Excerpt from HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL
The Deception Series Book 1
by Sherry Morris
January 1945 in Washington, DC
President Roosevelt wearily stared at the excess ink dripping back into the well. He began dotting the Is on his speech just as his secretary strolled in.
“Here you go, sir, this is the last one. The courier is waiting.”
He signed six pages. Vera slipped them into an envelope and sealed it as she left the Oval Office. She gave it to the tired-looking young courier. He dashed off.
The President placed the speech in his lap then gripped the gritty wheels of his armless wooden chair. He propelled himself out to Vera’s office and deposited his soon- to-be historical prose on her desk. “Sorry I kept you so late. Just leave this for one of the girls in the typing pool in the morning.”
“Nights like these I appreciate living with my mother-in-law. She’s wonderful with the children.”
“Come on up and have a martini with me before you go. The missus is out at a charity hoop dee doo and cocktails for one are no fun… I’ll put two olives in yours.” He winked.
Stretching catlike, she placed her elbows on the desk and gazed into his eyes. “All right, F.D. You know I’m a sucker for your…olives.” Vera tenderly kissed him on his stubbled cheek.
She arched her back, thrusting her chest to attention as she stood. Vera protected her typewriter with a vinyl cover and then strolled over to the mahogany rack in the corner. She grabbed her black wool hat and coat, releasing her smoky French perfumed scent while shaking it out, then returned to her desk to retrieve her pocketbook.
They had a quiet ride on the elevator to the second floor. They heard only its low hum as they both smiled at the padded walls, mulling over the long day. The doors opened into an informal gathering area outside the family’s living quarters. The President motioned for his secretary to exit. She nodded and sauntered over to the seating area.
He rolled his wheelchair to an ornate teacart where his valet had set up the martini fixings. Franklin concentrated with pride as he measured his secret blend of gin and vermouth into the silver shaker.
Vera sat down on a comfortable red sofa and kicked off her pumps. Reaching over to the large radio, she flinched as static blasted when she switched it on. She turned down the volume and tuned in a station. Settling back into the soft couch, Vera caught his eye as she undid the three bottom buttons on her shirtdress, revealing her thighs.
Beaming, the President wheeled himself the short distance. He handed her one of the two stemmed glasses entwined in the fingers of his left hand.
Vera downed her martini.
He raised his eyebrows. “Thirsty, darling?”
She blushed and willed him to refill, but didn’t ask. Instead she smiled seductively and curled her long shapely legs underneath her. Vera nibbled on the olives.
Franklin turned up the volume on the radio and tweaked the dial for a clearer signal. It was an upbeat cinema song heavy on the clarinets. Twisting a lock of nut- brown hair around her finger, Vera sang along in an exquisite alto vibrato. Franklin joined in the harmony. As the song ended, he refilled her glass. She drank it a little slower this time.
He said, “Oh, ‘Ginger’, what fun. Wish I could’ve whirled you ‘round the dance floor.”
“We’d make a grand team…‘Fred’… I’d have gone to Hollywood you know, if I hadn’t married…”
“You’d have made it to the big-time too, Vera. But life—what will be—will be.” They both pondered in silence.
The radio host announced the time was 10:30.
The President ogled her legs as she slipped her shoes on. Swaying with feline grace, Vera walked to the teacart and deposited her lipstick-rimmed glass.
She turned to him. “Thanks for the cheer.”
“Vera darling, can you stay just a bit longer? I’ll get Mrs. Stoneburner to send up some tuna sandwiches…”
“Not tonight, F.D.”
He tried to hide a grimace as he stretched his polio-ravaged body to pick up her coat from the couch.
She smiled warmly as she leaned down and placed her arms inside the black wool he held for her.
“Well, then, have one of the Secret Service boys see you home. I’ve heard it’s quite slippery out. These blasted Washington ice storms. Why can’t it just either rain or snow?”
“No thanks boss. I’ll make my way just fine.”
He tugged on her sleeve and pulled her down to him. They shared a lingering kiss. She wiped the lipstick from his face before donning her spotless white gloves. Vera searched through her purse.
“What are you missing, darling?” “My eyeglasses.”
“They’re on your desk, Vera. Watched you put ‘em there before you pecked me.” “Thanks, F.D. I’ll pick ‘em up on the way out. Can I get you anything? Do you want me to push you to your quarters?”
He squirmed and straightened his posture. “No. I’m perfectly capable—”
She interrupted him, “Yes you are. Maybe I can find a copy of that song you like at the record shop. Would you like that?” Stupid! Why’d I have to go and say that? I’ve insulted his manhood. I hope changing the subject will cover it quick.
“Absolutely. And bill it to me personally, now.”
“I’ll do no such thing. I am a working girl you know. I have a hundred dollar bill or two lying around the house.”
“Pardon me, Miss Rockefeller.”
After a brief stop at her office, Mrs. Vera Blandings exited the White House and carefully footed her way down the icy brick driveway. Tiny snowflakes danced in the glow of gaslights. Peering around the shadowy grounds, Vera spotted the President’s valet accompanying Fala on his last outing for the night. Mr. Fuji waved to her. She called out, “Goodnight.”
At the guard kiosk, the Secret Service agent on duty signed her out. “Goodnight, Mrs. Blandings, have a nice weekend.”
“Thank you, officer. I intend to. Goodnight.”
As she turned to leave, he said, “Ma’am, if you can wait five or ten minutes, I can escort you home. It’s really slippery out tonight.”
Absolutely not! Vera twisted her head back and said, “Oh, I’ll be just fine. Don’t worry about me.”
“My relief will be here any minute. I really should see you home, ma’am.”
“No. Thank you, you’re very kind, but I enjoy the solitude. It’s my time to reflect and daydream a little. You understand?”
Vera headed west on Pennsylvania Avenue then circled the block as fast as she could without slipping. She hunched behind a massive oak tree outside the northeast appointment gate, where she had just exited. She was breathing so hard that she put her hat in front of her nose and mouth so the vapor wouldn’t be noticed.
Just before eleven o’clock, Ashley Jones, the night relief, reported to the kiosk carrying his predictable sack of Tiny Tavern hamburgers.
As the Secret Service agents snacked and chuckled, Vera’s respiration returned to normal. She put her hat back on and snuck over to a gatepost. She pulled a brass letter opener from her coat pocket and ran it down a groove in the limestone, triggering the latch. A hidden door popped open. She dashed inside, closing it behind her.
Crunching paint snagged roughly on her gloves as she hurried down a ladder to the tunnel entrance. She found the first light switch and flipped it. Vera shivered though puddles and muck. Her suction-like footsteps echoed in the cobwebby catacombs. The incessant drip-drip-drip from cracks in the mortar pound-pound- pounded in her head. Some of it spit in her face.
At the end of each passage, she shut the light off before entering the next chamber. Every turn and switchback in the labyrinth was familiar. After all, it was part of her job description to know how to get the President out of the White House—in a hurry.
Vera made her way to the train platform hidden below the Bureau of Engraving and Printing where FDR secretly boarded for his trips. A scream from behind sent her scrambling up the platform and into the presidential rail car. Springing through the darkened conference room, she bounced off the paneled walls of the narrow corridor and ducked inside the first lady’s bedroom.
In the moments of seemingly eternal silence, clutching her purse so tight that her fingertips pulsed, Vera summoned her inner strength. She finally attributed the scream to either her nervous imagination or a house cat. And if it was a human scream, well, she wasn’t in a position to go and save the day. Vera crept back through the train, remembering. At least I got to ride this thing once. That’s more than most girls can say.
After peeking out a window into the darkened loading zone, she inhaled deeply and sprinted out the metal door of the observation car. It clanged shut behind her.
Dashing up concrete steps, she entered the Bureau of Engraving and Printing through a stairwell door, tiptoeing to a supervisors’ catwalk. Vera ignored the four foot tall pallets of brand-new United States currency stacked near the walls. She climbed the steps to the catwalk and gripped the railing as she hastened to the printing room.