Monday, June 1, 2020

Eleanor Roosevelt is Suspicious of FDR's Secretary

Excerpt from HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL
The Deception Series Book 1
by Sherry Morris

January 1945 in Washington, DC

Sometime before midnight, freezing rain pelted out a maddening symphony on the window. Benjamin Franklin gazed compassionately from the bloody hundred dollar bill floating near Miss Chloe Lambert’s breasts. The redhead lay soaking in a claw-footed tub at Mrs. Grogan’s boarding house on Nichols Avenue in the District of Columbia. Her skin was flushed from the steamy water, but she was sure she’d never feel warm again. With eyes dehydrated from crying, Chloe stared at her black, blue, green and yellow bruises.

* * * * * 

Earlier that night, across town, Mrs. Anna Eleanor Roosevelt’s footsteps resonated army-like as she stormed the west wing. A black Scottish terrier rounded a corner and scrambled toward her. “No, Fala, no!” Dodging his excited leap, she caught the fluffy sash of her emerald evening gown on the edge of a marble pedestal displaying the bust of Abraham Lincoln. She twisted and caught old Abe, but the taffeta tore. Eleanor replaced the sculpture, picked up the little dog and marched to an office.

She shoved the door open. Stepping inside, Mrs. Roosevelt vigorously petted the wiry-haired pooch while closing the door with her back. It hit the jamb with an audible resolve. “Vera, I am well aware of your…your little game, and I’ve had quite enough of you.”

Mrs. Vera Blandings stopped typing. The long-legged brunette stood, removed her librarian’s glasses and snuffed her cigarette in an overflowing ashtray. She blew a plume of smoke at the first lady before running manicured fingers along her starched beige shirtdress. A smirk twitched the corners of her scarlet lips. She crossed her arms and turned toward the wall.

The first lady crinkled her nose and bent down. Fala leapt from the crook of her arm. He scampered over to sniff the closed door to the Oval Office.

Eleanor rose, thrust her shoulders back and stomped to the rear of the desk, launching a rolling chair out of her way. She squeezed between her husband’s newest secretary and a portrait of George Washington.

Vera took a step back, grinning.

Mrs. Roosevelt demanded, “Just what will it take to make you disappear?”

“A new job.”

“Done.”

“A role in the next Alfred Hitchcock movie.” Eleanor laughed.

Vera glared. “I’m quite serious.” She cocked her head, retrieved her chair and tucked it under the desk. Pulling out the bottom drawer, Vera removed her reptilian pocketbook and gently shut the drawer.

Eleanor silently seethed in the stale smoky air while composing a response. I will not allow this woman to slip me into unsavory territory. “Fine then. So be it. Pack your snakeskin. No more games in the interim or—”

The magnetic purse clasp clicked when Vera opened it. After removing a pack of cigarettes and a box of matches, the President’s secretary sashayed out of the office.

The first lady glanced at her diamond watch and groaned. She pulled the chair out and plopped herself down. It hissed as the cushioned seat compressed. She opened Vera’s top desk drawer and rummaged through stubby pencils, rubber bands, a loose deck of playing cards, a crumpled issue of True Romance magazine that was caught in the back, a piece of yellow police chalk and several pistachios. Eleanor briefly picked up the waxy chalk. What in the devil is she doing with this? The stuff they outline corpses with… She shrugged her shoulders and dropped it back inside with a clunk.

Digging out a paper clip, the first lady wove the coiled wire through the soft frays of her ripped sash. It popped right off. She noticed a little chalk had transferred from her fingers to her gown. What else can happen?

Yanking the middle drawer open, she found a stapler inside. After three squeezes and some creative tucking of the taffeta, she was good to go. When Eleanor replaced the stapler, a metallic glint in the back caught her attention. She opened the drawer all the way and pulled out a pearl-handled pistol. What the…

Eleanor heard giggling. Her eyes darted around the office as she shut the drawer, shoved the gun under her waistband and covered it with the sash. She jumped up, wrapped her arms around her midsection and tiptoed to the open door to peek into the corridor.

Eleanor watched Mrs. Stoneburner meandering toward the kitchen. Claude Fuji, the President’s valet, was finishing up a good bubbly laugh. “Hello Missus First Lady. You are so beautiful in jade.” She exhaled and stepped into the hall.

He reached out to shake hands with Mrs. Roosevelt, as was his nature, but she awkwardly declined. “Thank you, Claude.”

His face saddened at the slight. “Anything I do wrong to you?” “No, Claude, no…oh…come on to my study. Follow me.”

Mrs. Roosevelt’s evening gown swished as they hurried to her private room.

“Close the door, Claude.”

He obliged.

Eleanor gingerly peeled back the delicate folds of taffeta and yanked the gun out. “Look what I found in his secretary’s desk!”

“Missus First Lady, please do not go waving that thing at Claude.” The valet snatched the firearm from her.

Eleanor moved closer, hovering over him. Her stomach knotted as she whispered, “Is it loaded?”

“Please step back,” he said with a sternness she’d never before witnessed. She complied.

He proceeded to her small desk. An envelope flew to the floor as he shoved a stack of stationery away to clear a space. He emptied the chambers into his hand and then spread the contents on her desk. Yanking the chain on her desk lamp, Fuji picked up one nine-millimeter brass bullet and held it under the light. “Blanks.”

“Blanks? How can you be sure?”

“The ends of the casings are crimped down and sealed. Live ammunition is rounded and smooth. These are definitely blanks. Look.”

Mrs. Roosevelt leaned down and examined the projectile as he twirled it slowly.

Just what are you up to, Vera?

Claude Fuji replaced the projectiles. “Put back where you got from. We watch her.” “You mustn't tell the President about Vera’s gun. I don’t want to upset him unnecessarily.”

“What gun? No gun.”

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