.
“At least you’re honest.” She withdrew the pin. “Stay away from George, or else you’ll get more than the pin next time. Do you understand?’
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Tell your agent you want to go on a world tour. For a long time. Skip London.”
“Yes, ma’am.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty-Five

Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Mrs. Surratt confronts Gabby’s sister Cordie at the boardinghouse about spying for the South. Adam and girlfriend Jessie enjoy the parade celebrating the Gettysburg victory.
Duff’s mouth went dry when Stanton informed him he had to deliver an address at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg. Four months after the battle, the war dead were being memorialized. Duff Read, private citizen, had never spoken in public; as Abraham Lincoln, he must speak as a seasoned orator.
“Do I have to do this?”
“Yes,” Stanton replied. “Don’t blame me. I don’t want you talking in front of reporters.”
“Then why do I have to go?”
“Because David Wells of the Gettysburg Cemetery Association asked. Ward Lamon suggested it and managed to have himself named procession grand marshal.”
“What will I say?”
“Lincoln will write the speech.”
The day arrived, and Duff was on the train to Gettysburg along with Hay, Nicolay, Lamon, and Cabinet members Seward, Blair, and Usher. The new treasurer, Francis E. Spinner, refused to attend, saying, “Let the dead bury the dead.” Stanton also declined to go. Reading the speech as he sat in the rail car, Duff noticed it was short. He smiled in relief. When the train arrived at Gettysburg station, Seward spoke to the crowd. The next morning Lamon lead the procession to the new cemetery, exuberantly waving to the people on the roadside. Duff shifted uneasily in his chair, as he listened to Edward Everett’s two-hour oration. When time came for Duff to speak, he stood on wobbly legs and tried to find his voice as he stared out on the assembly. A photographer set up his camera.
The words were good, sturdy, Anglo-Saxon words with depth and meaning, yet when he tried to give them voice, Duff choked. Taking a sip of water, he began Lincoln’s speech, though softly and without much projection. When he finished, half the crowd did not know he had begun. A photographer’s flash caught him just as he returned to his seat.
Afterwards, most of the reporters seemed interested in getting a copy of Edward Everett’s speech; however, a few did request Lincoln’s address, which Duff obliged by handing out copies Stanton had provided. Stanton insisted he tell them the original had been composed on the back of an envelope. If this were true, Duff did not know; but Stanton swore the shred of information was the stuff that history was of.
On the train back the next morning, Duff sat alone watching Seward, Blair, and Usher dictating letters to their secretaries. His secretaries were laughing at Lamon, who was singing and dancing.
“All the grand ladies who live in big cities…”
Hay laughed out loud at the rhyming end of the next line, while Nicolay smiled and shook his head.
“Mr. Lincoln did well on his speech, didn’t he, John?” Lamon asked, huffing after his dance.
Ja,” Nicolay said. “The president did quite well.”
With that reply, Lamon laughed and danced a few more irregular steps before concentrating on Hay.
“Johnny, how would you compare today’s speech to those Mr. Lincoln made on the campaign stump back in Illinois?”
“I haven’t noticed.” Hay looked up, wide-eyed.
Again Lamon laughed and jigged his way to sit next to Duff. Lamon slapped him on the knee.
“Well, Mr. Lincoln,” Lamon exclaimed, “you did yourself proud, sir.”
“I don’t know,” Duff replied in a mumble. “No one seemed much impressed.”
“They will.” Lamon leaned into him to whisper, “Modesty is a good touch. My friend would have been reticent, too.”
Duff’s eyes roamed out the train window to see crowds gathered by the tracks.
“You should let the people see you,” Lamon said so all the others in the car could hear. “Wave to them. They love you.”
Standing, Duff leaned out the window to gesture with his right hand, while resting his left hand on the sill. Soon he was aware Lamon’s hand was on top his.
“Say nothing,” Lamon advised under his breath, “and continue to wave. I’ll ask you questions, and you’ll respond by making a fist under my palm for yes. If the answer is no, flatten it.”
Duff quaked inside: one of his terrible secrets was that he was innately a coward.
“Is this plan really the idea of Mr. Stanton?”
He could not make his hand move. Lamon lifted his weight from it, making it easy for Duff to make a fist if he wanted to.
“Is Mr. Stanton acting on the orders of Mr. Lincoln?”
His fingers quickly went to a fist. If Duff were going to lie, he had to do it without hesitation.
“So Mr. Lincoln is not being held against his will?”
Duff’s hand went flat, and he hated himself for lying the second time.
“Are you afraid?”
His hand stayed flat, but it shook. Lamon patted it.
“Wave to the people, Mr. President.”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Forty

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 asks Ernest’s permission to have an affair with Wallis.
Joachim Von Ribbentrop was full of himself in spring of 1933. His own dining room had been the scene of a historical event in January. He was responsible for bringing German State Secretary Otto Meissner and German Chancellor Hindenburg’s son to his home in the exclusive Dahlen district of Berlin to dine with Adolph Hitler and Hermann Goering. Somewhere between the entrée and dessert they persuaded the government officials it would be best for the country if Hindenburg stepped aside to allow Hitler to become chancellor. To reward Ribbentrop, Hitler appointed him chief advisor of foreign affairs. His primary job was to sway wealthy, influential Englishmen to exert their influence in Parliament to craft a sense of rapprochement with the new Nazi government.
To fulfill his obligation of persuasion of the English upper crust toward the rising Nazi régime, Ribbentrop returned to his posh suite at the Ritz Hotel on Piccadilly across from Green Park and down the street from Buckingham Palace. On one particular evening, he sipped on his wine and surveyed his elegant parlor filled with impressive guests—Lord and Lady Londonderry, Duke of Westminster, Lady Oxford, Lady Emerald Cunard, all drawn in by his secret weapon, Princess Stephanie of Austria. She had been unsuccessful in reeling in the Prince of Wales but more effective in convincing major members of the nobility to support Hitler. As usual, a group of sophisticated young gentlemen surrounded her at the party.
A tap on the shoulder brought Ribbentrop out of his thoughts. When he turned he saw a respectable looking man in his forties properly dressed for the occasion with flawless posture and manner. He had sandy hair, undistinguished facial features yet not unpleasant. This was a person he could meet on the street the next day and not recognize. He must be from the organization.
“I am so pleased you invited me to your party.” The voice was in the baritone range, not too high to contrast with his appearance, nor too deep which might impress too many people as commanding. Perfectly pleasant but not memorable.
“No, it is I who is pleased you could attend.” Ribbentrop bowed and clicked his heels.
“Might I have a word with you in private?”
“Of course.” He looked around the crowded parlor. “Perhaps in my bedroom upstairs.”
The man smiled but shook his head. “No, it would be obvious to your guests we were missing. I have always found the best place to discuss secrets is in the middle of chaos.”
“I beg your pardon?”
He took Ribbentrop’s elbow to guide him across the room. In a voice loud enough to be heard by the closest guests but still not enough to draw attention, he said, “You know my family is quite well known as international restaurateurs. I’ve always been fascinated by a well-run kitchen. May I inspect yours?”
They were half-way through the dining room door when Ribbentrop replied, “Oh yes. Of course.”
Anna Ribbentrop stopped in the middle of fussing about the table to stare at them.
“My dear,” her husband said with a grin, “you know our beloved friend. You remember him. His family owns half of the best restaurants in the world.”
“Oh. Yes. Of course. How are you? I don’t mean to be rude but I must finished with the details of dinner. Our guests must be absolutely famished.”
“Of course, madame. I simply wanted to see your kitchen. It must be state of the art.” He pushed Ribbentrop to the kitchen door. When they entered, the noise of the cooks and assistants was deafening. They edged their way through. “I’m particularly fascinated by a well-stocked pantry.”
Ribbentrop glanced around the kitchen like it was his first time there, which it was. He stopped a short, plump balding man carrying a stack of dishes. “Where’s the pantry?”
“I’m just part-time help, guv’ner. How the hell am I supposed to know?”
Flustered, Ribbentrop momentarily slipped into a German accent. “Unt how can you call yourself a proper servant unt not know vhere ze pantry is?”
The old man set the dishes down on the sink counter and waved his hand behind him. “Down that hall.” He rushed away.
With a shrug of his shoulders Ribbentrop resumed his proper British accent he had spent years perfecting. A few steps away was the open door to the pantry. “Here it is, my dear friend.”
Inside they stood in the furthest corner. The man smiled.
“I want to congratulate on your rise in the German government.”
He bowed and clicked his heels again. “Thank you.”
“Our mutual friends think this arrangement can work to everyone’s advantage. To have the ear of the most powerful dictator in the world is a desirable asset, don’t you think?” He did not wait for Ribbentrop’s reply. “My friends think we can share information, carry out certain missions the Third Reich would not necessarily want emblazoned with its imprimatur, if you know what I mean.”
“I think I do.”
“And, of course, the Third Reich has the financial resources to make anything happen. We can make sure they do happen.”
“Gangway, gents,” a charwoman barged between them. “I’ve got to find me mop. Her ladyship just spilt some wine and don’t want her guests to see it.”
“Well, you know Herr Hitler and I share the friendship of Princess Stephanie, and she is very persuasive.”
The charwoman bumped Ribbentrop with her bucket as she left, which made him remember why he hated the common rabble of London so much.
“And she is not receiving funds as regularly from the Austrians as she once was,” the man added.
“Who?” Ribbentrop had lost his train of thought because of the rude interruption of the charwoman.
“Princess Stephanie.”
“Oh, yes. Proceed.”
The short balding man stepped inside the door. “Sorry. Need a fag.” He pulled out a cigarette and began to light it.
“Well, take your fag somewhere else!” Ribbentrop hissed.
“I hate hoity-toity types,” the old man muttered as he walked down the hall.
“We can also get the services of Kiki Preston if we need her,” Ribbentrop offered.
The sandy-haired man shook his head. “Too unreliable. We could probably have Stephanie use her indirectly to incite a scandal of some sort, but Kiki can never know anything about our mutual friends.”
The charwoman appeared in the door. “The missus wants you in the dinin’ room, fellas. Time to eat.”
As they followed her through the kitchen, Ribbentrop whispered to his companion, “Such people. Stupid. Uncomprehending. Inconvenient.”
Anna stopped her husband before they entered the dining room to murmur, “Aren’t they wonderful?”
“Who’s wonderful?”
“The old couple I hired to help with the dinner tonight.”
“The Cockneys? They’re terrible!”
“No! They took charge! Solved every problem before it became a problem! I want to hire them full time!”
“What?” Ribbentrop was horrified. “No! I will not have those low class rabble serving my guests!”
“They won’t serve the meal. They will keep the kitchen and the household organized.” Anna was more subdued now but intensely resolved. “You have always told me I am in charge of the household. And I insist on hiring these people.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty-Four

Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Mrs. Surratt confronts Gabby’s sister Cordie at the boardinghouse about spying for the South. Cordie’s attempts to pry information from Adam.
Adam’s heart raced as he watched Cordie’s iron trolley disappear into the night. He jumped when he felt fingers tapping his shoulder.
“What are ye lookin’ for, me pretty soldier boy? Jessie asked.
“I was looking for you, Miss Home.” Adam turned and grinned.
“Ye was lookin’ down the wrong lane, me darlin’.” Jessie squinted and rubbed her gloved fingers along his unshorn cheek. “And what kind of military mission are ye on, Adam Christy, that ye can go days without shavin’ that wonderful face?”
“They don’t seem to care much.”
“And ye don’t seem to care much, either.”
Looking away, Adam could not find an answer to her observation.
“I wonder where Miss Cordie is,” Jessie said. “She’s late for the parade.”
“She’s already been here.” Adam held up the folded trousers. “She gave me these pants for her brother. When she said how tired she was, I told her to go home to rest. I told her you would understand.”
“Hmm.” Jessie narrowed her eyes. “How lucky for ye, me laddie. Now we don’t have a chaperone, do we?”
“Pretty soon,” Adam said, smiling nervously, “we’ll have ten thousand chaperones, all around us.”
“Oh. Well.” Jessie laughed. “As long as you put it like that.” She pointed to the trousers. “Shouldn’t ye take those pants inside to Mr. Gabby?”
“Oh.” Adam glanced toward the Executive Mansion. “I think I hear the parade coming. I wouldn’t have time. Mr. Gabby always wants to talk. It’d take too long.” He shuffled his feet and ran his fingers through his red hair. “Gosh darn it, I don’t want to lose any time with you.”
“A cursin’ man, are ye?” She laughed. “Well, we wouldn’t want to provoke another such outburst.”
Before Adam could reply, the crowd arrived. Many carried torches; others had drums, and a few banged pots and kettles with wooden spoons. He looked up to a second-story window and pointed. “The president stands in that window—see, the one that’s lit with candles.”
As the crowds jostled them, the curtains opened, revealing Duff.
“See there,” Jessie said, pointing. “Look, the light is on his Adam’s apple.”
Adam looked up to see the candle move from the neck to Duff’s face.
“Isn’t it glorious, Miss Home?” a voice behind them asked.
Adam turned to see a middle-aged man wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
“A monumental movement of humanity, joined together by joy and patriotism.”
“Yes, Mr. Whitman,” Jessie said. “’Tis good to see people happy. Too much sadness surrounds us today.”
“Well, aren’t you a handsome, strapping soldier?” He appraised Adam and then turned to Jessie. “Are you two courting? I hope so. Your progeny would be beautiful, red-haired demigods, worthy of loud huzzahs.”
“No, we’re just good friends.” Jessie’s eyes fluttered.
“Where are you going now?” he asked. “I’m going to follow the crowd, wherever it may go. Perhaps I’ll find myself drinking and singing with a group of soldiers as dashing as your friend.”
“We’re going to supper,” Adam impulsively said.
“Very well. Enjoy.” He disappeared in the crowd which was fading into the darkness.
“Who was that?”
“A poet and a nurse. One of the noblest creatures I’ve ever seen. He’s the first one there in the mornin’, checkin’ for the dead, to remove them to make room for the newly wounded. I’ve seen him obey young men about to die, tellin’ him to pin their socks together and crossin’ their arms across their thin chests, all the while tears rollin’ down his cheeks.”
“And he’s very smart,” Adam added as he and Jessie turned to walk down the street. “He said we should be courting. Maybe while we eat we could talk about that some more.”
“Ye think so, do ye?” Jessie laughed. Rubbing his cheek, she added, “If I’m to be your girlfriend, ye have to look your best. Ye want to look your best for me, don’t ye?”
The world cannot be all bad if red-haired angels are here, Adam decided; he smiled and nodded.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Thirty-Nine

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 asks Ernest’s permission to have an affair with Wallis.
A cloud hung over Leon’s hacienda on Eleuthura even though the Bahamian sky was clear and the sun was relentless in its heat. Inside, his mother Dotty was about to die. When he returned from his assignment in New York a year ago, she complained her left breast had development a knot under the nipple and it hurt. When Leon insisted she go to the hospital in Freeport, Dotty refused, saying it would cost too much. Now her breast was black and shriveled, her body was cadaverous and her eyes hollow.
Jessamine, as a good dutiful daughter-in-law, wiped her brow with a cold, wet cloth. Sidney, now eight years old, held his father’s hand and stared solemnly at his grandmother. Leon knew this day would come when she refused to go to the hospital. He understood she would die the way she had lived, and she had lived a long, satisfying life.
“Sidney, go say good-bye to Granny Dotty,” he said in a muted tone.
“Yes, father.”
Sidney walked to the other side of the bed, stroked her hair and whispered, “Don’t worry, Granny Dotty, we will be together again someday. And you can introduce me to Grandpa Jed.”
Dotty waved for him to bend over and cradled his head in her skeletal arms. “You are a good boy,” she whispered. “Be like your father, and I will smile down on you.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
She let go of him and turned to smile at Jessamine. “Thank you for being so good to my son, for being a good mother to my grandson.” Dotty reached for her hands and held them. “I leave them in your care.”
Tears streamed down Jessamine’s cheeks. Dotty took the cloth from her hands and wiped it across Jessamine’s face. She looked up at her son.
“I want to lie in my garden.”
“Mother, the sun is bright today. It is too hot.”
“Yes, it will be warm, but only for a little time longer.” She smiled.
Leon leaned down to pick her up. She seemed so light.
“Sidney, bring her pillow. Jessamine, bring the quilt.”
They both nodded and followed him down the stairs. Dotty pointed to the small grove of orange trees by the gate to the street, and Jessamine hurriedly laid the quilt in their shade. Leon arranged her on the quilt as Sidney slid the pillow under her head. She nodded at Jessamine and Sidney.
“I want to spend my last moments alone with my son.” The words barely made it past her withered lips.
After mother and son went back upstairs, Dotty patted the ground next to her. Leon sat cross-legged and kissed his mother moist forehead.
“I want you to know that I am proud of you.” Her voice grew weaker. “I know you have done terrible things to provide for your family—“
“Oh, no, mother,” he interrupted her in a kind tone. “Nothing terrible. I travel buying and selling…spices and tea.”
“No one could make enough money selling spices and tea to afford this house and to buy fine clothes for your family. You make money by killing people.”
He smiled. “Now what makes you think that?”
“I see it in your eyes.”
Leon looked down and tried to reply, but nothing came out.
“I am proud of you.” Her faded voice was firm. “What did your father always say to you?”
“Do anything you have to do to keep your family’s bellies full.”
“And you have done that.”
Leon looked up at the hacienda, his eyes filled with tears. “Oh, mama, what secrets I have to keep. I can tell no one what I have done. What I will do again.”
“Then tell me, for I will be dead soon, and your secrets will be safe.”
“I killed two men when I was sixteen, in this house, and then I made love to the woman who lived here. She told me of this organization—I don’t know the name, just the organization—where I would be paid big money for killing people, for stealing things, for seducing women. Oh, mama, don’t hate me.”
“Keep talking. Tell me all. My time is coming soon.”
“Messages are left for me in the pot outside the gate. I then go to the casino in Nassau where I get details. It is the same person every time. A blonde card dealer. She is beautiful. I have wanted her. She gives me a location, and at that place another person gives me more instructions. Sometimes I don’t know exactly what I am what to do until moment I have to do it. Another person pays me later. Unless the client dies before the organization can get the money from them. I have no idea who the leader of the organization is. It could be anyone in the world.” He paused to swallow.
“Continue. Quickly.”
“Sometimes I have to fight good people. Agents from the British Empire, America. I’ve seen this American woman several times. I saved her life. I don’t know who she is. I don’t know who any of them are. Except one from England. You won’t believe who he is.”
Dotty took his hand, a rattle emitting from deep in her chest.
“The Prince of Wales,” he shared.
Her hand fell away. Leon’s beloved mother was dead. He stood, walked to the gate and opened it. He wanted his tears to dry before he told his family she was gone. He looked down the sandy path and saw Pooka running away.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty-Three

Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Mrs. Surratt confronts Gabby’s sister Cordie at the boardinghouse.
Walking down the Executive Mansion steps to Pennsylvania Avenue, Adam inhaled and exhaled deeply, thinking of Jessie. In the beginning, just the mention of her name had been enough to make his heart race and his spirits lift. Now he had to rely on a few gulps of whiskey. Pulling a flask from the pocket of his blue jacket, he popped the cap and lifted it to his mouth. The clanging of an omnibus caused him to jump and quickly cap the flask and return it to his pocket. Perhaps Jessie was on the bus, and he did not want her to see him drinking. She did not like it. He brushed aside his unruly red hair and smoothed out the wrinkles in his uniform. Standing on one foot, then the other, Adam eagerly waited for the omnibus doors to open. His heart sank when he saw Cordie appear. He wanted an evening alone with Jessie, but he forced a smile as Cordie walked toward him.
“I mended these pants for Gabby.”
Her hands were trembling, Adam noticed. Perhaps she was tired. His spirits rose when he decided to suggest that she go back home to rest. He wanted time alone with Jessie.
“Of course, I’ll give them to Mr. Gabby. You look very tired.”
“I’m fine. Jessie wanted me here tonight.”
“Oh.”
“And how are you? Did you have a hard day?”
“It wasn’t bad.” Adam glanced down the avenue, hoping Jessie would appear.
“How’s Gabby?”
“Very good. He’s always eager to get his food.”
“That’s good. At least he’s eating well.” Her eyes went down. “I hope the war’s over soon, then Gabby and I can be together.”
“Yeah, I hope it’s over soon,” he said, distracted. He looked at Cordie. “Do you know why she’s so late?”
“Don’t ask me.” Cordie laughed. “I don’t know anything. You’re the one in the White House. You must know more than me.”
“Hmm.” His attention was down the dark avenue.
“I bet you even know what happened at Gettysburg today.”
“What?”
“I bet you know how many soldiers got killed; where the army’s going next.”
“Troop movement?” Adam shook off his distraction to focus on her. “Casualty numbers? Why would you want to know that?”
“I don’t want to know.” Her eyes fluttered. “I was just saying you must know.”
“You’ve never asked questions like this before.”
“I was just making conversation.”
Her hands trembled more, making Adam think something was wrong.
“People don’t make casual conversation about troop movements,” Adam said.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t even say that. I only asked about your day.”
“No. You asked where the Union army was going next.”
“I didn’t ask anything. I never asked a question.” Cordie’s voice rose to a high pitch. “I said I bet you knew where the Union soldiers were going next. That’s all.”
“Don’t try to play games with me. I like you, Miss Zook, but I think you’re up to something bad.” Adam heard his voice, but did not recognize it, which frightened him. “Who put you up to this? I know you. You wouldn’t do anything like this on your own.”
“No one put me up to it!”
“Was it a Confederate spy?”
“She’s not a spy.”
“She? Who’s she?”
“Nobody! I—I didn’t say anything about a woman.” Her voice began to crack.
“Don’t lie to me.” Adam stared into Cordie’s watery eyes until she looked down at the hard dirt street. “Who is she?” He took her chin and lifted her face.
“My landlady.” She averted her eyes again. “She forced me to tell her about Gabby. And she wanted more information.”
“Did she give you money?”
“Enough for the omnibus,” she whispered.
“More to come later?”
“Only if I could find things out.”
“Are you that bad off?” Adam softened the tone of his voice. “If you needed money, I could have gotten some for you.”
“She was going to raise my rent.” Cordie took a handkerchief from her pocket to daub her cheeks. “She was going to put me out on the street.”
“You didn’t want to tell her anything?”
“No. But she scared me, just like you’re scaring me now.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Could you make something up for me to tell her, so she won’t raise my rent?”
“I don’t know enough to make up a good lie.” Adam ran his hand through his coarse red hair. “Tell her I’m a mean cuss who won’t tell you anything. Tell her it might take months to soften me up. By then, maybe the war will be over.”
“Thank you.” Her eyes focused on the trousers stuck under his arm. “Make sure Gabby gets his pants.” She sighed. “I’m tired, but I don’t want to disappoint Jessie.”
“You don’t have to stay,” Adam said hoarsely.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” he whispered. “Here’s omnibus fare.” He held coins out to her.
Cordie looked as though she were about to decline his offer, but instead smiled and took the money.
“Thank you. Tell Jessie I’ll see her tomorrow.” She walked toward an approaching omnibus.

Burly Chapter Twenty-Six

(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. Tad died during World War II. The years have passed, and Herman was now seventeen years old, and Burly is in the trunk. After Herman left for college, papa took Burly from the trunk.)
The old farmhouse outside of Cumby lapsed into disrepair as the years stretched into decades. An interstate highway drew traffic away from the narrow blacktop road that passed nearby until the only people to see it were neighboring farmers slowly going by on their tractors and their children walking home from school. Tales began to be spun about the mysterious old man who lived in the run-down house and who carried a burlap teddy bear with him everywhere he went. Children believed him to be some sort of evil ghoul who lured unsuspecting strangers into his barn where they met terrible deaths. Other children whispered the old man was simply out of his mind, someone to be teased for the awful crime of living too long.
Of course, their parents stopped them before they did anything harmful to old Mr. Horn. Feel sorry for him, the parents said. Once he had a fine farm but over the years he had to sell off bits and pieces until all he had left was the house, barn and five acres out back.
“But isn’t he mean or crazy or dumb?” two little boys asked their father as they rode past on their tractor.
“No,” Gerald Morgan replied. “I remember when he wasn’t considered a strange old man at all.”
“Really?” the younger boy asked in awe.
“Yes. When I was about your age I remember how he was quite normal. He had a nice looking wife and three children.”
“You mean he smiled and laughed like anybody else?” the other boy asked, not quite believing this yarn their father was spinning.
Gerald Morgan chuckled. “Oh yes. I remember one time seeing him at a Toby show with his children. He had his youngest son on his shoulders, and he was smiling, laughing and eating popcorn.”
“What’s a Toby show, Dad?” the younger boy asked.
He reached over to tousle his son’s hair. “That’s another story.” He paused and became very serious. “In fact, I think that night was the last time I ever saw Mr. Horn smile.”
“What happened to his family?” the older boy continued his questions.
“His wife died soon after that, and the daughter—she was older than me—went off to live with relatives in Houston. The oldest boy died in the war.”
“And the younger boy, what happened to him?”
Gerald Morgan had a faraway look in his eyes. “Herman Horn was one of my best friends in high school.”
“Did he die?”
Shaking his head Gerald just drove on and left the boy’s question unanswered. As the tractor putted on down the road away from the old farmhouse, the brothers looked back at it. They wondered what made it look so fearsome and so lonely. The boys didn’t know it but at that moment inside the old farmhouse, scary, mysterious, sad old Mr. Horn was clutching at his chest with one hand and with the other reaching for Burly Bear on the bed. He crumbled on the floor and lay there for the next three days.
Burly heard Woody collapse and the postman’s knock at the door three days later, but couldn’t do anything about it. He heard muffled whispers of neighbors who peeked in the door as the ambulance attendants carried the body out. He felt shattering numbness which befalls a house when no one will live in it again. A few days later the little bear heard the steps of a weary man enter the house. Burly was aware of a man’s lifting his little body.
“Oh Burly, I’m sorry I did this to you,” a grown Herman whispered. Fingering the worn burlap he confessed, “I should have never put you in that trunk. Forgive me.”
Burly heard Herman’s plea, but he didn’t know this tall, broad-shouldered man who was shaking and crying. At least he didn’t know him until the tears from Herman’s eyes landed on his head and magic happened again. Burly Bear blinked his button eyes at this man holding him and realized who it was.
“Excuse me, but are you Herman?” Burly asked politely.
Herman looked shocked, then smiled. “Yes, I’m Herman, your friend.”
Burly was confused. “But Herman is a little boy. Or he was a little boy. The last time I saw him he was a big teen-ager.”
Sniffing and wiping his eyes, Herman nodded. “That’s right. A very foolish teen-aged boy. But that was many years ago.”
“I remember. Don’t worry,” Burly said soothingly. He looked deep into Herman’s red eyes. “Yes, I can tell now. You are Herman.”
“Well, I’m not exactly the same little boy that you knew.”
Looking at his worn little body, Burly said, “I guess I’m not the bear I once was either.”
“Who cares if you’re a little frayed around the edges,” Herman said, tapping Burly’s arm. “I still love you.”
Burly felt warm inside. “I’m so glad you came back for me.”
“Actually I came back for my father’s funeral,” Herman told him. “I haven’t given you much thought the last few years until I walked in the door and then you were all I could think about.”
“At least we’re together again,” Burly offered.
“I wish I had had you with me all that time,” Herman said. “Without your advice I made a lot of mistakes.”
“Oh, but I’m sure you’ve done a lot of good things too. You were always so smart.”
Herman shrugged. “I did go to college and get a law degree.”
“Just as you said you would.” Burly leaned forward with anticipation. “Did you help the black people like you wanted?”
Herman looked away in shame. “I’m afraid not. Sometimes I forgot about important things like honesty and love along the way. You’re not disappointed in me, are you?”
“I could never be disappointed in you, Herman. You’re my friend.”
“Not a very good one, sticking you in that trunk like that. And I wasn’t a very good friend to Gerald Morgan.”
“He was one of the nicer boys who visited you,” Burly said, trying to remember.
“Yes. We said we would always be friends, even if we didn’t live in the same town. We would visit and write. But I never did. I always meant to but I didn’t.”
“Stop being so hard on yourself,” Burly told him. “Everyone makes mistakes. And mistakes can sometimes be undone.”
Herman smiled. “Yes. Gerald came to papa’s funeral and I apologized. I told him I would keep in touch and I really meant it this time.”
Burly looked down. “You know your father was very sad you never came to visit him.”
“I didn’t think he wanted to see me.”
“You know that wasn’t so,” Burly replied. “I told you many times how much he loved you.”
Herman hung his head. “I guess so.”
“In fact he loved you much more than I realized,” Burly continued.
Herman looked up. “Did he talk to you much? Gerald told me at the funeral papa had gotten into the habit of carrying a teddy bear with him.”
“He talked to me all the time. He didn’t understand why you didn’t answer his letters.”
“Did—did you talk to him?”
Burly shook his burlap head. “No. I didn’t think he’d understand how a teddy bear could talk.”
Herman wiped another tear from his eyes. “So he did love me.”
“And Tad and Callie too,” Burly added. “Look at the table by his bed—Tad’s hunting knife and Callie’s picture. You know, Callie wrote him all the time. She even invited him to visit her in Houston. Of course, he didn’t take me along.”
“Herman! Hurry up!” a woman’s voice called out from the kitchen.
“Who’s that?” Burly asked.
“Why, that’s Callie.”
“Really?” Burly replied. “She doesn’t happen to still have my mother?”
Herman winked. “You’d be surprised.” Herman stood and carried Burly toward the door. “And I have a surprise for you.”
“What?”
“Well, you remember May Beth?”
“Oh, the girl Marvin married,” Burly replied.
“She left Marvin a couple of years after they were married. We met in Austin,” Herman told him.
“That’s where you were going to school.” Burly was so pleased more of his memory was returning.
“Yes, and we started dating again. This time I wasn’t dumb enough to let her slip away.”
“So May Beth is here?”
“Yes,” Herman replied. “And someone else whom I think will become as good a friend to you as I was. Better.”
Herman opened the bedroom door and brought out Burly who looked around the old farmhouse kitchen. He recognized Callie right off because she looked just like her mother. And beside her was a blonde-headed little girl holding Pearly Bear. Then he looked over to see a pretty dark-haired woman he assumed was May Beth since he had never met her. And next to her was a little boy. Burly caught his breath. The child looked just like Herman, maybe his hair was a bit darker. And there wasn’t that terrible sad look in his eyes that Herman had that first night his tears dropped on the burlap bear.
“You’re doing something right,” Burly whispered to Herman. “You’re a good father. I can tell by the happiness on your son’s face.
“Thank you,” Herman whispered back. He walked across the room and held out Burly to his son. “Bobby, I want you to meet an old friend of mine, Burly Bear.”
Bobby grabbed Burly and hugged him. “Thank you, daddy. He’s wonderful.”
Burly shivered with warmth, excitement and love.
Welcome back, Burly Bear.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Thirty-Eight


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 are told to kill American millionaire James Donohue, but Donohue’s son Jimmy beats them to it.
David sat on the terrace enjoying the autumn colors in his garden at Fort Belvedere as he had his coffee and toast. He noticed an item in the London Times about the death of James Donohue, playboy husband of Woolworth heiress Jessie Donohue. Sources said the cause of death had yet to be determined but it was suspected to be an ear infection or an accidental overdose of bichloride mercury. The funeral, the Times reported, was one of the largest in Manhattan in years.
Accidental overdose? How could you accidentally overdose on a medication that’s supposed to be applied directly to the skin? Being considered a bon vivant of international fame, David was familiar with the curative powers of the drug. Oh well. At least we don’t have to bother with a trip to America anytime soon.
The butler stood in the door to the terrace and coughed, interrupting David’s thought.
“Yes?”
“General Trotter is here, sir.”
“Oh, send him out. And prepare him a cup of coffee.”
“Yes, sir.”
Soon David and Trotter settled into a nice conversation about how the garden was progressing. The swimming pool had been installed, though at this time of year the temperature prevented it from being used on a regular basis. Once they were sure the servants had gone on about their business, Trotter scooted his chair closer to the prince.
“I assume you read the story in the Times,” he whispered.
“Indeed. Either an ear infection or an overdose of a syphilis salve. Quite sad.”
“Yes, quite.” The general sipped his coffee. “Our sources say the organization had a hand in it.”
The organization?” David arched an eyebrow. “Evidently he had inconvenienced more than the House of Windsor.”
“Quite.” Trotter looked at David’s plate. “Do you think I could get some toast? My wife burnt mine this morning so I begged off. Now I’ve starving.”
“Of course.” David rang a bell. The butler appeared at the door. “The general wants some toast. Be generous. And take care not to burn it.”
After the butler disappeared Trotter leaned in again. “By the way, good job in Argentina. George now seem amenable to marriage. We just have to find the right woman for him.”
David cleared his throat. “Has Wallis had any missions lately?”
“You know I can’t tell you that.” The general cocked his head. “And why would you care?”
“Oh, I don’t.” David looked up. “Ah. Here comes your toast. Would you like blackberry jam? Picked from my own garden.”
“Clotted cream.”
The butler placed the plate of warm toast in front of Trotter and moved the small pot of clotted cream to his side. With a bow, he left the men alone.
“The main purpose of this visit is to put you on notice that another attempt might be made to embroil George in new controversy as soon as the news gets out he is about to propose marriage. Frankly, we can’t trust the boy not to muck it up again.” He bit into his toast. “We also think the organization is behind this whole ugly sex and drugs state of affairs.”
“Bad business this. George is such a good man, really. He has potential. He and I have always been chummier than my other brothers.”
“So you have a vested interest in this mission. Good.” After another sip of coffee, he added, “And MI6 has decided it’s time for the next step to bring you and Wallis together as a team. Plan one of your weekends here at the fort. Invite the usual crowd and include the Simpsons, both of them. Sometime during the party you must kiss Wallis on the lips in front of everyone.”
“Indeed.”
David scheduled the gathering for the last weekend in January of 1932. He’d leave the planning to Thelma. She’s such a good egg to put up with me. Oh well, she made the decision not to marry me years ago. She usually made out the guest lists for such social occasions. He would think of some way of casually suggesting the Simpsons. He was somewhat eager, and he didn’t know why.
The last Friday night in January finally arrived, and all of their guests, including Connie and Ben Thaw, had arrived, except for the Simpsons. David stood in the foyer waiting their arrival. As the hour grew late, he smoothed out his kilt and looked into the octagonal parlor where the others had settled into card games and putting together jigsaw puzzles. David jumped a bit when the butler opened the door and invited the Simpsons in.
Servants took their luggage upstairs, and David escorted the Simpsons into the parlor, a pine paneled room with yellow velvet curtains.
“Yellow velvet? My, how brave you are.” Wallis laughed and walked over to Thelma for a hug and kiss.
“Isn’t she a scream?” Ernest said with a laugh.
“Yes, hysterical.” David crossed to Wallis and took her elbow to guide her to another table. “Please, I’ve saved you a spot at the poker table. I’ll sit next to you to help.”
As she sat, she smiled. “Oh yes, the last time we met was at a party at Thelma’s place in town. I was quite dreadful at cards, wasn’t I?”
When the dealer dealt the next hand, David stood and leaned over Wallis’ shoulder, his cheek grazing hers.
“Oh yes, this is a very good hand. I suggest—“
“Let me guess,” she interrupted him and within a couple of rounds she had won the pot. “Surprise. I’ve been practicing.”
“So you have.” David drifted over to a jigsaw table and sat.
In a few minutes Thelma went to the Victrola and put on a record of Tea for Two. She tapped on David’s shoulder and soon they were dancing in the middle of the room. Connie Thaw was the first to cut in to dance with the prince. Every woman had their turn except Wallis, still seated at the poker table. David grabbed her hand and twirled her to the middle of the room. He snuggled her neck.
“MI6 says I need to make my first advance on you tonight. Get ready to be kissed.”
“If MI6 orders it,” she whispered back. “Oh well, for King and Country.”
David stopped in the middle of the room, in sight of all the guests, and impressed a long kiss on Wallis’s lips, like a scene out of a silent movie. Among all the subdued gasps, he was sure he heard a man giggle.
The next morning his guests slept in per his instructions, but he arose early, put on his work clothes topped with a baggy sweater and attacked encroaching vines in his garden. He kept alert to anyone coming out on the terrace. Eventually, the Simpsons appeared carrying their cups of coffee. David walked over to them.
“I’m waging war on the laurel. It will absolutely triumph over the garden if I let it.” He paused to smile at Ernest. “Would you like to join me?”
He watched as a big smile spread across the face of Wallis’ husband.
“Why, it would be an honor, your highness.”
“Well, go up and get a heavy sweater. It’s cold out here.”
“Yes, sir!” Ernest ran inside like a giddy school boy.
Wallis looked at David in askance. “What are you going to do? Ask his permission?”
“Yes, I think I will. It would be the proper approach. Don’t you think he’ll approve?”
“Of course he will. If you’re not careful, he’ll send me to your bedroom tonight.”
Within half an hour, David and Ernest were hacking away at the weeds.
“You have an extremely attractive wife, Mr. Simpson.”
“Oh. Call me Ernest, sir. And yes, Wallis is lovely and vivacious.”
“I want to have an affair with her.” David grinned. “Would you mind? It’s a bit like cutting in at a dance.”
“Of course! I understand!” Ernest stepped in toward the prince. “I’m off to tend to my shipping business in New York quite often, which will be quite convenient, won’t it?”
“Yes. Quite.”
“And convenient in another way. I’ve always taken an interest in Wallis’ friend Mary Raffray. She’s recently divorced and, well, available. You won’t tell Wallis, will you?”
“Indeed not.”