Thursday, June 4, 2020

Lipstick on his Collar

The Deception Series Book 1
by Sherry Morris

January 1945 in Washington, DC

Still high on adrenaline, 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. It reeked of French perfume and the collar had a scarlet-colored smudge. Tucking it under her arm, she 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 straightened 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 in her eyes. Not again. All the pain from 1918 came rushing back. That Lucy Mercer had nearly ended their marriage. I will not stand for him to be involved with another secretary. Eleanor 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 asked, “Yes Missus Roosevelt, how may I direct your call?”

* * * * *
5:30 a.m.

The First Lady paced in front of the windows in her study, staring out at the gray Washington sky. Eleanor went over the events of last evening in her head.

She had made an appearance at the Women In War Jobs black-tie soirĂ©e at the Willard Hotel. Thirty minutes late, she’d missed the cocktail reception pre-party so she was escorted to the V.I.P. table for her meal. After the fourth course she made a short speech and headed out one of the ballroom doors toward the ladies’ room. She continued down the hall and out a side exit. Her Secret Service escort caught up with her as she was sliding into the driver’s seat of her trademark Plymouth sedan.

“Mrs. Roosevelt, I will drive you wherever you wanna go.”

The First Lady scooted over to the passenger’s seat rather than climbing in the back. “Fine. Take me back to the White House, to the kitchen service entrance. “

He did. She entered the White House unnoticed, and made her way through the unoccupied kitchen and into the hall. Mrs. Roosevelt caught a glimpse of her husband’s valet silently trotting down the corridor. Eleanor hiked up her evening gown and followed, the skirt swishing as she went. Claude Fuji looked over his shoulder and made a “Keep away” motion, which the First Lady ignored. They climbed the stairs and entered the Monroe Room, a sitting room her predecessor Mrs. Lou Hoover had created as a tribute to President James Monroe. Mrs. Roosevelt shut the door.

Claude Fuji was waiting. Without a word, he pressed firmly with his hands in different spots on the moulding of the decorative wood paneling adorning the fireplace. Finally a panel sprung open. He turned, smiled and shook hands with Mrs. First Lady. Mr. Fuji whispered, “Secretary snuck into tunnel. We'll trail her.” He motioned for the First Lady to proceed. She did.

Claude pulled a map and a flashlight from the pocket of his burgundy silk smoking jacket and lit the way through the bowels of the White House down concrete corridors and narrow stairs. The tunnels had been built hundreds of years earlier as part of the first water system for the city that sprang from a swamp.

The First Lady kept tripping on the hem of her gown as she tried to keep up with Mr. Fuji. Every time he stopped to get his bearings, she attempted to catch her breath. Her mouth was so dry.

Something slithered across her feet. She screamed.

He put his hand over her mouth to shush her. “It only rat snake, Missus First Lady. You are fine.”

Eleanor pulled away. She smoothed her hair and said, “Sorry. Let’s proceed.”

They entered the Bureau of Engraving and Printing going straight for the Secret Service Office, which they found empty.

Creeping along the corridors the pair heard voices, then gunshots. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Then the fifth one was louder. Claude and Eleanor ducked into the counting room, behind a pallet of fives. They peered out through the glass wall into a dark hallway. They heard a woman’s shriek and then listened as someone wearing high heels galloped down the terrazzo corridor. Claude peeked out the door. He turned and jumped, grabbing the First Lady. “Three men run in room cross hall.” he whispered.

Eleanor strained to hear the conversation. “Okay Blandings, you may rise from the dead.” A man howled in agony.

“Jeez-us Christmas! Get him to the hospital!“

“Vera, you were supposed to use blanks!“ “I did, Billy Boy. Four.“

He wailed, “Damn you, Vera! Why’d you play husband roulette?“

“The fifth one was for the kissing and your hand in the little hussy’s fur… That was not part of the deal—Your eye! Oh, Billy, I’m so sorry…so sorry. Oh God, what have I done?”

Fuji and the first lady ducked down as five people exited through the hall. One man was being dragged. They disappeared down the corridor in the same direction the woman had fled. Claude and Eleanor waited three long minutes before retracing their footsteps back to the executive mansion.

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