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Wayward Sons





N.D. Clark

Smashwords Edition License Notes


This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Wayward Sons by N.D. Clark 1st edition Copyright U.S. Library of Congress © 2019

All Rights Reserved USA and Foreign

This literary work including the cover may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or part, without express written permission from the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or deceased, is coincidental.


This work is intended for an adult readership.

CH 1 The Letter


CH 2 A Good Brother


CH 3 The Birthday Boy


CH 4 Where to, Sir?


CH 5 A New Home


CH 6 Project Barracuda


CH 7 Warpath


CH 8 Gulfport


CH 9 Grief and Joy


CH 10 Plan of Action


CH 11 Moment of Truth


CH 12 1945




Wayward Sons


~1~


The Letter


April 1938



Under normal circumstances, Edmond cherished a peaceful drive through the Virginia countryside on a clear, starlit night such as this one. For a brief moment, the chauffeur took his eyes off the road and glanced over at his front-seat passenger. “We’ve been driving for two hours, sir. We’re low on fuel.”

Edmond’s head ached so violently, he marveled it had not cracked open. He slipped off his glasses and rubbed his eyes and temples. “What time is it?”

The chauffeur glanced at his wristwatch. “Two a.m., Mr. Cato.”

He heaved a sigh. “Take me home, Bruno.”

“Right away, sir.” The driver executed a flawless three-point turn on the narrow stretch of country road, no easy feat given the size of the Mercedes-Benz 770, and pointed the black limousine toward Portsmouth. Within twenty minutes, they were cruising through the tall wrought-iron gates to Riverview Manor, a three-story, Georgian-style mansion and home to the affluent Admiral Guy Cato and his family for three generations.

Bruno coasted around a circular cobblestone driveway and brought the Mercedes to a soft, easy halt in front of an immense angel fountain, fashioned from Italian granite. It occupied the center circle and stood guard to Riverview’s main entrance. He cut the engine and lowered his window the remainder of the way. Craning his head toward his young passenger, Bruno flashed a friendly smile, then struck a match and lit his Chesterfield cigarette. “Nasty habit. Picked it up on the streets of Hamburg. For years, my Army physician harped at me to quit. Coffin nails, he called them.” Bruno blew a long series of smoke rings and paused for the lad’s reaction. Nothing. “Other doctors said they were good for me. Then the war came and I added drinking to my list of vices.” Bruno inhaled deeply. “Japanese cherry trees are in full bloom.”

“Yes, lovely,” Edmond mumbled, turning his attention from the burbling fountain to his tall blond driver. He thought him young for his forty years and exceedingly handsome, despite the jagged and badly healed knife wound carved from beneath his right eye to the apex of his strong chin. Over time, he had taken to sitting in the front seat with the strapping driver in defiance of his father’s snobbish disapproval. In all other instances, he lacked the courage to defy the admiral. But this was Bruno Wolfhart, whose name alone aroused him. Although, he objected to war, believing it criminal, the stalwart German Stormtrooper’s war stories conjured erotic images in his mind, many entailing soldiers wrestling for dominance. In his fantasies, Edmond portrayed the enemy while Bruno lay on top of him, panting, staring down at him with those steely-gray eyes of his as he thrust his long, thick—

“I know that look.” As he fumbled with his diamond cufflinks, Edmond adverted his gaze. “Saw it often in the war. Young men, homesick and lonely, away from girlfriends and wives, turned to one another for companionship.”

“Apologies, Mr. Wolfhart, but if you have a point, I’m afraid it escapes me.”

A sly smile played across Bruno’s lips as he took a deep drag from his cigarette and funneled the smoke out the window. “If your preference is for the company of men, sir, rest assured it will remain in the strictest of confidence.”

“Funny, none of your war stories mentioned you taking shrapnel to the head.”

“Did I ever tell you about a young French resistance fighter I took prisoner during the war?”

“No, what about him?”

“He wagered me his freedom he could bring me to orgasm using only his teeth and tongue on my kneecaps.”

Edmond leaned forward, his eyes wide and rounded. “And?”

Grimacing, Bruno pressed his lips into a straight line. “When the long night was over, I loosened the licentious little frog’s restraints and left him unguarded. Believe me, he’d earned it.”

“Are you telling me you’re homosexual, Mr. Wolfhart?”

“No, but why should a man resort to self-gratification when there are willing, warm-blooded options?” Bruno shifted in his seat to face Edmond. “I’ve always been forthright with you, have I not, sir?”

Edmond exhaled heavily. “Never more so than tonight, but please, do go on.”

“You have this tendency, sir . . . to, well . . . stare at me . . . almost constantly. And then there’s the absence of even a single female companion. When your older brother was seventeen, he used the backseat of this car as his own personal brothel. Naturally, I’d offer to leave the car, but he adored an audience. Sometimes, he even demanded my participation. If I may be so bold, your brother was and likely remains a virile breeding machine. Always an impressive show.”

“Ah, well, good for you both.” Glancing over his shoulder, Edmond cringed at Morgan’s den of sin. “Hope you weren’t too lax on your sanitation duties.” After a minute of fidgeting and squirming, he continued. “I’m painfully shy around girls; well, everyone actually. Never sure of what to say or how to act. For Morgan, it’s second nature. I apologize if I’ve made you feel uncomfortable, but I gawk at you because I find you a fascinating character.” Edmond surprised himself, inventing an off-the-cuff, yet highly plausible explanation for his untoward behavior.

“It gets easier with girls. If you’re amenable, we could visit a few bars . . . or . . . red-light districts a friend once mentioned in casual conversation.”

“Seriously? Whorehouses?” Edmond snorted and laughed.

Yes, seriously. I could teach you a thing or two.”

“And how would that, go, exactly? I sit in a dark corner of the bedroom and take notes?”

“Life isn’t for observing or reading about in some dreary tome; it’s there for the living. I’d take her first, then you. I did it for your brother, although, it wasn’t because he required instruction.” Edmond choked, coughing forcibly. Even with the windows down, he was visibly sweating. “Are you all right, sir?”

His hand trembling, Edmond thrust his glasses back into place, quickly covering his burgeoning immodesty. “I’ll give it some thought,” he stammered in a weak voice. He waited for a sign from Bruno, a grin, a snicker, anything. The man didn’t so much as blink. Instead, he took another long, deliberate drag on his cigarette. Was the man actually serious? Edmond’s face flashed red. He cleared his throat. “Not only do I find you a fascinating character, but somewhat of an enigma as well.”

“How so, sir?”

“Stormtrooper in the Great War, leader of men in battle, awarded every medal offered by the German Army. All of which begs the question: how the hell did a man of your obvious talents and character come into our employ as a Chauffeur? Secret government spy or bodyguard to a head of state strikes me as more your vocation.”

“Don’t think I didn’t notice the abrupt change of subject. The offer has no expiration date. Well, until you turn twenty-one. After that, I suppose it might seem a bit . . . peculiar.” Bruno ground out his Chesterfield in the hidden ashtray of the armrest.

“Stop stalling.”

“How did I come into the employ of the Cato family? Heartwarming story, actually. Months after the war ended, I returned home to Hamburg. Jobs were nonexistent. Germany suffered runaway inflation. Your father had been temporarily assigned to oversee port shipments for war relief. One day, returning from the docks, he tripped over me in the street, where I lay passed out, a despondent vagabond and binge drinker. He offered to buy me a meal. Nothing fancy, just bratwurst with onions and peppers. But for a man who’d been eating from garbage cans like a feral alley cat, it was a feast. Your father kept pulling back my arm, reminding me to slow down or I’d be sick. Over coffee, I told him a few war stories about stormtroopers, their clandestine and dangerous missions behind enemy lines. Apparently, a few of those meaningless fucking medals were still pinned to my tattered uniform. Achievement of objectives under extreme duress, wounded in the line of duty and a whole host of others. He challenged me to find sobriety by the time he finished his assignment. If I succeeded, he promised gainful employment as his family’s chauffeur and assistance with American citizenship. I pulled myself together and here I am. I owe your father my life.”

“Odd, I wasn’t aware Father had a single benevolent bone in his entire body. No family or special someone in Hamburg?”

“Never knew my parents. The orphanage found it impossible to place me on any permanent basis. I was a hellion. No family could tolerate me for more than a few weeks. At sixteen, I ran away. After a couple of months of eating scraps, the unrelenting elements, beatings and robberies, I came to my senses. I could starve and die in the streets or join the Army. Soon after enlisting, war broke out. There wasn’t time for dating or relationships. The Army became my family, my life.”

“Apologies; I had no idea it was like that for you.”

“Why would you? Employers don’t bond with employees. It’s the same reason officers don’t fraternize with enlisted men; undermines authority.”

“Technically, I’m not really your employer, so we could bend that rule so long as it stays between us.”

Bruno nodded, extending his hand. “Shake on it?”

“Yes,” Edmond accepted with a broad smile. Bruno clutched his hand, his grip so powerful its strength resonated throughout Edmond’s entire being. He craved so much more, briefly fantasizing of Bruno forcing him to the back seat and taking him roughly like one of Morgan’s whores.

“You’ve been unusually quiet and distracted. Clearly, something is bothering you.”

Edmond glanced at him, shaking his head. “I don’t want to burden you with my problems.”

“Nonsense, we’re bending the rules, remember?”

“All right, then. What if the opportunity of a lifetime suddenly presented itself to you? Something you’d dreamed of your whole life, but acting on it would crush the ones you loved, turn their worlds upside down?”

“Can you be more specific?”

“Not at this point in time I’m afraid.”

“Have you tried talking with your brother?”

“He’d only echo Father with his relentless lectures about family tradition.”

“Then talk to your father. He’s a hard man, I know, but he’s always had your best interests at heart.”

His expression pensive, Edmond exited the limousine, its powerful engine humming, and strolled around to the driver’s side. “Doubt he will change his mind, but I should at least try.”

Bruno tipped the brim of his chauffeur’s cap. “Pleasant evening, young man. Promise me you’ll think about the bars and whores.”

Edmond chuckled. “I Promise.” Momentarily, thanks to Bruno, he’d forgotten his troubles. From the second flight of steps leading up to the columned portico of the main entrance, he turned to wave goodbye. He assumed the driver would park the car and spend another lonely evening drinking and playing solitaire in his cramped quarters above the garage. Maybe he should ask him if he was up to giving him another lesson in poker or, better yet, demonstrate the kneecap thing. No, it was much too late for cards, or, kneecap sex. Edmond laughed as he hurried up the steps.

It was then he heard a couple of startling blasts from the horn of the Mercedes followed by the screeching of tires. Bruno wasn’t parking the car, but speeding back down the long driveway toward downtown Portsmouth. Frowning, Edmond shook his head. Was the ballsy bastard actually giving him the finger?


***


Nude beneath an open bathrobe of Chinese silk, Edmond strolled the short distance to his nightstand, where he retrieved the daunting letter from the top drawer and hurled it to the floor.

As the long night progressed, he tossed and turned in his plush bed. Fine Egyptian linens and satin bedding cradled his lithe body, but was more like sackcloth against skin that bruised as easily as summer fruit. Exhausted, he huffed and snatched the goose-feather pillows from behind his head and lower back. He fluffed and repositioned them for what seemed the thousandth time.

Wicked thoughts of Bruno having his way with him in the back seat of the limousine or in his small quarters over the garage, pervaded his restless mind, but despite his best efforts, Edmond remained impotent. The new day dawning, he sat up and swung his bare feet to the cold floor, where inches away, the infernal letter continued to haunt him. He grabbed it up, shuffled it between his trembling hands, his eyes moist with tears. The post promised unprecedented upheaval in the family. Father would come unhinged. Morgan, his older brother, he hoped to persuade to his side. His mother loved and supported her children. But she too would face an uphill battle with her husband, the strong-willed patriarch of the Cato family.

Procrastination, however, was no longer an option. He leapt to his feet, shrugging his bathrobe to the floor. Yawning wide, he pulled open the doors to an antique wardrobe dating to the Victorian era, as did each piece of furniture in his grand, spacious bedroom. Every advantage would be needed before marching into the admiral’s study with the express purpose of turning the family’s world upside down. He selected three suits, expressly because his father had handpicked the entire collection and ordered them tailor-made to exacting standards.

Positioned in front of his full-length mirror, Edmond held each suit jacket close to his pale nude body, each one a different style and color. Why was there even a question? Father’s an admiral. Navy-blue, of course. A gold-colored bow tie would make the perfect accessory. Socks and shoes selected, there remained no further reasons for delay. Swallowing hard, he tucked the letter into a hidden pocket inside his suit jacket.

Pushing his black-framed glasses back up the bridge of his nose, he cracked open his bedroom door. Fucking squeaky hinges! It was past time he asked a servant to oil the damn things. He poked his head through the open doorway. Quiet as a mouse in a church. And big brother’s bedroom door was closed. Taking a deep breath, he ventured out into the hallway.

Fast as a jack rabbit in front of a prairie fire, he retreated back into his room, tilted back his head and pinched off his nostrils to contain another one of his untimely nose bleeds.

On the second attempt, the door hinges complained loudly enough to wake the dead. Walking on his tiptoes, he attempted to avoid the squeaky floorboards that he’d long since committed to memory. However, the next step he took was followed by a high-pitched creak. He froze, palms sweaty, heart racing. He turned around to make his retreat, when, suddenly, he collided with a menacing wall of a man wearing nothing but his white U.S. Navy issued boxers, his muscular, hairy physique displayed proudly. Everything about him was immense, masculine and intimidating, from his height and weight, to his square, angular jawline.

“Damn it. What is it with you? Ambushing me like some enemy soldier in a dense fog,” Edmond yelled, his black-framed glasses sitting slightly askew.

“Listening to Bruno’s war stories again?” Morgan shot back, his powerful arms crossed, his glare penetrating like x-rays. “You sound just like the sniveling, whining, immature little boys I catch sneaking contraband aboard Reprisal. Booze, girlie mags, even the goddamn Brown Betty their mommies send from home . . . I confiscate it all. They break the rules, and I break their sweet innocent spirits. Turns boys into men.” Big brother snatched the letter from his hands. “You’ll have to rise earlier than a rooster to slink by me, bookworm.”

“It’s personal! Give it back!”

Morgan held his younger brother at bay with one immense hand. With the free one, he snapped open the letter, allowing it to dangle inches shy of Edmond’s desperate grasping hands, while he scanned its contents. “Shit, tiger, you’ve put on a pound or two since I last saw you; I may have to use both hands.”

“Give it back now before I knock you on your ass!” Coldness washed over him. Instantly, he regretted his idle threat.

Smirking, Morgan advanced until they were standing nose to nose. His breathing heavy and ragged, he collared Edmond. “Feeling your oats this morning, little brother? Ring’s in the basement. Whaddya say we go a few rounds? See if you really are man enough to put me on my ass!”

“I’m sorry. Don’t hurt me.”

Gazing into the pitiful, frightened eyes of his physically inferior younger sibling, he released his grip, freeing a long pent-up breath. “I hate losing my temper with you. Proud of you, though. It’s a brave thing you’re doing.”

“Or incredibly stupid.” Subdued, Morgan tucked the controversial letter inside the inner pocket of Edmond’s jacket and straightened his collar and bow tie. “Thank you for coming to my rescue all these years. No matter what, I know that will never change.”

Nodding, Morgan smiled. “Damn right.”

“Father’s stern, but I’m confident I can reason with him.”

Reason with him?” Morgan snickered. “Have you met the man?”

Edmond knew his brother was right. “Don’t suppose you’d be willing to put in a good word. Or, better yet, accompany me?”

“Really think he’s going to listen to his eldest disappointment?”

“I don’t understand. You graduated the Naval Academy with descent marks. Promoted to second in command of your ship. You’re Father’s perfect son.”

“You think so? At every opportunity, he lectures me about name and legacy. By now, I should have married an insufferable socialite, of his choosing, provided him with grandchildren and occupied an office in the Pentagon. Well, that’s the short list anyway.” Morgan folded an arm around Edmond’s shoulders. “With Father, you’ll come to realize it’s never enough. But like I said, I admire your backbone. Tell that old barnacle-back what’s what. I’ve never challenged him. I could’ve been a professional boxer. But I gave in, did what the old man wanted. I hate the fucking Navy. But it’s not too late for you, nosebleed. It’s your life. Be your own man.”

Morgan’s words rang true. Not only pertaining to engineering, but also the fact he was sexually attracted to other men. Damn liberating to admit it . . . to actually accept it about himself.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, four-eyes, I need to finish cleaning my rifle.” Morgan winked as he tugged at the long bulge in his boxers. Edmond knew he should stop gawking at it, but the thing was damn impressive. “Go get him, tiger.” Big brother turned his back to Edmond and shuffled back down the hallway toward his bedroom. Halfway, he stopped and turned around. “Better bring your A-game to the ring.” Morgan shadow boxed as he jogged the remainder of the way. “Heavyweight champion on the Reprisal . . . and undefeated.”

“Still doing that, are we?”

“Should have taught you to defend yourself a long time ago,” he yelled over his shoulder, slamming the door shut behind him.

“I’m not getting in a boxing ring with you, you big gorilla, not now, not ever. Let Bruno continue playing the role of punching bag,” he mumbled aloud. But Morgan’s words had inspired him. Hell, they had emboldened him.


***


Taking respite from pacing the foyer, Edmond attempted a quiet moment of reflection, peering out one of three massive windows located on each side of the manor’s front entrance. Once again, the trickle of cascading water from the angel fountain was unsuccessful in soothing his frayed nerves. Hands trembling, he retrieved the letter from the inside pocket of his navy-blue suit jacket, straightened his gold-colored bow tie, inhaled deeply and was about to rap on the solid mahogany doors to his father’s study, when he overheard a heated conversation between his father and another man. Curiosity getting the better of him, he placed his ear to the door.

“I waited until four a.m., sir. He never showed.”

“You’re paid a generous salary. I expect results, not excuses.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll set it up again.”

“See that you do, Mr. Wolfhart.”

“Right away, sir.”

Footfalls drew closer, prompting Edmond to make a hasty retreat to a less conspicuous locale. The door burst open just as he hid behind an elegant settee, positioned in one corner of the foyer and partially obscured by large potted palm plants. Bruno grimaced, muttering to himself in German. The proud, confident ex-soldier, skulked out of his father’s study like a beaten dog and then meandered out the front entrance.

If Edmond hadn’t seen it for himself, he wouldn’t have believed it. He couldn’t think about this now. Taking a deep, shuttering breath, he rapped on the thick doors to his father’s study.

“Enter,” Admiral Guy Cato yelled in a gruff voice. After Edmond eased the doors closed, Morgan materialized from the shadows, positioning himself in the same location previously occupied by his younger brother.

Admiral Cato motioned for his son to take a seat in one of two leather wingback chairs situated in front of his executive rosewood desk. “Hope this is important, son.” His father gestured to piles of paper and manila folders. “As you can see, I’m buried up to my neck in paperwork.” The admiral dropped his pen and puffed a Cuban cigar to life. Smoke coiled from the corner of his mouth, diffusing the air with the scents of a rain-soaked meadow.

“Forgive the interruption, Father. I’ll get straight to the point.” His mouth dry as cotton, his hand trembling, he passed the acceptance letter from Princeton University’s School of Engineering to his father.

By Edmond’s estimation, it took approximately thirty seconds for the man to scan the letter and pass it back to him. “Congratulations,” he stated simply, glaring at him stone-faced over half-rimmed reading glasses.

“Father, are you saying I have your blessing to attend Princeton?” Breath bottled in his lungs as he awaited a reply.

“I’m saying I’m proud of my youngest son, who’s finally sprouting hair on his balls. But the answer is a resounding no.

Disappointment creased Edmond’s face, his eyes pleading as he shifted to the edge of his chair. “Father, I beg you to reconsider,” he pleaded, waving the acceptance letter in the air. This is my dream, my passion.”

“I’ve been aware of your penchant for engineering since the day I returned home to discover you blissfully tinkering with a pile of parts that was once a very expensive Brough Superior motorcycle.”

“I got it back together, didn’t I? And it ran like a hellhound.”

“Irrelevant. Dreams are nothing more than flights of fancy, butterflies caught on air currents and blown in all directions.” The admiral thumped the ashes of his cigar into a crystal ashtray bearing the crest of the U.S. Naval Academy. “You don’t get to the top by settling for the ordinary.”

“One of the most prestigious universities in the world has offered to matriculate me into its school of engineering. I’d hardly call that a flight of fancy or ordinary,” Edmond shouted, his face turning crimson.

Admiral Cato slammed his fists on his desk. “Enough!” Edmond flinched, his head jerking back. “Young man, have you completely forgotten yourself? Legacy, tradition, honor have been the cornerstone of this family for three generations. Constantly, I have to remind my sons of this. Why?” Leaning over in his chair, fingers interlaced, Edmond focused his gaze on the floor, speechless. The admiral made his way to the front of his desk, took a seat in the matching wingback chair next to his son, and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Morgan doesn’t possess half your wits. He graduated the academy with average grades and serves as an officer aboard the Reprisal, chiefly because he’s ridden my coattails.”

Edmond sat up straight and shifted in his chair to face his father.

“Morgan simply isn’t cut from the same cloth as you and I. Lieutenant Commander of a destroyer will likely be his highest achievement. And God only knows if he will ever marry. Over the years, I’ve introduced him to countless cultured women, but he derives pleasure from defying me, cavorting with all manner of street vermin. Thankfully, God blessed me with two sons.”

His father’s reference to the working class left a bitter taste in Edmond’s mouth. After all, Bruno belonged to that class, a man he both admired and respected. Although, he was beginning to have his doubts after the conversation he had just overheard.

“With your intelligence and your father as your mentor, you’ll be the next Admiral Cato, perhaps a senator; hell, the sky’s the limit. And lest you forget, the world is bursting at the seams for another world war; a golden opportunity to immortalize the Cato name in glory and honor.”

“Father, I—”

“Everything has been arranged with the academy. Minor in engineering if you like, but we’ll have no more talk of Princeton.”

Morgan’s words echoed in his mind. ‘Be your own man. Stand up to him.’ Disappointed in himself, Edmond’s heart ached. “I won’t let you down, Father,” he said softly.

“That’s the spirit,” Admiral Cato said, his chin held high as he squeezed his son’s shoulder. “Only two months left to prepare for Plebe Summer. I suggest you join forces with Morgan. He’ll prepare you for the mental and physical challenges of the academy. Come; let’s not keep your mother waiting any longer.”

Following his father, Edmond scanned the wall of portraits depicting generations of his forefathers as they braved the rigors of the U.S. Naval Academy. The portraits, some hand painted, captured their heroic exploits in the midst of famous battles in service to their country. They were arranged and centered with precision spacing and lighting, as if they were the works of Rembrandt or Vermeer on display at the Louvre. Lastly, a portrait of Morgan, shortly after his promotion to Lieutenant Commander of the U.S.S. Reprisal, gave him pause. Conspicuous was his tight-lipped smile and rounded shoulders as he received a warm congratulatory handshake from Captain John Riddick accompanied by the frigid glare of his unimpressed father, Admiral Guy Cato. Afraid I’m doomed to share in your misery, big brother.

The voices of his father and brother trailing away, Morgan emerged from a darkened corner and tried the doorknob to his father’s study. Unlocked. Like a skillful sleuth from a Black Mask detective story, of which he’d become a fanatical reader, he eased quietly into the room. “You’re slipping, old man,” he whispered under his breath. Incessantly, he sought leverage against a father determined to malign him at every opportunity and rob him of his rights as firstborn son. He strode to the admiral’s desk, where he flicked on an intricately designed Tiffany lamp. Swiftly, he tugged on the pulls of each desk drawer. Secured. No time to pick the locks, he was expected at breakfast.

His large brown eyes scanned past a well-worn copy of Moby Dick to a messy stack of manila folders, then back to the leather-bound classic. Something about it was slightly off. Picking up the book, he began a scrupulous examination. A slivered border of multi-colored paper protruded from the fore edge. Flipping pages, he arrived at the protrusion. It revealed a Christmas card of the womanish romantic variety. Morgan smiled wryly. Given their less than cordial relationship, it was inconceivable that the card was from his mother. What secret obsessions do you keep for the admiral, Captain Ahab? As he read the card, his jaw slackened. “Father, you sanctimonious old sea dog. Cheating on Mother . . . and of all the women you could have chosen.” A sly grin danced across Morgan’s lips. Snickering, he pocketed the card, switched off the lamp and eased open the door a hair’s breadth. A quick scan of the stairs and the front door revealed no staff or family members. Grinning like the proverbial cat that ate the canary, he rushed to the sunroom for Saturday breakfast.

***


Edmond strolled together with his father into the sunroom to join his mother, Alice, where she sat at a white wicker breakfast table with glass tabletop, patiently awaiting her family for their traditional Saturday morning breakfast of pancakes. Given the scenic view of the Elizabeth River, the warmth and light of the sun and the vast assortment of colorful hanging plants, it was easy to discern why this room was her favorite.

The admiral flashed his wife a perfunctory smile before sitting at the opposite end of the table, his greeting as cold as a burst of winter wind.

Donning her reading glasses, Alice returned her husband’s superficial smile and tossed the financial section of the newspaper on the table. Angelina, a young Italian immigrant and newest servant to the Cato household, gathered it up and placed it under her arm. She then proceeded around the table, pouring tea into porcelain cups imprinted with turquoise-blue clipper ships, a wedding gift from Guy’s grandmother. “Good morning, I was beginning to worry I’d be eating breakfast all alone. “Edmond, dear, where’s Morgan? Don’t tell me he’s still sleeping?”

“No, Mother, I’m here. Morning constitution took longer than usual; you can’t imagine the disgusting things that pass for food on a Navy ship.”

“Well I certainly can,” the admiral chimed in, snatching the financial section from Angelina. A half-smile flickered across her face as she filled his teacup. “Won’t be caught off guard like we were in twenty-nine,” he declared, scanning stock quotes.

Morgan gave his mother a peck on the cheek as he shot his little brother a knowing glance. A slight grin, frolicking at the corners of Edmond’s lips, threatened to erupt into laughter.

Taking the seat closest to his mother, Edmond turned his attention to her glowing complexion, awed at how she appeared ten years younger than her age of forty-three, no deep wrinkles or crow’s feet creased her lovely face; it crossed his mind she might well pass for an older sister.

“Pulling a wicker chair out from the table, Morgan sat to the left of Edmond. With everyone settled, Angelina began serving the family’s traditional Saturday breakfast of pancakes, piping hot maple syrup on the side, scrambled eggs and bacon. After Morgan fumbled through what Edmond could only assume was the shortest blessing in history, he quickly unwrapped silverware from a white cloth napkin and cleared his throat. “So, Edmond, I hear you have news.”

Alice eyed her youngest intently, squeezing his arm. “Tell us, dear; don’t keep us in suspense.” Edmond’s face burned hot as a furnace. He could find no words, instead managing only a peculiar bark of laughter.

Impatient with his son’s floundering, the admiral spoke up. “We were just discussing Edmond’s future career aspirations at the naval academy. He’s a little apprehensive about Plebe Summer, but exuberant to serve his country and carry on our family’s proud tradition.”

“Yes, that’s right; I’m champing at the bit to follow in Father’s shoes. I only hope that I can live up to his esteemed accomplishments,” Edmond responded with a half-hearted smile.

Alice placed her hand atop Edmond’s. “Darling you could never disappoint us. Besides, think of the advantages you’ll have with your father and brother as your mentors. You’re going to be a huge success, like all of my Cato men.”

“Absolutely, Mother,” Morgan interjected, bits of food flying from his mouth, “why just this morning we completed a lesson on the importance of keeping one’s rifle spit-shiny clean, ready for inspection at a moment’s notice.” Edmond stared incredulously at his big brother. Morgan winked at him, shoveling pancakes into his mouth as if it were his last meal.

The admiral peered over his paper. “He’ll need to know a great deal more than weapons inspections if he’s to survive Plebe Summer,” dismissing Angelina with a wave of his hand as she offered him another serving of eggs.

“We appreciate everything you’re doing for your younger brother, dear.”

“Happy to do it, Mother.” Morgan held up an empty glass to Angelina, who rushed over to refill it with milk. When only little brother was looking, Morgan pinched her on her voluptuous fanny. Angelina shot him a look of disapproval, but then sensually licked her ample lips.

Ah, another one of Morgan’s many conquests, Edmond thought. ‘Fucked her silly on more than one occasion,’ he’d bragged. How big brother loved to narrate every nauseating detail of his philandering. For instance, the numerous ways he’d brought Angelina to orgasm using his talented and oddly long tongue. He coughed, bringing up a bit of pancake.

“Morgan, how long until repairs are completed to the Reprisal?”

“Extensive damage to her rudder, Father. Captain Riddick thinks it may take two months to fabricate and refit a new one.”

“I’ll arrange an extended shore leave with the captain. While your ship undergoes repairs at the shipyard, I want you to whip your brother’s body and mind into shape for the hell that is Plebe Summer.”

“Yes sir. It’ll be my pleasure. I’ll pull together an exercise and training regimen and introduce him to the Bluejackets’ manual. Two months and he’ll be ready to navigate the treacherous waters of the academy,” Morgan replied, playfully chucking his crestfallen brother on the chin as he offered him an expression of empathy.

“Edmond, have you given anymore thought to the theme for your birthday party?”

“I’m afraid I’ve been rather preoccupied. I’ll leave it all in your very capable hands, Mother,” Edmond replied, his voice low and trailing.

“Which reminds me, Father, we have to find Edmond a proper date for his birthday party. After all, this is a really big one. Little brother’s turning eighteen, becoming a man.”

“With the distraction of the academy, I’m afraid I’d be a dreadful suitor.”

“Anyone come to mind, Morgan?”

“I hear Cilla Mora’s available,” Morgan answered the admiral, his mouth pinched.

The admiral’s brow wrinkled. He cleared his throat, twisting the Naval Academy class ring on his finger. “I’ll phone Senator Mora after breakfast; obtain his approval.”

“Or perhaps Mother could invite Grace Mora and her lovely daughter for tea.”

The admiral’s eyes narrowed at his eldest. “Speaking with Cilla’s father would be the more appropriate choice, son, but thank you for the suggestion.”

“Of course, Father.”

Alice squeezed Edmond’s arm. “She’s a lovely girl. And what a sensational couple you’d make.”

First the damn Naval Academy, now this. “Well then, it would seem the family’s all in agreement. Father, if the senator has no objections to my courting Cilla, I’ll send her flowers and a personal invitation to my birthday party.”

With an eager gaze and a broad smile, the admiral raised his tea cup. “To Edmond and Cilla and the academy.” While Alice, Guy and Morgan clinked their cups together, Edmond shifted in his chair, his mouth slightly ajar, blood trickling from his left nostril. Immediately, Alice sprang to her feet. Morgan raised his hand. “Not to worry, I’ve got this, Mother. The academy may be the death of him if he’s going to have a nosebleed every time he’s under pressure.” Tilting Edmond’s head back, he placed his food-stained napkin over his nose, pinching his nostrils together. “Best-laid plans, huh little brother?”




~2~


A Good Brother



At dawn’s early light, Morgan, naked as winter earth, burst into Edmond’s room, jumped astraddle of him in his bed and screamed orders at him like a crazed drill instructor. Little brother sat straight up in his bed and shrieked. “Shithead. Nearly startled me into a heart attack. And what the hell is it with you and naked at the buttcrack of dawn anyway?”

“Well, darling, dawn teaches my little sister about her future life at the Naval Academy, and my hairy ass and enormous Thomas reminds her what a real man looks like,” Morgan taunted, snatching the covers from little brother’s tight clutches.

Rolling over on his stomach, Edmond ducked under the covers. “Come back in two hours, and I’ll be ready for whatever plebe shit you have in store,” he muttered from beneath his pillow.

Morgan jumped off the bed, his thunderous weight jarring the furniture in the room. “If your little virgin gash isn’t outta that bed in five seconds, I’m gonna squat my furry, dirty ass over your sweet little angel face and let slip the dogs of war.”

“All right, asshole, I’m getting up.” If there was one thing he had learned growing up, big brother made no idle threats. At a snail’s pace, he yawned and climbed out of bed, teetering off balance as he feebly stood at attention and half-heartedly saluted.

“When this shit is for real, you had better jump outta that fucking bed and snap to attention.” Edmond yawned again and scratched his ass as big brother came nose to nose with him. “Plebe, in ten seconds name the eight ships of the Farragut-class destroyer,” Morgan screamed, spraying saliva in his brother’s drowsy face.

“Sir, Farragut, Dewey, ah, ah—”

“Five seconds.”

“McDonald, uh—”

“Wrong you fucking dog dick. Have you even looked at the handbook?” Morgan screamed. “Monaghan, not McDonald. Launder and press my uniforms for one month. Describe the signal flag for the letter I.”

“Sir, yellow dot on black surface, sir.”

“Wrong again, plebe. Black dot on yellow surface. Extra watch duty for one week.”

“How on Earth can a person be expected to memorize eight hundred thirty-six pages of endless, mind-numbing procedures and protocols? It’s like watching grass grow or paint dry.”

Morgan shoved his brother’s desk chair, scrubbing the floor. “This is the life of a plebe. You’d better get used to it.”

“What if I don’t have the resolve? What if I just don’t give two good shits about Father or his goddamn Navy?”

“Sorry, little brother. You had your chance, and you blew it, just like me. If you take nothing else from this training, it’s not what you memorize from the Bluejackets’ Manual; it’s learning to overcome obstacles. Grasp that and you’re half way there.”

“Couldn’t you at least wear underpants?”

“What’s the matter? Jealous of big brother’s tonsil tickler?” Morgan shook it for emphasis.

Sighing, Edmond gaped at it. “Yes.”

“Dress out for running. Kitchen in five minutes. We grab some quick grub, warm up with a five-mile run and then hit the gym.” In a flash, Morgan raced out of Edmond’s bedroom and back down the hall to his own.

In what universe was a five-mile run considered a warm up? Edmond wondered while he rummaged the bottom drawer of his dresser for a pair of cotton gym shorts. He stepped into a pair of black ones. In the dresser mirror, he raked his fingers through his messy hair, the color of ripe black berries. He managed to groom it into something respectable, except for a little sprig of a cowlick standing up on the back of his head. Fussing with it, he noticed the reverse image of the growth chart he had drawn on the back of his bedroom door when he was six. It had been years since he last measured his height.

About to turn Eighteenth and it would appear 5 foot 8 is as tall as I’m ever going to get. Wonderful! Fuck you, Morgan . . . Six-foot-four, horse-hung carnie freak. Well, everyone loves my smile and dashing good looks, if Mother counts as everyone. Further south, he knew the truth would be a hard punch to the gut. Gradually, his eyes traveled downward to a pathetic view of spindly, scrawny limbs and pasty white skin. Not to worry, that would change with all the sun he’d be getting during Plebe Summer. Shucking his shorts to mid thigh, he peeled his uncircumcised member away from his balls. Average penis, he hoped, but he’d only ever seen his brother’s. Shit, compared to Morgan, I guess I really am a gash. Emitting a long sad sigh, he pulled up his shorts. One of us must have been switched at birth. No other explanation.

“Edmond, if I have to come back up there, I’m gonna kick your scrawny ass.”

Rushing back to the dresser, he grabbed a white short-sleeved tee-shirt, pulling it on as he bounded down the stairs two at a time. “Jesus, I’m coming.”


***


Twilight stole away the last vestiges of a clear, sunlit day as Edmond collapsed face down on the plush lawn of Riverview’s courtyard, his lungs heaving for oxygen. It took several minutes, but he succeeded in rolling onto his side. “Merciful Angel of Death, I beseech thee, reap my beleaguered soul from my ravaged body so that I might welcome the sweet relief of death,” he prayed breathlessly.

“See you bright and early tomorrow morning, sis,” Morgan jeered, snapping Edmond’s ass with a towel as he jogged past his little brother’s fetal-curled body and disappeared through the sunroom. The towel stung, but he was too exhausted to react. The screen door slammed closed, jarring Edmond to a semi-conscious state. The sounds of crickets, croaking frogs, laughter of returning pleasure boaters on the Elizabeth and the brightness of the landscaping lights brought a tortured smile to his grim face. “At last, my enervated soul has arrived in heaven. God? Is that you?”

“Edmond, darling? Are you all right?”

He groaned and sat up. “No, Mother. Roll my body over there next to Felix’s grave. Say a few words and then kick some dirt and leaves over me.”

Alice displayed concern and compassion for her son, but she could barely contain her laughter. “I’m sure the cat would enjoy your company, but it appears you’re among the living,” she said cheerfully, and wiped the sweat-soaked bangs from his eyes. “My poor baby. Your brother can be such a brute.”

“I’ve accepted Morgan and I have our differences, but I never dreamed he’d try to murder me. My first day was like gladiator training. The only thing spared me was the whip. That sadistic man should have been born in Roman times. I’m telling you, Mother; he took great pleasure tormenting me today.”

Chortling, Alice offered her youngest a helping hand getting to his feet. “Keep in mind the trials of Plebe Summer, son. Thanks to your brother, you’ll breeze straight through it.”

“Mother, can we talk?”

“Of course, darling. Walk with me to the gazebo. We can enjoy the view of the river while we chat.”

A gentle breeze blew off the Elizabeth, cooling the sweat on Edmond’s brow. He breathed in a sweet mixture of wildflowers and fresh water from the river. In the distance, Barred owls serenaded them in a rich baritone. He leaned onto the gazebo railing facing the river. “Has Morgan or father spoken to you regarding my acceptance to Princeton?”

“No, of course they haven’t; they think a woman is good for nothing more than matching drapes with throw pillows and planning soirees. Suddenly, Alice covered her mouth with her hands. Princeton. Forgive me, Edmond. All this time I assumed your worries were about Plebe Summer and the Naval Academy.”

Edmond turned to face his mother. “The joy of conceptualizing a machine, then building it with these two hands, knowing society will reap its benefits . . . there are no words to explain how that makes me feel inside. Engineering is my true calling, my passion. But I have no desire to achieve my educational goals through the military. Besides, Father would accept nothing less than my commanding a warship; I don’t wish engineering to be some small aspect of a career in the Navy; I want to devote my entire life to it.”

“Why have I never made that connection? Your incessant tinkering with all of our appliances. And your father’s expensive motorcycle—reduced to a pile of nuts, bolts and gears. Of course, it all makes sense now,” Alice said in a disbelieving voice as she linked arms with her son. I guess I’m as guilty as your father, assuming you’d be happy in the Navy; my sincerest apologies.”

“Thank you, but you don’t need to apologize. I presented Morgan and father with the letter, convinced that a renowned university such as Princeton, together with my zealous passion for the field, would win them over. Out of the blue, Morgan admitted he’d never had the courage to stand up to him. He wanted to be a professional boxer. I felt so bad for him.”

“Since you’re joining the academy, I must assume the stubborn jackass refused to budge.”

“Yes. Guess I should have known better. He wants replicas of himself, expects his sons to surpass every naval accomplishment of our Cato forefathers. Dreams don’t matter to him; he has my entire life planned out. Foolishly, I believed Morgan’s naval career would suffice.”

Alice laid her hand atop her son’s. “Are you asking me to talk to him?”

“I know it puts you in an awkward situation—”

“Alice pressed a finger to her son’s mouth and kissed him on the cheek. “Not another word. I love you and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for both of my boys. I can’t guarantee I’ll have any more success than you,” she said with a broad smile, “but I’ll put my best foot forward.”

“Assuming Morgan hasn’t killed me before then.” He took another deep breath and hugged his mother. “I can always count on you.”

“Of course you can, sweetheart. Always.” Alice took a step back from her son. “Angelina left dinner warming in the oven; you’d better hurry before Morgan sniffs it out and devours every last morsel. Make an early night of it, darling. Tomorrow, your brother’s taking you some place very special. A reward for your hard training and one last chance to spend a little time with you.”

“Trust me, we’ve spent enough time together to last me a lifetime. Did he happen to mention where?”

“A place you both adore is all he said,” Alice responded softly, her eyes moist.

With his thumbs, Edmond wiped away the tears from beneath his mother’s eyes. “I’m going to miss our talks.”

“Not to worry. I promise lots of calls and letters.”


***


Sitting on the first step beneath the portico, birds twittered cheerfully from flowering trees and shrubs in the gardens as Edmond endeavored to enjoy nature’s awakening from winter. This lovely spring morning, he turned eighteen and officially a man. In a month, he would graduate preparatory school with highest honors. Life, as he now knew it, was about to change forever. He realized he must summon the courage to talk with his father, as Bruno had advised, or face the awful prospects of military life and marriage to a woman he would be unable to love genuinely or faithfully.

A loud blast from a car horn jarred him from his profound thoughts. “There’s the man of the hour,” Bruno shouted from the limousine, urgently waving him to the car. Fortunately, their father loved driving his Auburn speedster to work at the Portsmouth Naval Station, leaving the Mercedes and Bruno at the family’s beck and call.

Jogging down the front steps of Riverview, Edmond popped his head inside the driver’s side window. “Where’re we going?”

From the backseat, Morgan stretched an arm over Bruno’s shoulder and shoved Edmond’s head out of the car window. “For the last time, it’s a surprise. Move your scrawny butt; we’re burning daylight.”

“Better not be some seedy strip joint,” Edmond shouted back at Morgan as he readjusted his glasses and sprinted around the front of the car, then hopped into the front seat. “Or your friend’s red light district,” he chided Bruno, who offered him only a cunning grin in reply.

“Trust me, bookworm, you’re going to love it. Drive, Bruno.”

“Yes, sir.”

Once they were cruising down the main highway toward Portsmouth, Edmond twisted around in the front seat to face Morgan. “One hint,” he whined.

“Turn around, you little shit. That pouty puss only works on Mother. Bruno, what’s this about a red-light district?”


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