Historical Romance: Hundred Dollar Bill

Posted by Sherry Morris | 11:53 PM | 2 comments »

Hundred Dollar Bill by Sherry Morris

Excerpt from Hundred Dollar Bill

by Sherry Morris


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Chapter One


February 16, 1945


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.”


* * * * *


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 nutbrown 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?”


“Sure.”


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.


* * * * *


Miss Chloe Lambert stepped off the streetcar at the corner of Fourteenth and C Streets. Frigid air played tag with her breath and steam from underground. Strolling carefully on the slippery sidewalk, she watched as Sergeant Bill Blandings hoisted the loading dock door and stepped outside the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. He struck a match to light the cigarette dangling from his lip then ascended the ramp, locking his gaze onto hers. Heart pounding, Chloe paused to refresh her lipstick. Bill sucked the smoke deep into his lungs as he watched and waited. Finally exhaling, he blew five smoke rings. She stepped up to him and scattered the circles with her blue gloved hand.


He said, “You are one gorgeous dame tonight.”


Chloe gazed into his midnight blue eyes. Nobody has eyes like Bill. He has the devil in them. They are so darned…irresistible. She brushed him aside.


He threw down his cigarette and snuffed it out with one twist of his black steel-toed police boot. Powdery snow blew off the retaining walls as they walked down the salted ramp. Chloe and Bill entered the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. He lowered the door. It thumped against the concrete floor.


She led the way through the cavernous federal building. The scent of floor polish wafted up from the pristine terrazzo.


He confided, “We’re pretty much alone now. The bureaucrats departed hours ago. The charwomen came and went. Just the skeletal police detail is left. Me, Schwartz and Krankowski.”


Bill followed Chloe into the printing room. He balked. “Jeez, this place is a pigsty.”


In her sweet southern drawl Chloe said, “Alcohol was the most popular guest at our office party today, resulting in a whole run of botched hundreds. They didn’t change the plates. The same image is printed on both sides of the notes.” She pointed to the sloppily bundled currency and a big ink stain on the floor. “They ought not to have bothered working at all. As the currency inspector, I have to file a report. I feel like a lousy snitch.”


Bill eyed her fur. “Hey, where’d ya get the coat from? It’s not from that weasel Myron in personnel, is it?”


“Eww! No, Bill. It’s Mrs. Grogan’s. My landlady. She let me borrow it. I told her this was a special night.”


Bill grabbed her collar. They kissed hungrily. Finally taking a much-needed breath, Chloe pulled away and smiled as she unbuttoned the full-length sable. She was wearing his favorite blue dancing shoes…and nothing else.


“Jeez, Chloe—lay off of them doughnuts.”


Before she could process the insult, Bill slipped his fingers under the fur. She shoved him away.


Her voice trembled, “I won’t be your dirty little secret anymore. Divorce Vera.”



There, I’ve said it.


Bill ran his fingers through Chloe’s soft red hair. He knew just the spot to touch.


“Lovey, we’ve been all through this. You know I can’t possibly divorce her while he’s in office. How would it look if the President’s secretary all of a sudden up and got divorced? The Republicans would go wild! And it’d be rough on my little girls. Just wait a little bit longer. Lovey, I promise we’ll be together soon. He ain’t gonna be Prez for the rest of his life ya know.”


Chloe fought back tears. Whatever was I thinking? Momma was right. I should have stayed in the mountains. But eleven months ago, her country had called for good girls to fill the shoes of the boys at war. When I was still a good girl. I had no idea what I’d have to do for my country. It might as well have been eleven millennia ago. I can’t ever go back. Not now.


She shoved her hands in the deep silk-lined pockets…where she felt the cold steel of a revolver.


Five shots exploded down from the supervisors’ catwalk. Chloe dove under a metal desk, pulling in an olive drab trash can for cover. Bill slumped face down into a carelessly heaped pile of hundreds.


Chloe peeked from behind the can. She watched a female silhouette blow smoke from the barrel and stroll back along the catwalk then out of sight. No! This can’t be happening. I’m in a bad movie. Bad dream. Bad world.


Shaking, Chloe crawled to Bill and rolled him over. A C-note covered his eyes. She yanked it off and screamed in horror.


Chloe ran through the building and slammed straight into the loading dock door.


She struggled to hoist it high enough to crawl under. Rolling onto the ramp, she pushed herself up on hands and knees, then to full height. She put her hand on the revolver in her pocket and lit out running. As she looked back over her shoulder, she slipped on the icy sidewalks, battering her knees.


Back on her feet, she forced herself onward. A dry lump ached in the back of her mouth, forced open from heavy breathing. Frozen rain stung her face. As Chloe tumbled again she pulled her hand out of her pocket, not letting go of the pistol. The cobblestones abraded her wrists as she broke her fall.


As she scrambled up again, one blue heel snapped off in a snow-covered grate, propelling her face first into a police call box. Moaning in agony, tasting blood, Chloe looked over her shoulder. A lone car sped past. Forcing herself onward, she made it to the Fourteenth Street Bridge. Gasping for breath, Chloe leaned over the concrete railing and threw the revolver. It slid along the surface of the frozen Potomac River. “Damn it. I can’t even dispose of a gun properly. It doesn’t matter anyhow. It isn’t the murder weapon.” Murder weapon? “No!”


An icicle fell from the lamppost above her. Chloe drew back as it seemed to shatter in slow motion. She looked at the hundred dollar bill still crumpled in her hand.


Benjamin Franklin’s picture adorned both sides. The drunken printers should be ashamed of themselves for such a mistake. Chloe dreaded turning them in. But right now that was the least of her worries. She shivered almost convulsively as she clutched the paper to her heart. Tears blinded her as she buttoned the fur coat.


* * * * *


Half an hour later back at the White House, Eleanor Roosevelt emerged from the Monroe Room, startled to find her husband in the hallway.


He said, “Babs! Didn’t see you come in. How was the hoop dee doo? Tell me, are the older ladies supportive of my efforts?”


“Um…yes. Yes they are.”


“So’d you get swept off your feet by some handsome Republican?”


“Naturally…a baker’s dozen of ’em.”


“Say, the Secret Service boys told me counterfeit money’s been turning up in the District, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.”


“Oh? That’s…alarming… I’m really tired.”


“I’m on my way for a long hot soak. Care to join me?”


“Um…no, dear. I just want to get out of these shoes and get some shut-eye.”


“So be it. Goodnight… I love you.”


She leaned down. They kissed.


“And I love you.”


As she turned away, he grabbed her arm. “Babs, what’s that all along the hem of your dress?”


“Hunh?”


He seized the emerald taffeta near her waist and began hoisting it up. Eleanor’s green pumps were filthy. His gaze ran up her rayon stockings. They were tight at the ankles and baggy at the knees. Franklin examined the bottom of her dress.


The first lady blushed as she looked over her shoulder. “Franklin! What if—”


“Cobwebs. Well I’ll be. Rosie the Riveter must be older than I thought.”


Eleanor pulled away, smoothing the taffeta down. She gave him the evil eye.


Franklin chuckled as she walked off. He followed his pup into the Monroe room. Looking around the sparse spotless room, he wondered what his wife had been up to.


Fala sniffed the paneling along the fireplace wall. Mr. Roosevelt heard a voice in the corridor.


“Sir? Sir? Where you are?”


Fala jumped into his lap. The President rolled into the hallway. “Ah, I was looking for you, good fellow. Come and draw my bath now. So tell me, Fuji, how is that stunning creature you hoodwinked into matrimony?” Tired and aching, Mr. Roosevelt allowed his valet to push his wheelchair to the Presidential bedroom.


“Traveling again. But Mrs. Fuji did send special package you requested.”


“Perfect timing, son.”


Fala leapt from his master’s lap to the chair at the foot of the bed. He circled twice and kneaded his paws into the upholstery before curling up to sleep. As was their usual routine, the President began undressing.


The valet stepped into the adjoining bathroom and turned the spigots on. Fuji adjusted the temperature and then told his boss, “Be right back,” as he dashed out of the suite.


Fuji soon returned with a brown interagency envelope. He delivered it to the President then mumbled, “I hope no overflow!” as he ran into the bathroom.


Mr. Roosevelt unsealed the metal clasp on the envelope and emptied the contents onto his white bedspread. He grinned while inspecting the nylon stockings.


“Okay sir, your bath is drawn.”


President Franklin Delano Roosevelt replaced the contraband, wheeled over to a bookshelf and slipped the envelope behind an original edition of Poor Richard’s Almanac.


“When’s the missus due back?”


“Not for month. Wish we get delivery from stork and she stay home.” He pushed the wheelchair into the bathroom. Fuji removed Mr. Roosevelt’s trousers and torturous leg braces.


The President smiled. “Careful what you wish for. Once that old stork finds your address, he might become a pest. He visited the missus and me six times in ten years.


First a little girl, then five boys.”


Claude Fuji laughed with the President.


* * * * *


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?”


©2006-2007 Sherry Morris


Now Available in Print!


eBook Edition also Available


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2 comments

  1. Beth Trissel // December 12, 2007 at 2:53 PM  

    Sherry, this story is a very intriguing twist on an historic time and people. Good luck with it. :)

  2. Mary Marvella // December 14, 2007 at 9:34 PM  

    Intriguing trip back in time, Sherry.