“Would you care to dance?” Richard had assessed the crowd at the Prom-on-the-Midway, and he selected the less than beautiful but stately brunette sitting with two girlfriends. Throughout a full dance-set, they hadn’t left their table.
Blood-red fingernails freed a cigarette from its monogrammed compact. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.” Long slender fingers inserted it into an engraved cigarette holder.
“Come on. I just finished six months of lessons, and I’d like to try out some of these new Latin dance steps.”
She replaced the cigarette. “Okay, you asked for it.” Rising, her unfolded legs boosted her to over six feet tall, Richard gawking into her buxom bosom. “A Samba or Rumba, maybe even a polka, but I don’t think we should do any close dancing.”
“Okay with me.” His hand on her waist, Richard walked her out to an opening on the dance floor. After a few practice steps, he twirled and dipped, and they promenaded into the crowd. Two or three turns around the dance area and couples began to step aside, clapping and cheering. The trumpeter stepped from the bandstand and blasted his sound their way as they gyrated to his rhythm.
“Whew! I think I need a rest. Come to my table, and I’ll introduce you to my girl friends. I think Trish would love to do a slow waltz.” She led him by his hand. “I would too, but not with all these eyes fixed on us.” At the vacated table she said, “They must be out on the floor.”
“Yeah, I saw them.” He had noticed them dancing with each other.
“Maybe you’re not ready for a break. Don’t let me cramp your style.” She reached for her purse. “I’ll just wander off to powder my nose.”
“Your nose looks just fine.” He pulled her chair from the table. “I’ll sit with you for a while.”
“By the way, I’m Mary Lou.” She allowed Richard to seat her. “What’s your name?”
He pushed her friend’s drink aside and sat beside her. “Richard.”
“Friends call you Rich or Rick?”
“Not unless they want to piss me off.”
“Well, Richard it will be. Do you have a last name? I certainly wouldn’t want to get that one wrong.”
“Leslie.” He detected a smirk and added, “It’s a Scottish surname. My father was a direct descendant of the Crawford-Leslie family in Aberdeen shire.”
Mary Lou’s expression turned somber. “Your father was? Has he passed away?”
Richard blushed. “That’s a long story.” He forced his eyes out of the blank stare they so often locked into. “Listen.” He grabbed her hand. “They’re playing a slow one. Let’s do this set, and then I have to catch the streetcar back to East Seventh Street.”
Mary Lou snapped open her purse and inserted her cigarette compact. “Just this one, and then I will give you a ride to whatever is so important at East Seventh.”
Richard promenaded her, improvising moves that avoided his face squashed between her breasts. “Frankie and Johnnies.”
“What?” He twirled her.
Back face-to-face, “Where we’re heading after this dance. I want to show you off to my friends.”
“Just the ride.”
He twirled her twice more.
With her face to the ceiling and his hand flat against her back, she said in a husky voice, “I’m not ready for the friends part.”
He pulled her close and stopped in mid step. “Okay, then a quick stop at White Castle and a walk through Phalen Park. I have a story I’d like to share with you.”
“You do know how to capture a lady’s curiosity.”
From the stack of Jap bodies, some still writhing, a sharp staccato voice screaming its complaint to the Emperor or possibly a long since dead ancestor. Richard clamped his ears. He couldn’t look and didn’t want to hear.
“I did it, Ma. For Edward.” The bodies slithered single file toward him like eels in slimy ooze. “I had to,” his explanation short of an apology. “It’s what I trained for.” He grabbed an arm and it broke loose from the body like off some strange sea creature. “You knew it was my duty.” One by one the bodies paused and stared, then parted to pass on either side of him. “Ma demanded it.” He yelled. “For my brother.” He tried to count as Ma had requested, but numbers kept dissolving into the slime. Name them—count later. “Geronimo. Jenkins. Edward.” Not names! Numbers! Ma only needs to know how many. Count backwards. “One hundred, ninety nine, maybe only twenty or thirty. I tried, Ma.”
“Richard, wake up.”
“I tried to keep track, Ma, but they keep coming too fast.”
“You’re having a nightmare.”
Richard opened his eyes, and he clawed at the layer of burned flesh that clung but wasn’t his. Streams of fire arc and splash into an enemy bunker, running and screaming, naked bodies turning black.
“Your sheets are sopping.”
“Get away from me. You’re not my mother. She wouldn’t, couldn’t.” He checked his swing in time.
Her hand covering her face, she hadn’t stepped back. “Richard, there’s a man here to see you.”
“You were having a nightmare.”
Panic. “What did I say?”
“What I didn’t want to hear but you needed to remind me.” She removed her apron, peeled back the sheets clinging to his torso, and covered his heaving chest. “What have I done to you?”
He fought back sobs. “It’s not our fault, Ma. The war…” He rolled over and buried his face in the pillow, wishing he would suffocate.
“There’s a man downstairs waiting to talk to you, but first there is something I must tell you.”
He sat up and his body began to shake uncontrollably. He reached for the fallen quilt and wrapped it around his shoulders. “What does he want?” He stood, a corner of quilt draped on the floor. “Is he MP, Ma?”
“No, he’s civilian. I told him to come back later, but he insisted he would wait—allowed time to wash your face and get dressed.”
“I’ll make him go away. He should listen to you. This is your house.” He strode toward the door, his body rigid. “I’ll kick his butt out.”
“No, I want you to hear what he has to say. But first there’s something you need to know. About your father. Probably the reason this guy came all the way from Scotland.”
He considered the Scottish Highlanders he encountered in the islands, bagpipes and all. Part of a British regiment. “Was he in the war?”
“No, he’s a lawyer for the Leslie Clan. That’s all he would say until he could to talk to you.”
“What do I have to do with some law in Scotland?”
She sat on the bed and motioned with her hand. “Come, sit.” She breathed deep. “Your father…” Her jaw tightened and her chest heaved. “Your father claimed he belonged to the Crawford-Leslie family back in Scotland. Said they owned the Rothie House, a castle in Aberdeen shire. I never believed him, but now with that lawyer in my kitchen, I’m beginning to wonder.”
“Why me? Shouldn’t he be talking to my father.” I have no grandson raced through his mind. Facing his grandmother’s maid, the shrill voice from another room—he clamped hard on the image and returned to Ma and the incredible information she decided to lay on him while trying to recover from a nightmare, and a hangover.
Her voice broke. “I wonder…think maybe…he passed away. The family would have to contact you if he died.” Her body stiffened, “With your older brother…Edward… gone.” She took two deep breaths and swallowed. “You, Richard Lee Leslie, would be the next in line. At least in that branch of the family.”
“What would they want with me?”
“I have no idea, but I thought you should know these facts before talking to him.”
“Tell him I’m sick and can’t talk, or that I’ve gone crazy—that would be closer to the truth.”
“Stop talking like that. He won’t tell me anything, and he needs to catch a train to New York later today.”
“Tell him I’ll be down in a few minutes.”
“I don’t want to talk to him unless you’re with me.”
“Okay, let’s go.” He pulled the quilt tight around his upper body.
Lifting the trailing edge his mother said, “Just like the King of Scotland.”
“You’re royalty!” Mary Lou tapped the cigarette pinched between thumb and finger throughout Richard’s narration and inserted it into its holder. “Don’t stop now. What did the guy come all the way from Scotland to tell you?” She glared. “The suspense is killing me.”
Richard hadn’t intended to tease or enhance by withholding details of his ancestry, not the reason he brought her to Phalen Park in the first place. That urge had subsided half way through the telling. He regretted sharing with his new friend the carefully selected parts of the encounter with his mother before confronting the clan lawyer. Mary Lou, a New York model, she admitted after beer and White Castle hamburgers, could never understand the situation between him and his mother. He lost interest in telling his own story.
“You can’t fill me up with these gut-bombs and not admit that you are royalty.”
Richard helped himself to one of her cigarettes and lit both from a book of matches. “Hardly royalty, just a family clan.”
“You tell me what the lawyer said, and I’ll make up my mind if you’re a blue blood or not.” She blew smoke into the star-lit sky.
“My father hadn’t died, and I couldn’t tell if my mother felt relieved or disappointed. He ran out on us when I was five, and never bothered to even meet my younger sister, Rita.”
“Then how did you get involved?” She ejected her cigarette from its holder onto the moist ground and let it smolder.
“My older brother got killed in Italy, and apparently our cousin, heir to the castle, died there too, about the same time. The cousin was the only child of my father’s brother, and his parents were desperate to continue the lineage. The Leslie Castle is located in Aberdeen shire, historical seat of Clan Leslie, located a few miles from Aberdeen. The core of the castle dates to the 14th century.”
“So when your father dies, you get the castle?”
Much too eager and missing the point of his sharing an intimate part of his past with a girl who danced well. “My father signed off as an heir and I did too.” He glanced up at the harvest moon veined by the naked branches of the Elm tree against their backs.
Her gaze moved between his cigarette and the one she tossed. “Was that a tough decision?”
“No. The Leslie clan had fallen on hard times, and they needed an American with cash. That certainly isn’t me.” He pointed to her Lincoln parked on the grass. “I have trouble finding streetcar fare to get where I want to go.” He stood. “The terms required my living in Scotland. I left St. Paul once and it turned out very bad. I don’t ever want to leave again.”
His cigarette sparked like a firefly as he tossed it. “It’s getting late and your friends will be worried about you.”
With a swipe of her arm she brushed aside empty beer cans and food wrappers, and reclined on the car blanket they’d spread out for their picnic. “I don’t want to go just yet.”
“I can’t leave you alone out here.” A quick glance back at the moon. For a moment he had returned to Montana and all that happened since then disappeared. He settled on his back alongside her.
She leaned over and kissed him on the lips. She whispered, “Being shorter than me has its advantages,” as she unbuttoned her blouse and removed her bra.
“Hey, you two.”
A face leered much too close, but pvt. Richard Leslie swatted at it and muttered. “Leave us alone. I waited a long time for this date, and me and the lieutenant plan to spend the night.”
“Is that you, Leslie?” All interrogation melted from the voice. “You and your lady friend can’t sleep out here, against park rules. And her car is parked illegally.”
Richard jolted awake and got to his feet.
A confused expression appeared on the boyish face of the officer. “I’ll tear up the ticket if you both leave now.” All authority evaporated. “I don’t want any trouble.” The young cop held out open palms. “I’m leaving now, but I’ll stop by later.” He backed away. “With support.” He paused at Mary Lou’s car, removed the ticket from the windshield, and drove off in the patrol car.
Like from a cocoon, Mary Lou peered out from the blanket Richard had wrapped around her naked shivering body after she fell asleep. Dressed, he intended to watch over her, but must have dozed off. Her husky voice, “What was that all about?”
“Cops think I’m a bad ass. Just the young ones. The older cops brought me home many times when I was a kid. They know I won’t use my weapon against them. Especially not a St. Paul beat cop.”
“What weapon? You aren’t carrying a gun, are you?”
“No. I hate guns. Had too much of them in the army.”
“You said weapon.”
“My hands are considered lethal.”
“That ain’t all of you that’s bad. Come here soldier.” Mary Lou unwrapped the blanket, her nakedness an invitation to enter.
He shrugged and stared off into the distance.
She scowled and snuggled back into her cocoon alone.
The silence felt oppressive. Why won’t she get dressed?
I a tone meant to tease. “Did you know that you talk in your sleep?”
A shiver of fear. “What did I say?”
“I couldn’t make out the most of it, but you called me Lieutenant, and I think your dream was quite pleasant. Who was she?
“Just a female officer I dated in the Islands,” and had sex with after she killed a Jap sniper when I had my back turned. “When you get dressed, I’ll walk you to your car.”
At the car she tossed her blanket, bra, and silk stockings into the back seat and said, “Want to know how you got my attention?” She attempted eye contact. “Your reaction when I stood at the Prom. That I was much taller than you didn’t faze you in the least.”
“I faced a Jap from the Imperial Marines. He was even taller than you.”
Her expression dumbfounded, “Surely not a dance partner.”
“Let’s just say, when the music stopped only one of us was left standing.”