Monday, February 6, 2023

Time to Douse the Inferno

Excerpt from HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL
by Sherry Morris

Make Believe Island, Florida
March 1945

Agent Lambert and the Vice President of the United States strolled down to the beach. The huge rosy sun had broken through the clouds and was rapidly descending. Harry Truman rolled up his trouser legs and waded along the shoreline, calf-deep. Now and again he stooped over to pluck an incoming seashell before the tide washed it back out. A Navy vessel anchored in the Atlantic within waving distance, so Chloe and Mr. Truman waved to them. The sailors lowered their binoculars and  saluted. The Vice Commander-in-Chief returned the salute and waved again. They waved back.

Chloe reconfigured the fire ring from the first night of his arrival. She gathered silver driftwood sticks and carefully crisscrossed them within the circle, then took a few steps in the rocky sand toward the bungalow.

“Don’t even think about toting that firewood.”

Fine by me. Sometimes it’s nice being a girl.

Mr. Truman strode up to the house. Mike emerged and the two men each carried an armload down. Harry attempted to place a log into the fire ring.

 “No… Sir, I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Mike cast an evil eye Chloe’s way. “We don’t want to cross the goddess of fire.” He winked at the Vice President.

Mr. Truman tipped his sombrero to Chloe then grinned at Mike. Both men had a big laugh. Chloe turned toward the ocean and smirked. She lit a match. The breeze blew it out. She scurried to the other side of the ring to block the wind and lit another. One twig glowed orange, then sizzled out. After trying twice more, she stormed up to the bungalow, then returned with newspaper. The two men were elbowing each other. She ignored them.

Chloe crumpled and shoved the paper inside the twigs and then succeeded in igniting the  bonfire. Satisfied, she scouted around and found a suitable length and width of driftwood to serve as a poker. The pelican pair swooped low overhead on their way back to their love nest above the outhouse.

Mike  fetched  two  white  wooden  beach  chairs  from  the  shed  before  the  sun disappeared. He set them up along with the chair the Vice President had fished in so the three would have a view of the fire and the moonlit ocean. They sat and stared at the red lights on the Navy PT boat, breathed in the fishy air and swatted mosquitoes.

Chloe tossed another log onto the fire. She poked and coaxed and daydreamed into the hot orange sparking flames. She loved the heat on her face. It suddenly dawned on her that she was being selfish  hogging the fire. So she lit the end of her poker and handed it to the Vice President.

Harry held it high in front of him, twisting it slowly, watching the wood burn.

Chloe found two more sticks. She handed one to Mike and then sat down in the chair in between him and the protected one. She leaned in and stuck the tip of hers into the flames. Mike did as  well. He crossed hers as if they were two swords in a duel. Slowly, Mike rubbed his stick up and down on top of hers. She looked at him and he winked. Chloe raised her poker out of the fire, forcing  his up. When they separated, both had a good flame burning.

Harry said, “Well, folks, I think I’ll go on up to the shack and get some shut-eye.”

“Goodnight, sir.” Chloe said.

Mike dropped his stick into the fire. He escorted the protected one to the house and lit an oil lamp for him.

“Anything else, sir?”

“Not a thing, son. Good night.”

 “Good night, sir.”

Mike quietly shut the orange door. He descended the three old steps, enchanted by Chloe’s silhouette in the firelight. She placed a long log on the fire and coaxed its combustion. Her hair was blowing and he could see the outline of her legs through the thin cotton fabric as her dress fluttered in the ocean breeze. His breathing deepened. He took long, slow strides.

Mike stopped behind her, placing his hands over the one that Chloe held her stick in. She trembled and turned to face him. They exchanged predatory looks as he tossed the stick into the flames.

In a soft voice, he said, “Time to douse the inferno.”

He leaned down. She stretched upward. Their lips barely touched. He teased with gentle little whispering kisses. She put her hand behind his neck and pulled him closer.

Chloe felt the rough prickle of his new beard, not yet fully grown in. But it was a pleasurable little pain as he opened his mouth fuller. His tongue flickered around hers on top, underneath and on the sides. This is so right. So right. One man was made for me and you, Michael Allen Taurus, are the one.

Waves lapped around their legs. The tide buried their feet. They staggered in the wet sand. Chloe heard a sizzling noise as Mike closed his mouth for one last, soft kiss. She opened her eyes and saw that the tide had extinguished the fire.

Mike and Chloe stood only in the moonlight. They watched the surveillance boat resume its patrol around Make Believe Island. He held her hand.

Chloe was flooded with new feelings. Was it just her hormones out of whack or was Mike  really  the  one?  Chloe  tried  blocking  out  the  ugly  images  of  the  past,  ghosts invading their moment in time. She welcomed his warmth. The salty spray of the ocean melded with the lingering smolder of the fire. She tried to inhale the moment.

He turned to her and brushed a wave of hair from her cheek. “Well, let’s call it a night. Would you like to go into town again for a bath and supplies tomorrow?”

Chloe held his hand. “Okay. Anything in particular you’d like to eat?”

“I think you could make driftwood a gourmet treat. Whatever you choose is fine.” Chloe smiled as  they strolled toward the bungalow, hand in hand. He likes my cooking!

“Well, we could use some soap and shampoo. And maybe another couple of towels and washcloths.”

“Make a list for me.”

He opened the front door for her. “Can you find your way…or do you need me to walk you to your room?”

She squinted around the living room. The window let in enough moonlight to maneuver. “I’ll be fine, thanks.” Chloe instantly regretted saying that.

“Goodnight then.” He opened the front door. “Where…where are you off to?”

“I have to make sure the fire is out.”

“Oh…goodnight.”

Mike left. Chloe walked to her bedroom, shut the door and undressed. She lazily decided to brush her teeth in the morning. Actually, she wanted to savor the sensation of his kiss all night.



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Sunday, February 5, 2023

Oatmeal Scotchies



1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract or grated peel of 1 orange
3 cups quick or old-fashioned oats
11 oz. pkg NESTLE TOLL HOUSE Butterscotch Flavored Morsels*

Preheat oven to 375°

Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in small bowl.   Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla extract in large mixing bowl.  Gradually beat in flour mixtures.  Stir in oats and morsels. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 7 to 8 minutes for chewy cookies; 9 to 10 minutes for crisp cookies. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Pan Cookie Variation: Grease 15 x 10 inch jelly-roll pan.  Spread dough into prepared pan. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until light brown. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.


*Also delicious substituting Cinnamon Morsels or White Morsels instead of the Butterscotch Morsels.

These are my favorite cookies!

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Gas Lighting

 


Excerpt from INAPPROPRIATE
by Sherry Morris

At 10:00 A.M. I was surprised Napping Norah was on the top bunk. Surprised and annoyed. That meant the ladder would be in the way day and night. What a nuisance. Oh, well the bottom bunk sure looked comfy. I settled on to it, kicked off my shoes and switched the little reading light on. I set my attention to the mysterious package. First I shook it. Sounded like nothing. I listened. Nope it wasn’t ticking. So I picked at the knot. Other than breaking my only long nail, that didn’t get me anywhere. So I wiggled and stretched the string until I was able to pry it off the box at the corners.

I ripped open the package to find a red cardboard box. I opened it. White and Navy blue tissue paper cradled an empty single-use size bottle of chlorine bleach. The kind you get from machines at the Laundromat.

I pressed down and twisted the lid off. It was empty.

I stuffed it back in the box and tried to stuff it under my bunk, but the box wouldn’t fit. Fine. I took the bottle out and dashed into the bathroom and flushed it down the toilet.

The dead sailor had smelled like bleach. Why was somebody gas lighting me?

Shoot! Sandra you are retarded! You just destroyed evidence! Why didn’t you turn it in to Lieutenant Hottie? You dunderhead.

Because William was really mad at me. And he really hated Al Dente. And just what did Al have to do with the dead sailor? Or his sister? Oh, my goodness, say he ain’t the murderer? I’m married to a murderer!

I needed my mommy. I stuffed my feet back into my sneakers, except my heels were not inside. I hustled through the business car and into the baggage car.

I was stopped by an Amazon woman in a blue suit with a listening device in her ear.

“You cannot go in there. Return to your quarters.”

“My mom is in there. Mrs. Faire. Mrs. Terry Faire.”

“No admittance. Do as told.”

“And just who do you think you are? I can go anywhere I want to on this train. I’m a friend…guest of Mrs. Rosemary Donaldson.”

“I’m with the Special Investigator, and if you don’t return to your quarters immediately you will be detained and interrogated.”

“Why?” I asked.

“It’s none of your business.”

“This is kooky. What are you talking about?” This must have to do with Al Dente’s arrest!

“There are sensitive matters going on here that must be kept secret.”

Okey dokey then. That would explain the helicopter in the junkyard. “Fine.”

I grumbled my way back to the business car and plopped down in one of the rolling chairs. It slid across the car and slammed into the wall. Fine.

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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Russian Tea Cakes


Russian Tea Cakes

2 sticks of  butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla (I use up to 1 tablespoon) almond or strawberry extract is also good at 1 teaspoon
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans or hazelnuts
1/4 teaspoon salt
Extra powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 400. Mix butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar and the vanilla in large bowl. Stir in flour, nuts and salt until dough holds together.

Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Place about 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set but NOT brown. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool slightly on wire rack.

Roll warm cookies in powdered sugar; cool on wire rack. Roll in powdered sugar again.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

***They melt in your mouth...these will disappear fast!

Friday, January 27, 2023

Gardening with Harry Truman

Excerpt from HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL
by Sherry Morris

Make Believe Island, Florida
March 1945

After dinner that evening, the Vice President stated, “Those were some mighty good vittles, young lady. Yes, ma’am, loved the fried chicken. I’m gonna ruin my girlish figure if I don’t get some exercise here on Make Believe Island.”

Chloe smiled  with  every  facial  muscle,  so  pleased  to  cook  for  someone  who appreciated it. “Thank you sir.”

Mr. Truman headed to the living room where Agent Taurus was sprawled in the tub  chair  with  his  pants  unbuttoned  and  a  pencil  tucked  behind  one  ear.  He  was studying some typewritten pages.

Chloe joined them. She looked at the Vice President. “Are you ready now, sir?” 

“Sure. Say, Taurus, any kind of a long-handled tool around this cabana?”

Taurus held up one finger, finished reading the page and then looked up. “What are you in need of, sir?”

“Oh, a hoe, a shovel, maybe a machete.”

Agent Taurus stood, tossed the pages on the coffee table and buttoned his trousers. “Sir,  I  assure  you,  there  is  no  need  to  arm  yourself.  This  island  is  under  tight surveillance from all four directions at all times. No one knows you’re here.”

Harry and Chloe laughed.

“Mike, Mr. Truman wants to help me plant my flowers. I purchased seeds while I was in town.

“Well, come on out to the shed and see what we have.”

The trio walked outside, barefoot down the steps. They wove around to the side of the bungalow.  Mike brushed away a spider web as he heaved open the door to the shed. Both men jumped back—just in case.

Sunbeams washed the storage shack with light. No creepy crawlies pounced. There wasn’t much of anything inside but the sandy floor. It didn’t even smell musty or like something had died in there. A few rusty tools hung between bent nails. A couple of old chairs were stacked. An old crank washing machine and some shrimp nets lined the far wall.

Harry stepped in and seized a shovel with a splintered handle. While Chloe and the Vice President  roamed around the island and scouted out a location, Mike lifted and jostled and coaxed the shed door shut.

Chloe said, “Mr. Truman, would you like to make me a nice curvy outline in the sand, all along this clearing?”

“Sure thing.” Harry dragged the shovel in an “S” pattern.

Chloe said, “Oh that looks great… How ’bout shadowing that line twice more in front of it?”

Harry whistled as he worked.

Chloe crawled with her ruler. She used a stick to poke holes, spacing them six inches apart.  She carefully dropped one tall sunflower and two morning glory vine seeds inside each depression.

Mike carried a bucket of rainwater from the cistern. He dipped out handfuls to irrigate. Harry took the old shovel and went for a walk.

Chloe said, “Help me up.”

Mike held Chloe’s hands as she stood. “How are you feeling today, baby-wise?”

“Baby-wise, fine. But I’ve got a lot of indigestion. It’s been coming and going all day… Will you help me hang the curtains now?”

“What curtains?”

“The ones I made. You don’t think I just lie around eating cinnamon-hazelnut wiggle worms while you’re off to town do you?”

“This I’ve gotta see.”

Chloe looked up when the sun suddenly disappeared. Storm clouds rolled in.

Mike followed her to the porch, reaching around to open the door. They walked into her  bedroom. If only circumstances were slightly different they’d be doing more than hanging curtains.

She picked up the twelve panels. A pink envelope lying under them fell to the floor. “What’s that, Chloe?”

She offered him the pink typewritten page.

 

Dear Sis,

Momma and Daddy’s house is being condemned by the county. They have to be out by the 26th. Momma swears they’ll only get her out feet first. Daddy’s so upset, Momma’s squandered all the money and won’t pay the bills. He’ll be going to tax prison on the 15th of next month. And you know what they do to ex-cops in prison. He’s nearly blind now, and that hip joint is now just rubbing bare bone on the shrapnel. Momma won’t see to him any more, he’s living in squalor and starving. Someone needs to do something now. You know I can’t help a bit, what with the new baby coming, they wouldn’t get any sleep here. You need to  put Daddy in the veterans’ home, then get Momma sent to the asylum. Go on in and take care of the bills, and then just send the extra to me, okay sweetie?

 

Yours Truly, Debra

 

Mike read it then gave it back to her. “I didn’t know you could sew. Nice job.” He walked into the kitchen and nibbled on the leftovers.

Chloe put the letter back on the bed then joined him in the kitchen. “I've been receiving letters like this for several months now. I called Momma right after I read this one. She said she’d just sent out two hundred dollars to poor Debra, who just couldn’t make it on Warren’s salary because they don’t pay doctors enough these days.” Chloe searched Mike’s face for a reaction.

“At least you have a family, Lambert.”

Shocked, Chloe watched him pick the chicken bones clean from her plate and from Mr. Truman’s. He actually ate the smallest bones.

“But I don’t have a sister… She died in infancy. Momma never accepted her loss. And Daddy died twelve years ago.”

She waited  for  a  reaction  or  a  comment.  He  just  gnawed.  Incredulously,  she challenged his statement. “And whadda ya mean at least I have a family? Of course you have a family…or maybe not?  Hey, I know! You were raised around a trough with hogs?” she teased.

He isn’t impressed with my needlework. Every blanket stitch is perfect. I’m fed up with the bogus letters  somebody is sending…and poor Momma’s mental state. Chloe shook cleanser into the cast-iron pan, hoping to get her frustrations out scrubbing the stubborn burnt- on goo.

Mike said, “My mother died from Spanish flu when I was two weeks old. Father never came to the hospital to claim me. So I grew up in a series of orphanages in the UK… I loved feeding the pigeons. I needed to. I’d save scraps of bread, from the trash cans…” His voice broke. “The kids at primary school teased me relentlessly. There was one rhyme that they knew would get to me every time, about a bird named Enza. You get it? In-flew-Enza.”

Chloe felt ashamed. How could she be upset about trivial things like curtains and a letter? Oh, the poor man. “How’d you end up here?”

“An American couple adopted me when I was twelve, and brought me to live with them in Virginia. Mr. Taurus owned a nursery…plants and trees. Mrs. Taurus managed a pet store. I helped them out after school and in the summers.”

“So you do have a family.”

“Not anymore.  I  came  home  from  college  on  Christmas  break  and  they  were gone…moved  and didn’t tell me. They took my Eclectus parrot, Pansy, with them. I loved her so much. Have you ever held a bird in your hand?”

Chloe shrugged. “No, um…not yet.”

“I love feeling a bird’s warmth when it’s on me. And the tickle of the tiny tongue exploring my fingers. God created beautiful living creatures in the birds.”

Chloe smiled enjoying this window into Mike. He’d never opened up before. He was usually all business.

 “Pansy always said, ‘Hello, Mike,’ when I’d walk into my room. And ‘Goodnight, Pansy,’ at bed  time. She picked up all sorts of little snippets. ‘Stupid dog,’ our yellow Labrador Retriever really was dumb. ‘Give me some lemons’… ‘Let me out’… ‘I love you.’”

Mike shook  his  head.  “That  really  hurt,  losing  Pansy.  I  was  born  to  be  alone. Always have been…always will be.”

He walked  to  the  trash  can  and  dumped  his  plate.  The  bones  rattled  as  they dropped in. He left through the front door.

Chloe kept her head down over the dishwater and cried. As weird as her own family life had been at least she knew that her parents loved and wanted her. Why on earth they ever got married or  stayed married she’d never figured out. After Chloe finished with the dishes she dried her hands and eyes then went into the living room.

Mr. Truman had come inside and was running his leathery finger along the dusty globe in the living room. Chloe fetched a dust cloth.

“Chloe, you’re not the maid here. Stop fussing around.”

She picked up the papers Mike had been reading. “Hey, this is pretty good,” she said.

Mr. Truman asked, “What’s that, dear?”

“This. Did you type this?”

“Type? I’m on vacation.”

“Is it Mike then?”

“He’s been in my room hunting and pecking on the old Royal typewriter.”

“I think he’s writing a romance novel,” she sighed.



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Monday, January 2, 2023

Train Compartment Bingo


Excerpt from INAPPROPRIATE
by Sherry Morris

My brother hustled us all back to the train. I looked up at the U.S. Marine helicopter whooping overhead. Pretty low, enough to help me make up my mind to obey and climb back aboard the train of fools. Now I would just concentrate on learning the craft of writing. After all that was the whole purpose of this trip.

Freezing rain pelted the windows as we chuffed down the tracks. I saw the helicopter take off from a clearing in the junkyard. Very odd indeed. I’d file that in my imagination and my muse would have a go at it some day. What was it doing? Who was in it? What was so special about landing in a junkyard before an ice storm? I’d come up with something very clever indeed.

There was too much chatter in the parlor car. The evangelists were one upping each other with some sort of scripture trivia game. Bicep Betty was showing off her latest erotic romance anime complete with illustrations, which I did not want to see.

I didn’t know if the other writers were being polite to Betty or if they had a morbid curiosity. They say people have that about death, too. Fascinated with all the little mundane details. Not me. I would prefer to do without it.

The window had been replaced. I wondered if Big Marc had turned up and I hoped he was all right. And I hoped I hadn’t given him a concussion.

My pinky finger grew numb. I looked down at the hemp string constricting it. I’d forgotten about the lightweight package Mom had delivered to me. I had no idea what was in it nor who could have sent it. And for that matter I didn’t realize they had special deliveries to a train. What in the heck?

I parked myself on the round sofa. Dina shook a blanket out on top of me and plopped herself down. “So do you wanna swap rooms?”

“Yes!” This was just too great. I had been dreading reentering the scene of the crime. “Are you sure? I’m really freaked out about Mini Mary Agnes. I’ll probably see her face in every bathroom mirror from now on.”

“I just adore ghosts. I’m hoping she’ll haunt us.”

I rolled my eyes. Dina had loved the Ouija board when we were little. She told the scariest ghost stories around the campfire at Girl Scout camp.

“Do you think Napping Norah will mind switching, too?” I asked.

“I couldn’t ask that dear little lady to move. She’s so comfortable in her bunk. She doesn’t even snore.”

“Fine. I’ll swap one evangelist for another. Do you really want to move into my room?”

“Please.” She smiled.

I pulled the blanket off of me and stood to fold it. Dina grabbed the other end and assisted. It was really warm in this car. My wet clothes and hair weren’t bothering me and I was usually always cold indoors.

My brother set a fresh pot of coffee on the credenza. I jumped up and steadied myself to the rhythm of the train. I swaggered across the car to him.

“I’m switching rooms with Dina. From A to H. Will you please retrieve my cooler and duffle bag?” I remembered the wet yarn and said, “No. Just the duffle bag is good. You can throw the cooler out.”

“I’m busy now.”

“Please?”

I got in his face and gave him the pouty lips.

“Fine.”

He took the empty coffee pot and disappeared.

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Saturday, December 31, 2022

Thousand Dollar Pharaoh


20th Century American History Mystery Series Book 2

by Sherry Morris

Chapter One

August 1945 in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt

 

Moaning as she regained consciousness, Chloe raised her head and twisted it from side to side, struggling to understand. Where was she? A jolt of searing pain in her upper right arm brought her focus back to the job. When she had signed on to become a United States Secret Service Agent in the counterfeiting division, they had neglected to mention all of the occupational hazards. She had quickly learned the missions providing an adrenaline rush always seemed to be accompanied by physical pain.

As she cleared her mind, she realized it was sometime after midnight inside an ancient tomb. On the dusty earthen floor next to her, Grover Cleveland seemed to glare ominously from the bloody thousand dollar bill stuck to a mummy’s severed arm.

Grabbing the three-thousand year old limb for leverage, she struggled to stand as she allowed her eyes to adjust to the flicker from a stubby red candle on the floor of the burial chamber. Oh God, no. Who desecrated this mummy?

Chloe remembered tripping down some wooden stairs and grunting on a landing. As she clambered up, two men appeared at the top of the steps and chased after her. She scurried down, rounded three corners and squeezed into a small breech in an earthen wall. Did I lose them? No, they must’ve knocked me out cold. But my head doesn’t really hurt. Did they make their getaway or are they lurking, waiting to finish me off after they interrogate me?

What’s that smell? I know that smell. From where? She closed her eyes tight. Remembering a winter night. A white fur coat and Bill…Hundred Dollar Bill. The printing room at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington. The woman up on the catwalk. The flash. Six shots ringing out, the last one louder. The silhouette blowing smoke from the gun. The lithe shadow sashaying into blackness. Her lavender French perfume which commingled with hair lacquer and cigarette smoke. Bill’s assailant…his wife loomed there. Is here somewhere now.

Chloe you’re delusional. What would his American wife be doing in Egypt? Ha ha ha. Good one, Chloe girl.

She staggered over to the candle and grabbed it. A bead of hot wax dripped onto her ring finger. She drew in a short breath.  Carefully cradling the mummy’s arm, realizing how sacred it was, she approached the three open stone coffins within the chamber. A female corpse had flowing red hair and a bent left arm. A black-haired male had his hands crossed at his groin. The third was a bald, one-armed female. Shivering at the sight, Chloe brooded over her mission and strategy. She gently replaced the arm on the mummy closest to her. Mummy! Yuk. It appeared to fit. Staring at the thousand dollar bill, her mind kicked into analytical gear.

Chloe examined the ancient corpse. Double ear piercings. Tight banding around the forehead where the headdress would have been. No trace of hair whatsoever. Bent right arm. Henna on the long fingernails. Fingers curled in, as if gripping a scepter, which some evil tomb robber had probably helped himself to. This mummy was a royal woman and was in bad shape. Her mouth and chest had been bashed in on the left side. Right arm ripped off. Hacked off. Chloe’s stomach contracted as the bile churned. What kind of people could do such a heinous deed? The bad guys could. But who were the bad guys? Two of them surprised me in the upper burial chamber. One or both no doubt responsible for…

She grabbed the wound in her right arm.  Her fingers slipped in the coagulated blood.  Pain shot up her arm, all the way to her teeth.

I’ve been shot!

Anger seethed through her. Great. I’m going to die. Alone in a creepy crypt. But wait. I’m not dying yet. I’m up and about. The bleeding seems to have stopped.  So it’s either a flesh wound or else the bullet is lodged in my arm. Fine. Take it like a big girl, Chloe. You’re the one who volunteered to jump right on into the boots of one of our boys at war. You are an American and you will see this mission though. The fire of her resolve manifested itself in the nerve endings of her wound.

Chloe flinched and stumbled backward as a cat pounced from a stone ledge onto the mummy’s chest. Larger than most cats she’d ever seen. Tawny yellow-gray fur, a long tapering tail and striped markings. A Sand Cat. It kneaded and dug into the bandages before circling three times, nesting in the chest or what was left of it inside the shreds of black, tan and red burial wrappings.

Now that is just wrong.

“Here kitty. Nice kitty.” She held her fingers to its nose. The cat sniffed and turned away. Not even a lick. Chloe petted and stroked the shaggy soft fur.

“Come on kitty. Come on girl. Come out of the coffin. Out you go.” Gently tugging on the cat near the back of its neck, it wouldn’t budge.

Dates. I have some dates left.  Where is my bag? Chloe spun around until she spied it near the hole in the wall where she’d penetrated the chamber. The cat kept an eye on Chloe as she shoved her arm into the tapestry carpet bag and fished out a date.  “Here you go kitty.” Chloe offered the sticky sweet fruit. Allowing the cat one lick before pulling the date away, “No, no, no girl. I guess you’re a girl. Let’s play fetch.”  Chloe tossed the date on top of her bag. The cat leapt after it, with a piece of currency stuck to its tail.

Chloe petted the feline as it licked the date and even gave her one scratchy lick of thanks on her hand.  Swishing back and forth, the tail betokened gratitude.

Hmm… A U.S. thousand dollar bill. She removed it from the tail. These haven’t been minted since 1936. Well, isn’t that a coincidence. That’s just the date on here.

Trying hard to examine the bill for authenticity in the dim candle light, it appeared real enough. She rubbed her fingers over a tacky patch. What was making the bills sticky? Taking the candle back to the stone coffin, Chloe shoved her left arm inside, cringing, feeling around. The brittle bandages crinkled. Or was that the currency?  

Peering inside, she found a stash of thousand dollar bills. Chloe dashed over and coaxed the cat off of her bag, more or less yanking it out from underneath the animal. She stuffed it with the cash, filling it one third full. Feeling around the bottom of the sarcophagus, her ring bumped something metallic and clanked.  Her wedding ring.  She smiled and remembered the National Cathedral where Momma had walked her down the aisle. It still seemed like a dream. Did it really happen?

Chloe sighed. Her whirlwind action-adventure romance had culminated in marriage to fellow agent, Mike Taurus. In the picture dictionary of life under the listing for man was his photograph. Perfect in every way, except when he opened his mouth and said something completely inappropriate. What a mouth. Firm lips. Slightly crooked two front teeth. Hot probing tongue. The world’s best kisser. Oh Mike. I wish you were here on this mission with me.

The cat meowed three times. Chloe turned to see the fur standing up along its spine. It must sense danger. Chloe spun around, but saw nothing. She returned her attention to the coffin and dug deep, running her fingers over the metal. They had to be plates. Plates to print currency. Shazam.  Holding the dwindling candle between the mummy’s legs, she verified her deduction.  Her stomach settled and she smiled.

Chloe gasped and nearly dropped the candle as the cat pounced on the mummy’s face. Hissing and with fur bristled up on its arched back, the agitated creature leapt across the three sarcophaguses, onto her carpet bag and then circled back to retrace her route. Conspiring voices from elsewhere in the tomb loomed in the distance. Speaking English.

Relieved she didn’t set the mummy on fire, her pulse raced while she scanned the chamber for a weapon. She hurriedly dug through her bag and extracted her revolver.

Now what? Think Chloe, think. “All mighty God, forgive me and be with me.”  She reached into the next gritty stone coffin, grabbed the mummy’s straight right arm, closed her eyes and yanked. Oh did that hurt. Then pain in her arm shot both ways, up to her brain and stinging into her fingertips.  

She focused on her disgusting task. Eww…just like trying to carve the leg off of an over-baked dried out chicken. Like the one she’d ruined for Uncle Edmund’s wake. That incident was why Daddy had insisted she get her degree in Home Economics.

Chloe waved her hands in the air, shaking off the disgusting creepy task she was performing. Her injured arm screamed in pain. Tears of agony ran down her face as she likened it to the pain this mummy might be feeling in the afterlife, having his arm ripped off. Inhaling the stale air, she looked up at the low stone ceiling and prayed, “And all mighty God of the sun and whoever else these poor old people believed in, whom so ever is guarding this tomb, please, please, please, forgive me.”

She tugged and twisted until the limb finally snapped off. Opening her eyes, she blinked and sneezed as dust flew. Dust and dead bugs and mummified flesh. Shoot! She had to unwind the bandages to get the arm loose. Eww! Ancient flesh and bones. Stop looking at me! Why did they have to perform an eye and mouth opening ceremony after they’d prepared the mummies? They’re all watching me do these horrible things to them. Tears trickled down her dusty face. She shuddered. Good grief, she was desecrating a pharaoh.

Somehow, she had to focus on this task and convince herself she wasn’t actually tomb robbing, abusing a corpse and touching a dead person. This was just another day at the office…out in the field. Just doing her routine job in a routine way. Concealing the identity of this royal mummy, in order to protect her. What was left of her. And in the process, desecrating the mummy’s boyfriend here next to her. Great, just great. Now two spirits can’t rest in peace and enjoy the afterlife.

Shaking off the spine-chilling assignment, literally by shaking her head, Chloe positioned the straight arm on the mummy with the bashed in face and the sarcophagus full of dough. If her research and hunches happened to be correct, these were the remains of a very important royal mummy.  A pharaoh.  A lady pharaoh. How divine. Wow. Chloe felt humbled in her presence. And more determined to protect the mummy and see that the counterfeiters were prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

As she placed the bent right arm in her carpet bag, the cat somersaulted into it. Fine. Come along. Together they squeezed through the two foot breech in the earthen wall and into main chamber of the tomb. The air wasn’t as dusty, but it sure was muggy and hot. Who’s great idea was it to traipse off on a counterfeiting caper in the Egyptian dessert in August? Orpha’s. Well, yeah, Orpha had volunteered for this mission, but Chloe had been drafted because the brass knew she had minored in Egyptology.

Breathless, Chloe scurried up the wooden stairs in the tight passageway, pushing the wall with her left hand, painfully hugging the carpet bag handles and candle with her right. Zigzagging through the ancient passages, she suspected the eyes on the hieroglyphics loomed judging her. As she briefly read the simple curses, she realized they were dooming her to be eaten by a crocodile, hippopotamus and then a rhinoceros. Yet some of the characters bespoke to urge her onward, as if history depended on her to complete this chapter. If circumstances had been different, Chloe would have loved to have lingered and examined the hieroglyphics. Maybe even buy an animal symbol necklace thingy at the gift shop. What do they call those? Take photographs with her Brownie camera. Mug and pose and what a fun honeymoon this would be. Mike…

Chloe forged onward and upward as fast as she could. When the main entrance of the tomb spit her into the black Egyptian night, she extinguished the flame. Climbing the steep steps, she gasped for breath before making a sharp right at the top. She huffed her way through the sand hurrying toward the thunder of approaching hooves. Chloe stifled a scream as a camel rounded the next corner in her path.

U.S. Secret Service Agent Orpha Livingston thumped the camel with a stick, forcing him to his knees. Chloe grimaced at the camel’s body odor as she handed the carpet bag to her partner and then hiked her gauze dress up, grabbed onto the saddle blanket and hoisted herself astride the beast. “Boy am I glad to see you, Orpha.”

“You too, clover-girl.”

As soon as Chloe was seated, she grabbed the bag and hugged it to her middle, smashing it between her and the driver. It screamed a meow as they stole away through the desert.

Orpha flinched and looked over her shoulder at the bag. “What have you got in there?”

“Later. Let’s get out of here!” Clasping the carpet bag between herself and the jockey, Chloe balanced by digging her fingers around the belt on Orpha’s dress. The woman’s slim waist didn’t leave much room for margin.

As the camel proceeded into the indigo night, Chloe’s heart pounded, nearly as much as her arm stung. Please let it just be a graze. I can’t get a bullet dug out now. No time. I should have departed yesterday. She tried to pacify and convince herself she could indeed still make it back to Washington in time. Well she’d just have to. There was no alternative.

In an effort to calm down, she breathed in deeply though her nose and held it as long as possible, then blew it out through her mouth.  Inhaling so deeply of Orpha’s wig-top incense cone was nearly drugging. Orpha had gone a little overboard buying this black braided wig with an incense pot on top. Royal women wore these back in the days of real pharaohs. Orpha always had been a sucker for costumes.

Chloe’s nostrils separated out frankincense, eucalyptus and what was that other scent? Marijuana?  That’s just about right. I’ll not only be late for my mission, I’ll be arrested and thrown in jail on drug charges.  Still, perhaps the marijuana could ease my pain. Chloe lifted her nose and inhaled as closely to the cone as possible. Pressing against the jockey, she mashed the carpet bag between them, sending out a mew of protest from the Sand cat. “Sorry kitty.”

What am I going to do with this cat? I’ve always wanted a cat. A companion. Better than a dog. You don’t have to walk it.

Once they rounded a bend in the hot windy night, Chloe reached up with her left hand, mesmerized by the heady incense. In an attempt to crook the cone downward slightly for a greedy whiff, she inadvertently knocked it from her partner’s head. Chloe flailed as Orpha caught her with one hand and slowed the camel down.

“What the heck are you doing, Clover?” she demanded.

“Sorry.”

“That wig cost me my last six chocolate bars.” Orpha sounded hurt.

“I’ll buy you a hot fudge sundae when we get home. I’m so sorry. And I’ll pay for a shampoo and dryer set at Mabel’s.”

Holding firmly to her colleague’s saffron silk belt for the rest of the journey, Chloe’s mind returned to fantasizing about having a cat. Keeping a cat. This cat.  An Egyptian cat. I’ll call her Cleo. For Cleopatra. Maybe Patra? Pat? Patty? Paddycake… She drew in a deep sigh. Good old Paddycake. Paddy Grogan, proprietor of Paddycake’s Bakery in Miami Beach. Her room upstairs. The chocolate frosted yeast raised doughnuts and his infamous cinnamon sugar wiggle worms were to die for…  She shivered. Babies did die for. Hundred Dollar Bill poisoned them. She wept for her twins. They say grief gets easier with time, but she really couldn’t imagine a day would go by when she wouldn’t ache for her unfathomable loss.

Tears stung the kohl makeup into her eyes. She tightened her grip on Orpha’s belt and buried her head in the back of her dress, sobbing.

Orpha abruptly halted the camel. She twisted around to face Chloe. “What’s the matter, honey?” After prying her friend’s fingers out of her belt, Orpha dismounted. She reached for Chloe’s hand. “Come on down and talk to me.”

Chloe let herself fall into Orpha’s arms, depositing both them and the carpet bag onto the hard-trodden, gritty sand path.

Chloe screamed and grabbed her right arm. Orpha rolled over on top of her. “What’s wrong?”

“I’ve been shot. My babies are dead. I botched the mission. I’m no good at anything.”

“You’ve been shot? Where? Who shot you? Why didn’t you tell me?” She kissed her friend’s forehead. “Honey, I know it’s only been a few months since your miscarriage. But please believe me. The ache will get easier as time passes. You’ll always miss them, but you must go on with your life.”

No stars dared twinkle. No moon shone down. Only blackness. Evil foretold.

Orpha crawled toward the sound of the camel breathing and groped around inside her saddle bag. A beam of dim light returned to Chloe, in the form of an Army flashlight.

“Clover, you’re bleeding. Your arm. Where else were you shot? Who did it?” She yanked down the sleeve on Chloe’s dress, exposing her shoulder and upper arm to examine the wound. Orpha slipped her fingers underneath Chloe’s arm and twisted it around to get a good look.

Chloe shoved her away with a shriek of pain. “Don’t touch me!”

“There’s no exit wound. I’ve got to dig the bullet out.”

“No! Are you crazy? Absolutely not! You are no doctor!”

“Well at the very least I have to close the wound.” She returned to her saddle bag and fished out her Army Air Corps Nurse’s kitbag.

“Don’t even think about it. I’m fine.” Chloe snapped at her friend. The tears in her voice betrayed her brave words.

“You’re fine? Then why are you writhing around in the sand, blubbering, shrieking and generally making a mess of yourself?”

The cat emerged from the tattered bag and pounced on Chloe’s stomach. She paced up and down the length of her torso, licking her nose, turning to swish it with her tail and then kneading her paws into Chloe’s belly before curling into a ball. Chloe concentrated on the cat’s purring as Orpha positioned the flashlight beam, propping it on the carpet bag to illuminate the surgical field.

Chloe jerked upright and screamed from the sting of alcohol as Orpha sterilized the area.

“Sorry honey.” Orpha firmly shoved her patient back down.

“You are going to give me a bullet to bite on, right?”

“You don’t need a bullet, Clover. You already have one, remember? Now you’ll feel a little sting…and burn.”

A little sting and burn…more like blinding pain as Orpha injected the area with a local anesthetic.

“Again a little sting and burn.” She moved the syringe to an adjacent area.

“Could you have used a duller needle? Sheesh! What are you giving me? Procaine?” Chloe dipped her head to the left and tried to wipe her eyes and nose on her dress.

“I wish. Ran out of that the first week here.”

“Well what is it? Camel spit?”

“Cocaine.”

Chloe tried to concentrate on the cat’s purring. She still hadn’t named her. Cleopatra and all its nicknames were unsuitable. Sphinx? Nah. Egypt? Phff. Valley? Valley of the Kings. Yeah right. Here kitty kitty. Here Valley of the  Kings. Why did it have to be kings anyhow? Women were just as effective leaders. Queen. Queenie. Nefertiti. The wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten. Rumored to have assumed his role as Pharaoh upon her husband’s death. Husband. What a glorious word. Mike. Chloe smiled.

“Do you feel this, Clover?”

“What?”

“Do you feel anything?” Orpha poked around the edges of the wound with a needle.

“No.  What do you think of Nefertiti for a name?”

“You’re changing your name to Nefertiti?”

“No, naming the cat.”

“Who gave it to you?”

“Nobody. She just jumped right into my carpet bag.”

“Well you can’t keep her.”

“Why not?” Chloe asked defensively.

“She obviously belongs to somebody. Look how big she is, my gawd she’s well fed.”

“She’s mine now and you can’t take her away from me.”

“Easy now, Clover. You know I wouldn’t do that. I just don’t want you to be surprised if she runs home.

Chloe could feel tugging as her friend sutured the wound. “Are you doing layers?”

“I can’t. You won’t let me dig the bullet out.”

“You don’t know how to dig a bullet out.”

“I’ve watched plenty and assisted the Army docs.”

“Yes, but all you have experience in is closing.”

“Not anymore.”

“What do you mean by not anymore?”

She handed Chloe the bullet.

“You promised you wouldn’t dig this out!”

Orpha tied off the last suture and clipped it.  “It was right under the epidermis. Easy as pie with my little tweezers. I couldn’t leave it inside. The risk of anaerobic bacterial infection is too dangerous. No gangrene on my watch, Clover.”

 Relieved, Chloe changed the subject. “Mike’s cute, don’t you think?”

“Sure,” Orpha agreed.

“You really didn’t get a chance to meet properly at our wedding. We’ll have you over for dinner. Lots.”

Orpha tied a bandage over the wound. “I didn’t know you could cook. What kind of food?”

“Country food. Southern cooking. Fried chicken, greens, butter beans, corn pone, mashed potatoes and gravy you’ll be talking about for weeks.”

“Count me in. But where are you living now? Where did you and Mike set up housekeeping?”

Good question. Make Believe Island was their little hideaway. Primitive and isolated. Oh wait. That was just a safe house on an assignment. Owned by Uncle Sam. Shoot. Somebody else is probably there now.

“Mike said he’d find us a real home while I’m gone. I’m sure it will be small and cozy and just big enough for the two of us.”

“You are so lucky to have a husband. Me, I’m destined to be an old maid. That’s why I have a career you know.”

“What?”

“I learned early on what men want and I just don’t have a pretty face and big bazoomas.”

“Hush. Men don’t want that. Well, yes, they do, but not for a wife. Just the shallow men. The high-quality husbands want personality. Good clean girls they can trust and count on. Sweet girls with a capitol S.”

“Even if that is true, it’s obvious I’m glaringly lacking in the personality department. I’m boring as a boulder.”

“Orpha, stop that. You’re one of the funnest girls I know. Well just look at you. Who else would be skulking around in Egypt, in the black of night, galloping on a camel, sewing up a bullet hole in the middle of the sand? Gee, think of all the adventures you’ve had. You are a very sweet, kind woman too. Caring and you placed your country before your own happiness and safety.”

 Orpha poured alcohol over the hypodermic and wiped it with gauze.  “Sorry I don’t have any antibiotics for you. I’d slather some honey on it to try to ward off infection, but with those sutures, I’m afraid they’ll pull right out when you change the dressing. Keep it dry for forty-eight hours and then change the bandages after every bath.”

Honey. Hmm…maybe that was the substance sticking to the counterfeit thousands.

Orpha wiped down the forceps then packed the unused portion of gauze in her saddle bag.  She kicked sand over the bloody swabs.

Chloe rose to her feet and snatched the flashlight. “I don’t know about leaving that stuff here.”

“I don’t see any medical waste receptacles on the date palms, Clover. What do you propose we do? I can’t risk taking them and getting caught.”

“Why not? You’re here as a nurse.”

Orpha snorted. “Yes. And they’d want to know just who I sewed up and why I was carrying the bloody mess with me.”

“Good point.”

Chloe opened her carpet bag and awkwardly placed the cat inside with her left hand. It stepped inside willingly. She hoped she hadn’t been too rough with it.

Orpha said, “Here, give that to me.” She hooked the two leather handles around the rear saddle horn, draping the bag over the sitting camel’s rear end.

Feeling some euphoric properties of the anesthetic, Chloe giggled as she placed the back of her hand near the camel’s big nostrils. It sniffed and spit on her. How rude. She wiped the spit off onto the top of the animal’s bristly skull and then climbed aboard.  

Orpha jockeyed herself into position and coaxed-commanded the camel to stand, by knocking its knees with a wooden stick. Holding tight to Orpha’s belt, feeling the saddle horn digging into her hind parts, Chloe clutched tight as the camel swayed up and down back and forth as it rose, holding on for dear life. The cat mewed. Chloe turned her head. “Ouch!” It’s okay kitty. Nefertiti. We’re safe. You’ll be fine, girl… Orpha what did you do to me? Sew my arm ligaments to my neck? It hurts like Hades to move. But I can’t feel my arm. And I do have a pretty good buzz going.”

“Sorry, Clover. You’ll have to take it easy for the next seven to ten days. Try not to use your right arm. Limit any reaching or yanking movements. Whatever you do, don’t try to pick up anything heavy with that arm.”

“No problem. I’ll be traveling anyhow. I’ll carry my bag with my left hand.”

The camel found its rough and jerky cadence as it lighted through the sand.

“I am so sorry I knocked your incense cone and wig off.”

“Yeah I’m sorry about that too. The marijuana might’ve eased your pain.”

Chloe gingerly shook her head, giggling. She marveled at the cultural differences. Here they were. Two young women out in the middle of the night alone and they had been inhaling an illegal drug. Illegal in their homeland. But it was perfectly acceptable in this context. Actually it was part of their cover.

Undercover agents for the United States Secret Service.  On the trail of counterfeiters. A far cry from the life she’d led in Shrew, North Carolina.

The thunder of hoof beats approached from the north. Orpha fought to keep the camel under control as it stumbled into a crow-hop. Nefertiti meowed and Chloe screamed as she was thrown.  

A chariot arrived.

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