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Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Seventeen

Previously: Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with hints of parody and a dash of social satire on gender roles and class mores. Cecelia throws a society ball, where former lovers Andy and Bedelia meet. Andy and friends try to stop villain Malcolm Tent. Tent woos Bedelia. Andy woos Bedelia. They fight over her.
Cecelia walked over to Inspector Tent and extended her hand so he might steady himself and finally make it to his feet. Once he was eye to eye again, Lady Snob-Johnson withdrew her hand and spoke in her haughtiest tone. “Excuse me, Chief Inspector Tent, but I wish to speak to my daughter and Prince Edward in private. So will you and Miss Smart-Astin kindly leave the room?”

“But of course, kind lady.” He gave her his best deep bow with a flourish, although by the time he reached the nadir of his gracious genuflection he observed her well-endowed posterior heading for the ballroom door.

As Cecelia opened it, a blast of tango music invaded the library which caused both Tent and Bedelia to brighten significantly. They quickly assumed their dance positions and proudly spouted in unison and slithered into the ballroom.

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

Cecelia closed the door and crossed to the lounge. “My dearest Millicent, I owe you an apology. I let my emotions carry me away.” She stopped abruptly when she noticed the writhing on her furniture. “What on earth are you doing?”

“Oh, um. I was just giving Eddie a massage,” she explained as she leapt to her feet, straightening the wrinkles on her lovely gown.

“Is thut whut you wuz doin’? I thought you wuz tryin’ to turn me on. And you wuz doin’ a good job of it too!” Eddie raised himself on his elbows and displayed a crooked grin.

Millicent cut him off and turned to face Cecelia, feigning interest in her comment. “What were you saying, Mother?”

Cecelia looked back and forth from her daughter and Victoria’s grandson and decided discretion was the better part of valor; therefore, ignored the embarrassing activity on her chaise lounge. “I was apologizing for putting you in that unpleasant situation earlier this evening.”

“Think nothing of it. I found it quite exhilarating.” Millicent smiled as she attempted to return her hairdo to its proper manifestation.

“No, I shan’t forget it. I shall try to redeem myself. And I know exactly how to do it. I overheard something you might find interesting.” She took her usual posture when about to impart a particularly juicy bit of gossip. “Well, do you remember when that awful William Canine-erel came in to see Chief Inspector Tent? He was that terrible, dirty, hulking man.” She seemed to be fading into her own realm of erotic fantasy. “You know, just like those hairy, muscular animals that work on the streets. Those ignorant, filthy, sweaty, gorgeous men with their bulging muscles—“

“Mother!”

Her daughter’s shocked admonition brought her back to reality. “Oh. Well. Yes. Anyway, he spoke to the inspector and I happened to hear him say that a merchant in Soho—“

Millicent turned sharply to look at Eddie at the mention of the site of the recent crime wave. “Soho!”

“Ho ho!” Eddie stood as a flash of recognition crossed his dull face.

“–was going to make a payment to the inspector tonight and Mr. Canine-erel would bring the packet here.”

Millicent grabbed her mother’s hands. “Mother, this is very important. You must swear yourself to secrecy.”

“Must I?”

“Swear on your picture of Lily Langtry.” Millicent looked at the mantle and frowned when she saw that the picture was missing. “Where’s Lily?”

“The Man in the Red Underwear took it away so that nasty Malcolm Tent couldn’t steal it, “Cecelia explained. “Don’t worry. I’m sure he’ll return it.”

“I know he will.” Millicent nodded knowingly. “But for now, swear on the memory of the autographed picture of Lily Langtry that you will keep what I tell you a secret.”

“Is it that serious?”

“Yup, it’s thut serious,” Eddie assured her.

“Very well, then. I swear on Lily Langtry. So ahead.” Cecelia was almost drooling in anticipation. “What is it?”

“Queen Victoria has commissioned Eddie and me to investigate the recent robberies in Soho.”

“Ho ho!” Now why Prince Eddie thought it clever to repeat his nonsensical rhyme no one will ever know. It wasn’t important anyway.

“We have reason to believe Chief Inspector Malcolm Tent is forcing merchants to pay to keep his henchmen from robbing them,” Millicent pronounced.

“I knew there had to be a good reason why I didn’t like that man.”

“And Andy is helping us,” Millicent continued in a whisper.

“Him! I don’t believe it!”

Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Sixteen

Previously: Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with hints of parody and a dash of social satire on gender roles and class mores. Cecelia throws a society ball, where former lovers Andy and Bedelia meet. Andy and friends try to stop villain Malcolm Tent. Tent woos Bedelia. Andy woos Bedelia. She’s popular.
Bedelia stood and turned her back to Andy to avoid the incoming kiss. She was afraid she would like it too much. “No, we weren’t.” Before she could evaluate his situation and how to escape the outcome she actually wanted to happen, Bedelia felt warm, masculine breath on the nape of her neck. Her eyes fluttered.

“Yes, we were.”

“How impudent!”

Andy put his hands on her slender shoulder, turned her around and went in for the kiss. “And you love it!”

Again Bedelia stepped away, and Andy ended up kissing air. She decided to confront the Man in the Red Underwear with the cold hard facts. “Is it true you plan to steal a packet of important papers from Chief Inspector Tent tonight?”

“The only thing I plan to steal tonight is your heart.” He swaggered toward her.

“I dare you try! I warn you I’m quite proficient in protecting myself with this!” She held up her riding crop.

“Oh.” His voice dripped with drollness. “Do you really think I’d let that riding crop stop me if I wanted to feel those tender lips pressed against mine?”

“How dare you!” Bedelia raised her arm to strike but he grabbed her by the wrist. She struggled only a moment, then dropped her head back, ready to be kissed. “Be gentle, please.”

“Many women would willingly give me their kisses. Why should I struggle for yours?” The Man in Red released his grip, walked to the lounge where he stretched out seductively.

Bedelia looked at her crop, went to the door and shouted into the ballroom, “Does anyone out there want to buy a riding crop—cheap? No? Oh well. Without aiming, she tossed the crop into the crowd.

The same guest who earlier begged for something to eat was beaned in the head and screamed in pain. “I’m never coming to a party in this house again!”

“Sorry.” She closed the door and walked to the lounge. “And what makes you think I want to offer you a kiss?”

Before the Man in the Red Underwear could respond, Bedelia pounced on him and began kissing his lips with extreme ardor. He struggled to sit and up gently push her away.

“Please, please. As I would not steal your kisses, you should not steal mine. I give them to you willingly.”

They stared into each other’s eyes, slowly moving in for a kiss. It was quite tender but also smoldered with such intensity that their lips were in danger of third degree burns. When they finally came up for air, the lovers were ready for some more poetry. Bedelia started.

You are the stars that dot the night.
You sparkle bright, you are the light.
Like diamonds in a wedding ring,
A moon-lit pond that’s glistening.
These are the images I see
In dreams of lovers, you and me.

The Man in the Red Underwear, not to be outdone in the sizzling verse category, offer his own admiration for his love.

You are a candle’s flickering flame,
A gentle glow, always the same.
You give me warmth, you make me cry
For life with you forever new until we die.

They were going in for another kiss when the door to the ballroom flew open and Inspector Tent barged in.

“Aha!” he exclaimed as though catching some street urchin with his sooty hand in Queen Victoria’s cookie jar. He rushed to the mantel to retrieve a sword. After getting his weapon, he took a proper parrying pose.

“Aha!” the Man in Red repeated. For a person who created romantic poetry off the top of his head quite easily, he wasn’t much for riposte repartee. The sword practically flew from the mantel and into his hand.

“En garde!” Tent issued forth in a challenge.

“En garde!” Once again red boy went with the traditional reply.

Bedelia, still seated on the lounge, was aghast. “Oh no! Not that! Don’t hurt him!”

Each man stopped to look at her. “To whom are you speaking?”

“Um, both!” She shrugged and smiled in awkwardness.

“I thought I taught you a lesson earlier!” The Man in Red began with a lunge.

“You know what they say. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!” Tent maneuvered as he deflected the incoming blows until he was facing the open doorway to the ballroom. “Look!” He pointed to the party crowd. “A woman is being mugged!”

“You can’t fool me with that one again.” The Man in Red refused to turn his attention away from the inspector.

However, Bedelia stood, went to the door and gasped. “But there is a woman being mugged in the ballroom!”

That observation stopped the duel in its tracks as the two men joined her at the door. “What?” For two people who didn’t like each other very much, they were learning to speak in unison quite well.

“Oh. No.” Bedelia shook her head. “My mistake. It’s only an extremely voluptuous woman trying to scratch her back. It’s nothing. Continue.”

“Hey! Another sword fight!” a random voice shouted out from the ballroom which ignited a stampede for the doorway, creating a logjam of sorts.

“Dammit! I can’t see!” another voice bawled.

The duelists pranced around the library as the crowd applauded more rounds of thrusting and blocking. The Man in Red abruptly stopped to point at Bedelia. “Miss Smart-Astin! Your pants are unbuttoned!”

“What!?” The dirty old man turned to look, his eyes filled with lustful anticipation.

His red-festooned opponent kicked him in the posterior, knocking the inspector down, causing him to drop his sword. Deftly the younger man swooped the weapon up and for only the slightest of moments held it beneath Tent’s chin.

“You fool me, shame on me. I fool you, shame on you.”

Bedelia double-checked her trousers. “Why, I’m buttoned,” she announced in amazement. Then she approached the Man in Red. “But you didn’t kill him.” By this time she was totally confused, astounded and sexually aroused.

Adroitly he put both swords in one hand, dipped Bedelia with the free arm and kissed her passionately on her pouty red lips.

“The Man in the Red Underwear is no villain. Remember that.” He stood her up and walked toward the open window. He paused long enough to add, “By the way, tell Lady Snob-Johnson I shall return her swords tomorrow.”

The crowd gave him a rousing ovation as he went through the window. The partiers returned to the ballroom where the band was belting out a tune with a syncopated beat. At the same time, however, Millicent led Eddie to lounge, threw him down and pounced on him, smothering him with kisses. Cecelia carefully closed the door and marched toward the inspector who was having quite a time of it getting to his feet. After all he was much older than he appeared to be.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Fifty-Three

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on a mission because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer, also a spy, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David becomes king. Wallis divorces, David abdicates and they marry. On their honeymoon they plan to derail a train.
David and Wallis sat finishing their lunch in a small intimate dining room in Schloss Wasserleonburg castle. The bay window exposed the Austrian Alps in its full August splendor. Wallis had been successful in extracting information from Ribbentrop about train activity. Regular deliveries were being made from Salzburg through Villach and across the Italian frontier to the port of Trieste on the extreme northeast border of Italy. Certain rail cars were sealed and marked as property of the Nazi government. David and Wallis relayed the information to MI6, and General Trotter arrived at the castle last week with their orders and preparation. They were to derail the engine and discover what was in the sealed cars. The train would be crossing the Gail River near Arnoldstein about 10 p.m. After a few moments of silent reverence, Wallis reached over to squeeze David’s hand.
“Are you sure we have to go through with this mission?” Her voice was real, for once, filled with apprehension. “Let me go out in the woods and pick the best poisonous vines. Give me a good sturdy hat pin. But carrying sticks of dynamite in a backpack across a mountain to a railroad track, well, it scares the hell out of me.”
David smiled. “Nonsense. Nothing could scare the hell out of you.”
Andreas, the majordomo, entered and bowed. “Was the luncheon to your satisfaction?”
“Of course.” David leaned back in his chair and puffed on a cigarette. His line of vision never left the view through the window. ”The duchess and I were just discussing the beauty of the Austrian Alps. We’ve decided we must be a part of this enchanting forest.”
“Well, not literally a part of the landscape,” Wallis added as she sucked on her own cigarette.
“We would like the kitchen to fix us a picnic supper. We plan to hike down to the Gail River, camp under the stars and return in the morning.”
“Ah,” Andreas exclaimed, “an excellent choice. Many of our guests say a hike to the Gail River is the highlight of their stay in Austria. May we organize your backpacks? Our maids are quite expert—“
“Oh no,” David interrupted. “The duchess loves to pack, don’t you, my dear?”
“Yes, I’m just dying for this adventure.” Wallis crushed her cigarette in what was left of her sunny-side up egg.
David and Wallis spent the afternoon packing. Each had German uniforms. David had an officer’s and Wallis a private’s.
“How come you get to be the colonel?”
“I speak fluent German. It’s my mutter’s tongue.”
“I speak German too.”
“Like what?”
Scheitze. Nein. Weiner schnitzel.”
“That would be fine if we were going to a German beer hall.”
Wallis picked up a revolver.
“And when do I use this?”
“As the Boy Scouts say, be prepared.”
Then she clicked on her torch to make sure the batteries were working. Its light flashed on. “Good. Don‘t stumble through the Alps at night without one.”
Late afternoon they left the castle and entered the Austrian forest wearing fashionable yet jaunty hiking clothes, each shouldering a backpack. As the sun set, David and Wallis sat on a boulder outcrop to eat their supper. They turned on their torches as they returned to the well-worn mountain trail. They had only gone a couple of miles when a grizzled old man pulling along pack mule appeared coming the other way. David waved at him, and he nodded.
“Nothing as invigorating as an evening hike in the Alps,” the duke announced.
“Except for a plunge in the Adriatic,” the man replied.
“I’m starved,” Wallis added. “Do you have sandwiches on you?”
“No.” The old man went to a bag tied around his mule. “But I have something much more satisfying.” He pulled out two sticks of dynamite and handed one to each of them.
“Will that be enough?” she asked.
“You want to derail the train, not blow it to kingdom come. Happy hunting.” The stranger continued to pull his donkey into the darkness and soon disappeared.
“And what are we to do with these?” she asked.
David turned his back to her. “Ever so gently slide it into my pack. “
She followed his direction and then turned so he could put the other stick in her pack.
“Aren’t these things supposed to have fuses?” she asked.
“They’ll be given to us closer to the track.”
A couple of hours passed without much conversation. Soon they heard the sound of rapids from the river. Before they came upon the Gail they saw a portion of a flag hanging from a bush. It was the Union Jack.
“Hello,” David whispered as he took the cloth and stuffed it into his pocket.
“How dreadfully unpatriotic.” Wallis leaned over to look behind the bush where two rolls of fuse wire were nestled. “That’s a lot of wire.”
“Well, you don’t want to be too close when you light one of those things.”
Each took one roll and continued down to the river bank. When they arrived they looked up to see the railroad bridge silhouetted against a half-moon. David and Wallis climbed up to the track where they opened their packs and pulled out the two sticks of dynamite.
They laid the sticks between the two rails, attached the fuses and unrolled the wires back into the forest. Then they opened their packs, pulled out German uniforms and changed clothes. They sat on the ground and waited.
“So how are we going to light these things?” Wallis cracked.
“Don’t you remember the training General Trotter gave us when he visited the castle last week? How fast fuses run and how to calculate igniting the fuse so it explodes right before the engine rolls over it. He went over it several times.” He paused. “You brought your cigarettes, didn’t you? Light the fuse with the lit end.” David smiled at her.
“I could use one now.”
“Don’t you dare.” He looked into her eyes. “Now what can we do under the moonlight while we’re waiting for the train?”
Before Wallis answered, they heard the distant call of a train whistle. They turned off their torches.
“I hope we’re fast learners.” Wallis fumbled for her lighter.
The whistle blew louder. David put his hand on Wallis’s.
“Not yet.”
Soon they saw the engine light appear in the distance.
“Now.”
They lit their fuses and watch the sparkling line go toward the track. The train was now loud, the cars clearly visible.
“Dammit,” she hissed. “We didn’t light them too soon, did we?”
“No, no.” David’s voice did not convey confidence.
The explosion rocked the earth. The engineer threw on his brakes, causing them to squeal. David and Wallis covered their ears and grimaced at the sound. The train slowed a little but not enough to avoid the gaping hole in the track. It hit the broken rail with a heavy thud; the attached cars derailed and overturned. Nazi soldiers crawled out of the train windows and jumped from the doors. They scrambled about the wreckage like a bunch of disturbed cockroaches. David and Wallis put on their helmets, grabbed their revolvers and torches and joined the hysteria.
They had only gone past a couple of cars when they noticed one that had “Nazi government” emblazoned on the side and whose seal was broken. Wallis pointed her torch inside, lighting the contents. They saw piles of fifteen centimeter naval shells.
“They’re making sure their war ships have plenty of ammo when they move into the Mediterranean to fight the British and the French,” David muttered.
A voice behind them bellowed in German. When they turned around they saw a colonel with his revolver drawn. He spat something at them.
“I am Colonel von Seidleman!” David barked in perfect German. “How dare you leave this shipment of shells unprotected!”
“That was exactly what I was doing! How did you arrive here so fast?” the colonel asked.
“That is my job!” David retorted. “Why weren’t you here sooner?”
Seig heil!” Wallis spat out.
The colonel spun toward her. “How dare you speak to me in such a tone!”
“Oh, to hell with it,” Wallis said in English as she pulled out her revolver and shot him in the chest.
In seconds, they were surrounded by other German soldiers.
“We recognized this man to be a British spy!” David pointed to the body on the ground. “Who is responsible for this?”
The colonel moaned. David’s eyes widened before he regained his composure.
“Good! He’s alive. Take him off and interrogate him immediately. Let me know what you find out.”
The soldiers picked up the colonel and carried him to the back of the train. David and Wallis turned and walked up to examine the damage to the engine, then disappeared into the darkness of the forest.
“I thought I told you to say nothing,” David asked in a hiss.
“Oh sheitze.”

Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Fifteen

Previously: Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with hints of parody and a dash of social satire on gender roles and class mores. Cecelia throws her annual society ball, where former lovers Andy and Bedelia meet. Andy and friends try to stop villain Malcolm Tent. Tent threatens Cecelia’s daughter Millicent. Tent woos Bedelia.
The door opened which broke the romantic atmosphere beyond repair. An oddly dressed man, bent over, entered the room. He bowed deeply, displaying the worst looking white-haired toupee ever worn on an English gentleman.

“Excuse me, sir,” the bent over man wearing the bad wig croaked.

“Yes, what do you want?” Tent had a time of it trying to control his exasperation.

“There’s a gentleman at the door to see you, sir.”

Tent’s eyes widened. “That might be my—what I’ve been expecting.” He turned, smiled and took Bedelia’s hand. “You’ll never know how much I value your intelligence.” He kissed her knuckles. “Your cooperation.” He kissed her wrist. “And your friendship.”

She withdrew her hand before he could kiss any further. Tent took the muted rebuff gracefully and retreated from the room. Bedelia wandered to the other side to stare out a window into the foggy London night. The man in the bad disguise ran behind the screen and began tossing items of his costume up, over and every which way. Bedelia was in the mood for another soliloquy.

Alas, my heart in torn in twain—or is it thrain?
Inspector Tent’s so suave and yet so old.
He’s everything a girl should want but let me be bold.
He’ll be stuck in a rocking chair while I’m still pretty young.
And then there’s my old sweetheart when love had just begun.
He’s handsome, kind and gentle too but one thing I must say.
Lord Andrew Taylor seems to have changed, oh hell I think he’s—

A voice bellowed from behind the screen, “Okay, who left the canapés on the damn floor?”

Bedelia furrowed her porcelain-like brow, shook her head and continued in iambic-pentameter.

I must admit there is a third I might could love.
The Man in Red is heaven from above.
He is so brave, exciting but a criminal.
And I have vowed to bring about his fall.
I need a way to take the best traits of all three.
But then again could one of them love me?

The Man in the Red Underwear made a grand entrance from behind the screen, looking dapper in his red tights and red blouse opened to his navel. It would be more than any girl could bear except for the fact the tray of Lady Snob-Johnson’s canapes were stuck to his left foot

You are fair! A gem so rare! True blue and square!
I love your hair! I am the Man in Red Underwear!

He tried valiantly to recite his themed poetry but the tray ruined the moment.

“It’s you! Bedelia ran to the door and opened it. “Oh chief inspector!”

The man in red underwear followed her, his left foot clanging on the hardwood flooring. “You don’t want to do that.” He wedged himself between her and the door, closing it carefully, not making a sound. “If Chief Inspector Tent came in here now I might have to leave—“ He tried to step toward the window but was stopped because Bedelia stood on the tray. They both looked down. She giggled and lifted her tiny foot.

“Oh, excuse me.”

“And then you’d never know if you could fall in love with a brave, dashing, exciting criminal.” He wore that irritating smile that a man wore when he knew the lady had the hots for him.

“It wasn’t very couth of you to eavesdrop on my private thoughts.”

“Do you expect a criminal to be couth?” He pressed his advantage.

Bedelia turned swiftly toward the liquor cabinet. “Would you care for a drink? No, I suppose it isn’t necessary to offer a drink to a criminal, is it? Then I don’t care if you want one or not.”

“Do you know you’re beautiful when you’re confused?” That retort would have been much more effective without the clanging of the tray on his foot.

“How did you get in here?” She looked around the room. “You didn’t hurt that old man, did you?”

“No, he’s just fine.” To prove his point, he spoke in the old man’s voice. “The Man in the Red Underwear is my friend.”

“You scoundrel!”

“A charming scoundrel—“ He looked down at his foot. “Excuse me for just a moment, will you?”

“Of course.” Bedelia made herself comfortable on the lounge as the man in red pulled the tray from his foot.
“Ah, that’s much better. Where was I? Oh yes. A charming scoundrel, you must admit.” He sat on the lounge, leaning forward to kiss Bedelia, but the tray got in the way. “Care for a canapé?”

“Not since you stepped in them.”

“Well, what am I supposed to do with them?” Our hero was getting quite perturbed.

“Why don’t you put them under the chaise lounge?” she offered.

“Splendid idea!” He slid the tray under the lounge and again leaned into Bedelia’s cherubic face. “We were about to kiss, weren’t we?”

The Last Halloween

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

Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Fourteen

Previously: Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with hints of parody and a dash of social satire on gender roles and class mores. Cecelia throws her annual society ball, where former lovers Andy and Bedelia meet. Andy and friends try to stop villain Malcolm Tent. Tent threatens Cecelia’s daughter Millicent. The man in red saves her.
By the time Bedelia returned with a bobby, the Man in the Red Underwear had mysteriously disappeared in the heavy London fog. Inspector Tent had retreated to a corner to lick his wounds, and the crowd had settled back into a nice, boring existence of dancing to proper waltz music. Cecelia and Millicent made a convincing argument to the bobby that Bedelia had merely mistook a prearranged entertainment as a real duel. He bowed and made a quick exit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She adjusted her stance and stared straight ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All this criminal investigation talk made them amorous again.

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

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

“Naw,” they said in perfection harmony.

A Dark and Stormy Halloween Night

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

Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Thirteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nothing, Mother.”

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

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

The guests joined in.

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

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.

The Halloween Tree

“Back in the old days,” my father used to say to me, “we didn’t git no candy on Halloween. Warn’t no such thing as tricker-treatin’ or whatever you darned kids call it. Puttin’ on some fool costume and prancin’ around the streets, why that’s just plain sissy.”
I got that lecture every year when the air turned crisp and the kids at school chirped about what they were going to wear for Halloween and what candy they wanted in their trick or treat bags. I suspected my father held his high falutin’ principles against childish behavior on October 31st because he didn’t want to spend money on a costume or candy.
“So there wasn’t Halloween at all?” I asked.
“Sure there was Halloween, but we didn’t go hog wild over it like they do today. Folks would have barn parties, and all the neighbor kids would come over. We’d play games right up to midnight.”
“What kind of games?”
“Oh, bobbin’ for apples. Nothin’ fancy.”
My face perked up. “Bobbing for apples? That sounds like fun.”
I saw my father’s eyes widened as he thought about the price of apples.
“Oh, you wouldn’t like it. It warn’t no fun at all. You got your face wet and choked on the water. No fun at all.”
“Then what did you do for fun?”
“Well, some boys used to knock over outhouses Halloween night.”
“That doesn’t sound like fun to me.” I imagined the stench of human excrement spewing from the overturned outhouse, and I gagged. “Did you do that?”
“Only once.”
“What happened?”
“I got caught.”
“How?”
“Well, pa came up to me the next day and started talkin’ about how George Washington told his pappy the truth about choppin’ down the cherry tree. Then I asked me if I had knocked over the outhouse. I owned up to it, and he turned me over his knee and started wallopin’ my behind. I says, ‘Pa, George Washington’s pappy didn’t spank him when he told the truth about choppin’ down the cherry tree.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, but George Washington’s pappy warn’t up in that cherry tree when he chopped it down.’”