Two hours later the Havana Special’s brakes squealed as it rolled to a smooth stop. The steam engine’s whistle blasted one long note. Perched on a white leather and stainless steel stool bolted to the floor of the lounge car, Chloe looked out the wide window. Sepia clouds framed a new moon. No precipitation fell. The sign on the dimly lit platform identified the station as Richmond.
Edgy from the coffee, she hopped up and hurried through the darkened narrow corridors. In the vestibules, she impatiently heaved one door open, stepped in between the cars and opened the adjoining door. Worried she’d wake someone, Chloe cringed each time a door slammed. There just was no quiet way of transcending the thresholds.
Reaching her reserved coach car, she squinted in the darkness. The conductor strolled up to her. In a hushed tone, he said, “We’re changing over to diesel engines and adding two more sleeper cars. Go ahead and return to your seat. I’ll let you know when you can walk back to your berth.”
“May I get off the train and watch?”
“No miss. Passengers may not detrain while we’re adding cars.”
She sighed and sat next to the kissing sailor. Spittle ran down his smiling baby face. If only I could sleep like that.
Chloe experienced the aftershocks of a hard jerk when the diesel locomotives coupled. She grabbed onto the armrests of her wool-upholstered seat. Moments later she heard a bell faintly clanging. A backward thrust and a bump signaled the Pullman sleeping cars had been added. After a short pause and two toots, the Havana Special resumed its voyage to paradise.
“Miss, you may walk back to the last sleeper car now.” the conductor said.
“Thank you.” She swayed with the cadence of the train, down the aisle of slumbering passengers. An Army Air Corps nurse was sprawled across two seats, snoring. Her legs were splayed open and one foot encroached over the armrest, into the aisle. Chloe turned sideways and squeezed past. She stopped and felt around on the overhead rack until she pulled out a blanket. Chloe quietly unfolded the thin white cover and gently draped it over the woman’s legs, hiding the view up her skirt.
She continued walking to the last Pullman car. Letting out a weary breath, Chloe patiently waited her turn in the sleeper. The porter, dressed in a snappy white jacket, assigned her a berth. Feeling as though she’d been hit by a locomotive, she whimpered as he assisted her up the ladder.
“I’m sorry miss. Are you all right?”
“Yes.” she lied.
Chloe climbed onto the bunk and swung her legs on top of the cool crisp white sheet. “Yes, I’m fine. Thank you.” Leave all ready, will ya? She handed him a quarter.
“Thank you miss. I’ll be by momentarily to collect your shoes for polishing.” The porter pulled the blue wool curtain shut and moved on to assist a woman with three irritable children.
* * * * *
Chloe slept until late afternoon. She opened the aisle curtain and squinted into the light. Scooting to the edge of her bunk, Chloe let her legs dangle as she grabbed her pocketbook. Seizing the ladder, she stepped down the swaying rungs. She walked into the ladies lounge and used the toilet. Chloe washed and dried her hands, then moved into the spacious primping compartment. She sat on one of five bolted down stools in front of a stainless steel counter and wall-to-wall mirror. The railway had provided hair lacquer, tissues and six bottles of perfume on a silver tray.
She freshened her makeup and brushed her hair. Chloe sprayed her curls into place with the lacquer. She blotted her lips with a tissue and then squirted on rose scented French perfume. The metal door banged open as a woman and a little girl entered. Chloe smiled at them and left.
She stumbled through the rail cars with the rapidly escalating side-to-side pitch of the train. In the jam-packed dining car, she bought a ham sandwich on buttered white bread, gobbling it as she plodded to the first lounge car. There weren’t any empty seats in there either. Chloe continued walking until she arrived at the special tavern lounge observation car, at the end of the train. She lucked into a comfortable chair next to a glass-topped end table, just as someone left. She tried to disappear into the laughter permeating the streamlined pink, mint and periwinkle art deco room.
The piano man began his first set. Chloe soon lost herself in his melodies and reminisced over the good times. The day she met Bill, and the mischievous twinkle in his eyes…their secret love…on her part anyway. Bill never once said, “I love you.” He just used her. She admitted it to herself. How could she have been so stupid? All she wanted was for somebody to love her. To wrap his arms around her and kiss and comfort her. Someone to make her feel that she was lovable.
I was so stupid. Nobody loves me. Never has, never will. And now look what a mess I’ve gotten myself into. I have to run. Far away.
Shuddering at the memory of her last night in Washington, Chloe allowed herself a good cry.
* * * * *
Helping herself to the napkins arranged like a fan on the end table, Chloe picked a couple of them up. They were embossed The Havana Special. She wiped her eyes and nose. Determined to begin anew, Chloe gritted her teeth and stood up with perfect posture. There. That didn’t hurt too much. Maneuvering through the smoky haze, she hummed along to a Mitch Miller song. In between well-groomed heads, she caught a glimpse of the Clark Gable mustached bartender.
The same terrific smelling gentleman she’d passed in the corridor during the night bumped against her back as the train pitched hard on a curve. Mike Taurus said, “Pardon me.”
The slight jolt stung Chloe’s bruises and sore muscles. I never knew everything was attached to my back. She stifled a gasp and half smiled, looking from side to side, trying to keep her sites on the bartender. There was something magical and comforting about his aura, drawing her to him.
She never looked at Mike Taurus.
Chloe dodged animated hands waving lighted cigarettes and booze. She arrived at the bar and steadied herself by holding onto the pink marble counter. Leaning in close to the bartender, she asked as loudly as she could without screaming, “Hot tea please.”
The bartender was crooning to the tune of Make Believe Island. He finished the first verse and shouted, “Are you sure you want tea miss? I’ve got some killer martinis.”
Chloe caught a little hint of a British accent in his spoken words, but not in his singing. “Yes, hot tea with sugar please.”
He dashed off to the kitchen to fetch a fresh little pot of tea.
When he returned still singing, Chloe enjoyed his soothing voice as she scooped three sugar cubes into a gold-rimmed teacup. She visualized the fantasy in his lyrics. Sunshine, blue water and beautiful flowers. Make Believe Island. A magical paradise where the future is much better than the past. Chloe laid the small silver spoon on the cup’s saucer.
The crooner grinned at Chloe while she fished coins out of her purse. She dropped them on the bar.
Looking forward to the first delicious sip, Chloe balanced the cup and saucer in her left hand and her purse and the small silver teapot in her right as she navigated through the lively throng.
Mike Taurus pushed his way up to the bar and motioned for the barkeep to lean in closer. He complied.
Mike whispered, “What’s the story with her?”
Mike shouted, “What’s the story with her?” He spun around and was satisfied no one else had heard him. The mix of service men and women as well as a few civilian ladies were immersed in their own merriment. He returned his attention to the bartender.
The bartender stroked his mustache. He hollered, “She bawled her eyes out and then came up here swaying to the music. Beats me. I can’t believe there’s some stupid stooge who would hurt a classy dame like that.”
“Gimme a bottle of beer and a pot of tea.”
The bartender winked. “Sure thing, mister.” He popped the top off a bottle of Miller High Life, placed a cup and saucer on the counter and then dashed off to the kitchen. He retrieved a second little pot of steaming tea.
Mike threw a dollar bill on the bar. He slid the beer into his pants pocket. Opening the hinged lid on the pot, he plunked in five sugar cubes and snapped it shut. Mike Taurus carried the teapot, along with a cup and saucer toward the end of the car.
The barkeep winked and muttered, “That’s it brother, get her on the rebound…” He continued singing softly fading out at the end of the refrain.
The train pitched hard toward the left. The cup and saucer flew from Mike’s hand. The porcelain saucer broke in half as it hit the polished wood floor. The cup miraculously just bounced. Scalding tea sloshed through the little silver spout, searing his chest. Cold beer slopped down the front of his gray trousers.
* * * * *
Chloe balanced the teapot and cup while walking back to her coach seat. Perhaps I’ll try to make conversation with the sailor. I don’t wanna, but I do need the practice. As she passed by her berth, she noticed the porter had made the bed. She drew a deep breath. The air was much fresher in the Pullman car than it was in the social areas.
When Chloe arrived at her coach seat, she was relieved to see the sailor was gone. His duffel bag and pea coat were missing from the overhead rack. He must’ve gotten off in South Carolina. Yes! I get a small reprieve. There will be plenty more service men to become acquainted with in Miami Beach.
Chloe sat in the window seat and clumsily opened the tray table. She placed the cup and saucer on it and poured tea from the silver pot. Steam swirled from the steeped orange and black pekoe. Stirring to melt the sugar, she slopped a little tea onto the saucer. She took a careful sip and savored the hot comfort. Glancing out the window, Chloe marveled at her first glimpse of the palm trees whizzing by. She’d only seen them in books.
The conductor strolled through casually announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve reached our top speed of ninety miles per hour. Out your windows, you’ll see we are passing through the Georgia swamps. Please rest assured that the odor permeating the train is swamp gas and not your traveling companion.”
Chloe and the other passengers giggled.
* * * * *
The train made good time down to Jacksonville, Florida, where they had a scheduled four hour layover. Chloe caught the conductor’s eye. She motioned him over. “May I get off here and walk around a bit?”
“Yes miss. There’s a newsstand in the station. And some telephones.”
Chloe held tight to the cold metal handrails as she followed two females from the Army Air Corps and a nun down the black perforated steel stairs to the concrete platform. The quartet paced duckling-like, watching the crew swap the two purple and silver Atlantic Coast Line diesel engines for two red and yellow Florida East Coast diesels.
Chloe walked over to the building and pushed the glass door open. She held it for the broad shouldered nun with wiry eyebrows and a huge nose. Oh the poor woman. She’s so homely. I wonder if that’s what led her to the calling? They entered. Chloe bought a newspaper and a pack of gum. It felt so good to walk a bit.
* * * * *
Back on board, she read until midnight when they arrived in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. There they had to stop on a siding to let troop trains pass.
With a long pull of the whistle and squealing brakes, the Havana Special rolled into Miami at 9:00 a.m. This was the end of the line and all of the passengers got off. In the bustle on the platform, Chloe stepped into her new world and felt flushed. She removed her coat and sat on a bench. Opening the envelope Mrs. Grogan had given her, Chloe pulled out a pink piece of stationery and some cash. Bless Mrs. Grogan. I’ll pay her back, just as soon as I’m settled and have a new job. A new job?
Chloe hadn’t thought that far ahead. What could she do on Miami Beach? Examine palm trees? Count grains of sand? Polish boots? This place smelt like boot polish. She remembered Bill’s boots and the way he used to snuff out his cigarettes with them. But he never will again. Chloe shuddered.
She tucked the money and address into her purse, draped her coat over one arm and trudged off with her luggage to the newsstand. She bought a city map and headed to a waiting bus. An Oriental woman boarding behind her helped heave the luggage up the steps.
Chloe told her, “Thanks.” and found a seat in the third row. I remember her from the train. She picked up the lamb for the kid. Nice lady. As they crossed the causeway into the city of Miami Beach, she gazed out the clean window. On Collins Avenue the hotels captivated her. They were painted ocean aquamarine, shrimp coral, impatiens fuchsia, eye shadow lavender, and sunflower yellow. Palm fronds rustled in the heavy ocean breeze.
Chloe felt bloated. Her clothes were uncomfortable, no doubt from being sedentary for so long on the train. She looked forward to taking her shoes, stockings and girdle off. At Lincoln Road she pulled the rope and stepped into the paradise of tropical Florida.
Chloe crossed the street and set her things down next to a fountain. She sat herself on the wide white concrete rim. The wind sent an occasional water droplet onto her hot skin. She smiled. Opening the map, she quickly located Bay Road. It looks like it’s only a couple of inches away. But heck, I should have gotten off over at Alton Road. Yeah, but then I would’ve missed the art deco hotels, and glimpses of the ocean. Now I’ve got a longer walk. Oh well.
She memorized all the left-right-lefts and folded the map. Chloe picked up her belongings and walked and walked and walked. Those measly two inches on the map translated into aching feet in high heels. When she noticed she was on the thirteen hundred block of Bay Road, she pulled the pink paper out of her purse.
1401 Bay Road
Darn it. I already passed it on the last block. Chloe turned around, walked back to the corner and crossed the street again. Sunbeams shone on a bay window in the two-story yellow stucco building. Emerald lettering on the glass spelled out Paddy-Cakes Bakery.
A beautiful three-tiered wedding cake with real white pansies spiraling down, took center presentation in the storefront window. White chocolates spilled around the base, intertwined with glistening white and peach pearl strands. It was the most romantic cake Chloe had ever seen.
She didn’t allow herself to daydream over it being hers some day. Cruel fate has robbed me of that dream. I need a quickie marriage at city hall, to some poor lonely young man about to be sent off to war.
Chloe tried to push the bakery door open but it was locked. The light was on. She rapped on the glass. Inside, a deeply tanned bearded man with a fringe of white hair around his dome swept the green and white checkerboard floor. He quickly donned a baker’s hat and opened the door.
“Sorry love, I don’t open until ten. I’ll save a cinnamon-hazelnut wiggle worm just for ye.”
“It’s a doughnut dear.”
“Oh…I’m looking for Patrick Grogan. Mrs. Grogan…uh, Mrs. Dolly Grogan sent me.”
He smiled, took her bags and ushered her in. “Yer lookin’ at ‘im love. Ye must be Carnie?”
“Sorry! Terrible with names. Come on and I’ll get ye some coffee and that wiggly worm.”
The thought of eating made her queasy. “Thank you, but I’d really like to rest. I’ve had quite a miserable train trip.”
“Where’s my manners? I’m sorry love, surely ye have. Come on up with me. I’ve got yer room all ready.”
Mr. Grogan used her big suitcase to nudge open the swinging white door into the kitchen. They passed by a waist high white marble counter top with a canister of flour and a marble rolling pin standing by to roll out sweet or savory comfort.
Chloe inhaled sugar, spice, and everything nice as she took in the set up—three industrial ovens, a refrigerator, a sink, two big electric dough mixers and a nut grinder. She looked at the other side of the kitchen, well more or less one third of it, by her judgment. It had a home range, a refrigerator, a few cupboards and a kitchen table with four chairs. There was a window over the sink and a back door with glass on top. There were two more interior doors. One was obviously a pantry. The other door probably leads to private living space.
The baker lugged her things up a narrow creaky staircase. Chloe followed several rungs behind, holding onto the beautiful oak banister. The spindles had been turned in five different designs, each its own beauty.
At the end of a dark hallway, Paddy Grogan opened a door. He set her baggage just inside, next to a small dresser. Chloe entered behind him. When Paddy opened the palm motif drapes, sunlight flooded in. The decor was tropical green, peach and raspberry.
“Come on over here, love. If ye peer out between those two buildings ye can see the bay. Biscayne Bay. Try to catch the sunset there every evenin’—Miss—Miss Mary had a little lamb. You’ll not regret it. Different every time. Ain’t nothin’ like it in the world. Just beautiful.”
Chloe dropped her purse and coat onto the brass bed as she squeezed around the end of it. At the window, she felt the warmth. A smile overtook her. What a difference a change in latitude makes. I might just be able to make a decent new life here in Shangri-La.
Paddy pulled two keys from his apron pocket. “This one unlocks the front and back doors and this one is for yer bed chamber.”
She took them and listened to the old gentleman.
“Yer bathroom is right through that door. No other tenants at the mo, so it’s all yers. My quarters are downstairs behind the kitchen, so I won’t be underfoot. Feel free to walk around in the nude if ye’d like.” He winked and laughed as he saw the startled look on her face. “Don’t ye go worryin’ ‘bout me miss. My mind is filthy but my actions are respectable. Probably why I’m still a bachelor. Ho hum.”
“Thank you Mister Grogan. This is so kind of you to take me in. How much do I owe you for the first and last month’s rent?”
He rubbed his beard. She saw the twinkle in his warm brown eyes. He blinked his long thick lashes as he calculated. “Well, I don’t know now. I suppose I could either charge ye what dear old Dolly did or else ye could go down and have my famous wiggle worm and…”
Eww! Does he mean what I think he does? “I’ll pay you the same as Mrs. Grogan charged.” Chloe grabbed her purse and dropped the keys inside. She fumbled with the pink envelope and counted out the cash.
Mr. Grogan dramatically feigned disappointment. He stuffed the money into his apron pocket. “I’m sorry miss. I won’t be makin' any more off-color jokes. Relax and get some rest darlin’.”
He stepped into the hallway and softly shut the door.
Chloe didn’t know what to make of Paddy. The old man had a very sweet and warm smile. She remembered Mrs. Grogan telling her he was made of good stock and that he’d protect her. Chloe nervously decided to stay, but just to feel safer—she locked the door and pushed a wicker rocking chair over from the corner, wedging it under the doorknob. Not because of Paddy especially, but just in case—. She put it out of her mind.
Chloe stuffed the envelope back into her purse and laid it on the dresser. She peeled off her binding clothes. Heaving her brown suitcase onto the bed, the right latch caught under her fingernail and bent it back. “Ow!” After rubbing her injury, she unfastened the other latch. The suitcase popped open, about five inches. She raised the lid.
Chloe found her simple white nightgown. She pulled it over her head and arms. The dresser had three drawers that she filled with panties, slips, brassieres, girdles, socks, garter belts and rayon stockings.
The closet was even smaller than the one in DC. She hurriedly hung her clothes on wire hangers and draped her terrycloth robe on the brass hook on the inside of the door. Leaving her desk supplies and bedside table trinkets inside, she shut and latched the suitcase. Chloe tilted and hoisted it onto the top shelf. She heard the can of pennies spilling. With some necessary pressure she shoved the door closed.
In the white tiled bathroom, Chloe looked around as she used the commode. She saw the small bathtub and knew she should bathe after the long voyage, but not now. I’m too tired.
Chloe inserted the stopper into the seashell shaped porcelain sink. She filled it half way with warm water. A fresh white bar of Ivory soap made a nice soft lather. She washed her face. Chloe let the soap float as she turned and felt for a towel, hanging behind her on a chrome rod. The rough texture rubbed her bruised skin. She draped the towel on the rod, placed the soap in the chrome dish and let the water drain.
Avoiding her reflection in the medicine chest mirror, Chloe stared at the stained grout on the floor as she brushed her teeth. Her lower lip stung when the bristles touched the spot where her mouth hit the police call box. A tear trickled. Chloe swilled water and spit. She rinsed her toothbrush and hung it in a chrome wall rack.
Back in the bedroom, she folded her dirty clothes and put them on the top of the dresser. The new tenant slipped her weary body under the raspberry sherbet sheets. The cotton felt luxurious. She fell into a deep slumber. Nightmares crept up, in black and white.
In the first act Chloe was revisiting the resort along the North Carolina coast where she’d spent her fourteenth summer. Her daddy had worked security there. She saw long necked giraffes sticking out of the circus train that had performed in town. It was parked on a railroad siding adjacent to the resort.
The black and white faded into vivid color. A blue clown argued with a bearded lady wearing a pink polka dotted dress. Chloe had seen them bickering before. Someone said they were married. It bothered her. She’d worried that’s what happened after people said, “I do.” Her parents didn’t get along either. Momma wouldn’t come out of the mountains for Daddy’s summer job. So it was just Chloe and him, but that was all right. Daddy spoiled her rotten. She loved him so much.
A front loader was digging, digging, digging. Chloe could smell the moist peat. Her breathing quickened. The black and white crept back in. She watched a crane hoist the carcass. An Asian elephant had died giving birth. She watched it swaying over the hole. Then the rope broke. The ground shook as the mammalian mother landed in the dirt pile. Chloe tasted the dusty air. She watched the men using tent poles for leverage to roll the cadaver into its grave.
The scene turned blood red as the circus owner aimed his shotgun. He wanted no part of hand raising an orphaned pachyderm.
Chloe woke up screaming, “No! Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” Too frightened to move, she reminded herself that Daddy stopped the slaughter. He persuaded the owner to leave the baby elephant at the resort.
Despite the bad dream, Chloe realized that had been a joyous summer. She named the little elephant Laughter. Clutching the sheet in her hands, she remembered the sloppy mess he made when she put bottles of milk in his mouth and how he entertained the vacationers when he used to pick up sticks with his trunk and scratch his back.
Never opening her eyes, she lay there breathing through her mouth until she drifted back into slumber land. The next black and white dream commenced.
Chloe dreamt she was swimming in the ocean, further and further out, practicing her endurance for the upcoming competition. The soothing water welcomed the young girl. She swam out then turned and tread water. The beach was deserted. She saw Laughter grazing on kudzu.
The water suddenly felt thick as her dream morphed into sepia. The kudzu turned into poison hemlock. “No Laughter! Don’t eat…”
The scene changed to a man caught in a riptide battling his way back to shore. He was drowning. Chloe felt as if she were swimming in quicksand trying to reach the victim. Finally in slow motion Chloe wrapped her arm around him and swum parallel to the beach for about fifty feet. She reached the edge of the riptide and drug him toward shore. A woman and two other men met them in chest deep water. She watched as they helped him stumble to the brown sandy beach.
Chloe woke up. She shuffled to the bathroom and got a drink of water. Walking by the window, she saw it—the sunball. Tangerine and bigger than a harvest moon. This was literally the closest she’d ever come to the sun.
She returned to the soft feather pillow. The cool raspberry sheets felt soothing on her battered body. Chloe nervously let herself look forward to the future as she laid herself back down to new colorful sweet dreams, not horrible memories.
* * * * *
Chloe opened her eyes to the Thursday morning sun. She’d kicked off all the covers, perspiring during the early hours. She hurried through a tepid bath. After getting dressed Chloe decided it was too hot for anything more than lipstick and powder. The bruise on her cheek was camouflaged well enough. She brushed her auburn mane, rolled the sides and pinned them in place. The hair spray was suffocating this morning but she still could pick out the wafting aroma of yeast, chocolate and strawberries.
Chloe tightened the sheets on her bed, proud of the perfect corners she’d made. The wicker rocking chair scraped along the hardwood floor when she shoved it back to the corner. Picking up her purse from the dresser, she walked out into the hall, locking the door behind her. As she descended the creaky, narrow staircase to the kitchen, Chloe blurted out “Orange and spice tea!”
“Well top o’ the mornin’ to ye and orange tea for the rest of the day, Miss Little Bo Peep. Had a herd and a half of sheep to count yesterday, did ye now?”
“Oh, Mr. Grogan, I slept heavenly thank you. So where’s a girl get a bite to eat around here?” She wandered around the kitchen, opening cupboards and peeking under cloths covering bowls of rising dough. Chloe procured a white cup and saucer and poured the steeping contents of a green porcelain teapot into it.
“Ye’ve got some sniffer on ye there. I’ve not known anyone to whiff out the scent of tea from a mile high.”
She giggled. My sense of smell has been heightened lately. Chloe gobbled up a biscuit with fresh strawberry jam and then nibbled one of his so-called infamous cinnamon-hazelnut creations. “Say, you do have a tasty wiggle worm.”
A tinkling bell alerted Paddy to a customer. “There’s some fried ham on the stove. Help yerself.” He scurried out to the front room.
Chloe enjoyed the crispy ham and took the time to savor the tea. So far so good. She’d made her getaway and was now a thousand miles from DC. And Bill. Her eyes welled up, but she refused to cry anymore over him. So long as the police don’t catch up to me I’ll be fine. I’m not the one that murdered him after all. The only thing I’ve got to be guilty of is falling for a married man…and…
She washed her dishes and scraped the excess grease from the iron skillet. Chloe found a dishrag and wiped the crumbs and goo off the table. She rinsed the crumbs into the sink and wrung out the rag, draping it over the back of a chair to dry.
Sticking her head out the swinging door into the storefront, she called out “May I please use your telephone?”
“Sure thing Little Red Riding Hood.”
Chloe spoke to the operator and held her breath, waiting for Myron Wimpledink to come to the phone.
* * * * *
Eleanor Roosevelt emerged from the Lincoln bedroom, startled to find her husband in the hallway.
He said, “Babs! Didn’t see you come in. How was the hoop dee doo? Tell me, are the older ladies supportive of my efforts?”
“Um…yes. Yes they are.”
“So’d you get swept off your feet by some handsome Republican?”
“Naturally…a baker’s dozen of ‘em.”
“Say, the Secret Service boys told me counterfeit money’s been turning up in the District, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.”
“Oh? That’s…alarming…I’m really tired.”
“I’m on my way for a long hot soak. Care to join me?”
“Um…no dear. I just want to get out of these shoes and get some shut eye.”
“So be it. Goodnight…I love you.”
She leaned down. They kissed.
“And I love you.”
As she turned away, he grabbed her arm. “Babs, what’s that all along the hem of your dress?”
He seized the emerald taffeta near her waist and began hoisting it up. Eleanor’s green pumps were filthy. His gaze ran up her rayon stockings. They were tight at the ankles and baggy at the knees. Franklin examined the bottom of her dress.
The first lady blushed as she looked over her shoulder. “Franklin! What if…”
“Cobwebs. Well I’ll be. Rosie the Riveter must be older than I thought.”
Eleanor pulled away, smoothing the taffeta down. She gave him the evil eye.
Franklin chuckled as she walked off. He followed his pup into the Lincoln bedroom. Looking around the sparse spotless room, he wondered what his wife had been up to. Fala sniffed the paneling along the fireplace wall. Mr. Roosevelt heard a voice in the corridor.
“Sir? Sir? Where you are?”
Fala jumped into his lap. The president rolled into the hallway. “Ah, looking for you good fellow. Come and draw my bath now. So tell me Fuji, how is that stunning creature you hoodwinked into matrimony?” Tired and aching, Mr. Roosevelt allowed his valet to push his wheelchair to the president’s bedroom.
“Traveling again. But Mrs. Fuji did send special package you requested.”
“Perfect timing son.”
Fala leapt from his master's lap to the chair at the foot of the bed. He circled twice and kneaded his paws into the upholstery before curling up to sleep. As was their usual routine, the president began undressing.
The valet stepped into the adjoining bathroom and turned the spigots on. Fuji adjusted the temperature and then told his boss, “Be right back.” as he dashed out of the suite.
Fuji soon returned with a brown interagency envelope. He delivered it to the president then mumbled, “I hope no overflow!” as he ran into the bathroom.
Mr. Roosevelt unsealed the metal clasp on the envelope and emptied the contents onto his white bedspread. He grinned while inspecting the nylon stockings.
“Okay sir, your bath is drawn.”
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt replaced the contraband, wheeled over to a bookshelf and slipped the envelope behind an original edition of Poor Richard’s Almanac. “When’s the missus due back?”
“Not for month. Wish we get delivery from stork and she stay home.” He pushed the wheelchair into the bathroom. Fuji removed Mr. Roosevelt’s trousers and torturous leg braces.
The president smiled. “Careful what you wish for. Once that old stork finds your address, he might become a pest. He visited the missus and I six times in ten years. First a little girl, then five boys.”
Claude Fuji laughed with the president.
* * * * *
Still high on adrenalin, the first lady changed into blue and white striped pajamas. She left her bedroom and took her dirty clothes to the hamper in the hall closet, dropping them on top. She dug down and fished out her husband’s shirt—the collar had a smudge. She tucked it under her arm and trotted downstairs, straight to his secretary’s office. Looking over her shoulder, Mrs. Roosevelt ducked inside. She sat in Vera Blandings' chair, rummaging through her desk. The first lady removed a tube of lipstick from the top side drawer. She neatened the small stacks of papers inside, then hurried back to her bedroom. Thank goodness no one saw me.
Eleanor shut the door and locked it. She yanked the cap from the lipstick and twisted it up. Mrs. Roosevelt compared the color to the smudge on her husband’s shirt. It matched. Her stomach churned as tears welled up in her eyes. She twisted the lipstick back down, replaced the cap and chucked it into a wastebasket. Then she shoved his shirt in with it. She stomped it down with her foot.
Eleanor climbed in bed and picked up the telephone receiver on her walnut nightstand.
The White House operator said, “Yes Missus Roosevelt, how may I direct your call?”