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First pages

Chapter 1

The drumming started at exactly ten twenty as the sun blazed out from behind the only cloud in the sky.

“Run, run,” came the call, loud and clear. “The British are coming!”

I dodged a watching tourist, grabbed a hen, and shoved it into the cage. “Where’s your rabbit, Emma?”

“I got him, Granny Jo.”

Emma struggled with a fluffy white monster half as big as she. Why her mother allowed a seven-year old to carry the rabbit was beyond me. Yesterday the critter’s claws had scratched Emma’s arm, but Beth-Marie solved the problem. Today her daughter wore a long-sleeved smock, liberally decorated with smudges of finger paint that almost disguised the My Little Pony printed fabric of non-1800's heavy-duty denim.

One of my cohorts, dressed in a mob hat and a long skirt, yelled as she grabbed a basket of potatoes. “Somebody catch the goose. She’s up the road a piece.”

I added my voice to the din. “Did Ezra hide the wood he chopped a fortnight ago?”

As women and children hurried away from our makeshift waterfront village, one of the men yelled, “Prepare to fire.”

Everything seemed to be on schedule: apprehensive chatter, men protecting hearth and home, enemy on the horizon. So why did I look again?

The August sunshine bounced off a glassy Chesapeake Bay. With cruisers and sailboats heading out for the weekend, it was hard to visualize those same waters as a war zone two hundred years before. Even harder to realize the burning of Washington in August of 1814 took place during a torrential downpour. Wicked weather and blood in the streets. Perhaps the rain saved part of our national home. If it had been as hot and dry as it was today...

I scurried to catch up to Emma and the women with their baskets of assorted produce. Despite the heat we all wore full length homespun skirts and covered our heads with mob caps or bonnets. I envied our audience, the women in shorts or skimpy sun dresses and sandals. Darned if I was going barefoot like some did. I mean, there was a cow on the premises, which meant cow pies.

Guy’s voice came over the loudspeaker. “In 1813 and 1814 small towns up and down Chesapeake Bay faced the threat of marauding British ships terrorizing the coast. While the women and children carried produce and led their animals away, the men dropped their fishing poles and farm tools and took up guns to prepare for battle.”

Most of our audience remained near the waterfront, waiting for the British invasion. A few followed us as we headed up the dirt road to an area well behind the four houses that represented the considerably larger Queensboro of two hundred years before.

My young friend Keisha tugged on our only cow’s tether. “Come on, Bossy, let’s go before the soldiers get here and turn you into hamburger.”

One mother followed us. Her daughter, a little girl about Emma’s size, asked, “Is that cow’s name really Bossy?”

Keisha muttered, “Could be.”

For a little more authenticity, I added, “Those British soldiers don’t just fight. They forage for food to feed the troops on their sailing ships.”

Emma, who took her role seriously, turned to the other girl. “A long time ago in a war, people on the land had to protect their stuff. Um, I mean their ah...”

“Provisions,” I said. I explained as we walked up the road. “When soldiers come by ship across the ocean, they need to find more food and supplies when they land. In 1813 and 1814, that means farm animals and garden produce.”

“Where’s the guns?” the bloodthirsty little girl asked. “Isn’t this supposed to be a war?”

“You want a war, you gotta go back to the waterfront,” Keisha caught my tsk-tsk glance and corrected herself. “Pray thee, young miss. Do come with us to escape the battle. Those men, who try to keep us from liberty shalt land from the sea. They are fearsome and evil. They burn the homes of innocent citizens.”

That was a bit over-the-top. I shrugged as the little girl said, “Can I ride your cow?”

Keisha kept in character a bit too authentically.“That would surely slow us down. You may help yon woman carry her heavy load.”

The kid’s mother promptly grabbed her daughter’s hand and backed off, evidently deciding a fake war was easier to deal with than a real cow and heavy baskets.

To help her on the way, I yelled, “Hurry, hurry. We must travel far to escape those villains.”

As the stragglers turned back toward the action on the waterfront, Emma’s brother Daniel finally appeared with his willow branch to flick at the cow’s hind legs. That was supposed to make the cow step lively, but actually didn’t do a thing.

Fortunately, we didn’t have as far to go as those citizens eluding the British in the nineteenth century. Our staging area was just around the corner. I put the chicken cage in the fenced enclosure and opened the gate so the three hens could come out and forage. Keisha tied her cow to a pole. Emma lugged her rabbit toward his hutch.

Quietly, Keisha said, “Jo, you’re my best girlfriend, right?”

“True.” Actually, girlfriend was a misnomer. I was much too close to retirement age, while she was possibly twenty, but we were definitely friends. She hadn’t grown up in a friendly neighborhood, according to what she’d told me. Hard to believe. She had learned to be friendly somewhere. Most young women wouldn’t bother with an old bat like—um, let’s say, a woman pushing sixty like me.

“You know, Tony and me...well...”

I nodded encouragement. Policeman Tony Rivlin, who had once been a thorn in my side, turned out to have another, more pleasing persona. “Yes?”

“We’re sorta...well, I’ve backed off a little just recently.”

“He’s not the sugar bun you thought?”

“Oh, no! There’s nothing wrong with Tony.” She hesitated. “It’s me. I’m not, well, he doesn’t really know me, you know? Not the real me. Maybe I’m not...good enough.”

“Hey, I won’t have that. You are one hundred percent good enough for Officer Tony Rivlin.”

“Maybe I didn’t mean not good enough exactly. He doesn’t need... He can’t... It’s a little difficult to explain, you know?”

I didn’t. “Kiddo...” The other women were ready to head back to escape from burning buildings and waited for Keisha, so I nodded. “We will talk later.”

“Tomorrow?” she said. “I’m only here this morning.”

“Definitely.”

I got the feed out for the animals as the others left. Baby sitter and farmerette was me. Actually, that wasn’t the complete me. Under-employed journalist looking to score paying articles about acting as a volunteer re-enactor—that was me. Not, as some seemed to think, the resident peacemaker.

Daniel whined. “Can I go be in a burning building? It’s okay with Mom.”

“Not for half an hour. That’s what is okay with your mother.” Couldn’t say as I blamed him, forced to stay with me, Emma, and the animals, when everyone else was in on the action. What kid wouldn’t want to watch a staged battle, no matter how unequal? The red-coats firing blanks into the air. Farmers wielding pitchforks, wooden guns, and an occasional flintlock. Running. Screaming. And always, a few men on each side portraying wounded or dead victims. Lots of color, noise, and action.

“Let’s make a hopscotch,” Emma said. “Mamma showed me how. If anyone comes to see us, we can play hopscotch.”

“No.” Daniel sat in the road, trying very hard to ignore his sister as she scuffed a line in the dirt.

If truth be known, I was just as eager to leave the animals and attend the village burning as Daniel was. I got my watch out of the hidden pocket of my muslin gown. Watches definitely weren’t part of the early 1800's ensemble.

Emma had taken Daniel’s switch to mark off her hopscotch squares, but he refused to play. Instead, he pulled out his cell phone, and started playing some game. At least I thought it was a game until he grumbled, “Ain’t never no vacation when your ma’s the teacher.”

“Homework then?” I asked, knowing full well—he had thrown all those ungrammatical words in defiance.

As for me, I watched Emma complete her hopscotch squares then jump through them. Definitely a play activity in line with our reenactment.

“Your turn,” she said to me, of all people.

“Grannies don’t hop,” I grumbled as she hopefully held out her hand with the stone. “Sweetie, why don’t you show me your pictures?”

“You should call me Emma. Sometimes bad people call little children Sweetie when they don’t mean it. I know you are not a bad people.”

“You’re right, Emma.” Ah, the perils of interaction with children who have been home-schooled by ultra-cautious parents. “Do you have any new photos?”

“No. I better take some more. How far can I go? I mean, how far may I?”

“As far as the fence. And not into the village houses, and stay this side of the road along the shore. When you see Daniel head for the houses, come back and join us.”

Emma scooted off with her small digital camera, another object forbidden in our tableau. I had to admit, Emma took some very nice pictures for a child. I watched as she wandered through tall grasses.

After a few minutes of watching the occasional flashes of her mob hat or her long skirt, and noting Daniel’s game involvement, I checked the animals. They were not at all concerned about their part—adding a bit of atmosphere to our presentation.

Finally I said, “Daniel, the half hour is up. Remember to walk sedately, and don’t interrupt anyone. You may go to the widow’s house.”

My last comment was made to a breeze as Daniel flew away. I caught Emma’s eye, beckoned for her to come, then followed Daniel toward the buildings. Except for one, they were in full “burn” mode. Colored lights flickered inside. A smoke bomb added a thick acrid stench as well as a heavy black fog. Those inside screamed realistically. The audience hesitantly edged around the buildings. They had to know we weren’t burning anyone alive. They might even know we were taking great liberties with Queensboro’s actual history.

We were close enough to hear the widow as she begged, “Please Admiral, spare my house. I have nothing. My husband is dead and my children will be homeless.”

Our faux admiral, Andy, stepped forward, a start contrast to the other British reenactors, all of them red-coated. His navy blue jacket and fitted trousers, brass buttons, and gold braid replicated an old portrait of Admiral Cockburn. Unusual for a thirty-something man to be so into reenactments he’d get a costume tailor-made.

Now he cares about authentic,” I’d heard Beth-Marie mutter more than once. Since she and her husband Guy ran the show, authentic was her by-word.

From what I’d seen of Andy, he thought an awful lot of himself. He was a commanding figure when he stepped forward to issue his proclamation. Saving the widow’s house was the grand finale of our presentation and Andy took full advantage of his starring role.

“Madam, step aside,” Andy boomed. “This village must pay for their sins.”

The widow dropped to her knees and yelled, “Oh, kind sir. Please spare my home. I have nothing else.” She grabbed Andy’s hand, and kissed it.

He played it to the hilt. “The men of this town have defied their homeland. They fight against Mother England. I crush them under my heel!”

“I’m just a poor widow woman. Please, I beg you. I have no man to protect me.”

He drew back, then raised his saber as the widow cringed. “Men, spare this home,” he called. “No one here has lifted arms against their nation.”

“Thank you, kind sir,” she said and pantomimed weeping at his feet. Daniel had arrived in time to run up as one of the widow’s children, who also thanked their magnanimous savior. Andy stood even more erect and waved his saber toward the houses, which was the signal for a renewed uproar of shooting, British attacks, and villagers screaming.

Guy’s voice boomed over the loudspeaker. “Two hundred years ago, in 1813, Queensboro came under fire from British warships. A landing party invaded the town, but the citizens had fled with everything they could carry or lead away. The enemy burned many of the homes.

“From early spring through late fall of that year and the next, scenes like this occurred along the shores of Chesapeake Bay and up the many rivers emptying into the bay. The British raiders struck quickly and randomly, often with much more violence than the Queensboro landing, especially if the Americans resisted.

“As you walk through our encampment, ask questions. Our knowledgeable volunteers will answer as their eighteen hundreds’ counterparts would.”

Mayhem continued for several minutes. There was a grand clash away from the buildings with Americans sniping from cover, some Brits firing back, and other red coats running around with lighted torches while Andy yelled, “Charge,” and “Forward, Men!”

Gradually the battle died down, the screamers came out of the buildings, and the soldiers doused their torches. Braver tourists peeked into the houses, others questioned the re-enactors. As the viewers began strolling away, Guy urged them to stop at the refreshment stand that doubled as a souvenir shop. “Tell your friends to come this afternoon or tomorrow. The War of 1812 is the forgotten war in America’s history,” he said. “Events like this occurred all along the shores of the Chesapeake in 1813 and 1814 while the European war between England and France slowed down. In 1814, the White House in Washington, D.C. was burned. The citizens and militia in Baltimore successfully saved their city, turning the tide of war in the early Americans’ favor.”

The crowd wandered away, some to the souvenir stand, but more to their cars in the grassy parking lot. Our volunteers cleaned up trash, readied equipment for the next performance, and answered questions. One man wearing a red British coat stalked up to Andy.

“Oh, oh,” Beth-Marie said. She handed me her trash bag.

“What?” I asked.

“Those two. Trouble again,” was her only answer.

Trouble? Two guys with swords, one with fire in his eyes? I didn’t calmly go about gathering discarded paper cups or scraps of paper. I followed Beth-Marie.

The other re-enactor stopped a foot short of Andy’s face, and bellowed, “I know what you’re doing. Making like that damned admiral was the good guy. He was the evil one, and you know it. You act so high and mighty.”

Andy stayed in the role a bit too thoroughly. “My good man,” he said. “How dare you insult me?” He grabbed the red hanky dangling from his belt and delicately flipped the fabric in the man’s face. “Sir, I challenge you to a duel!”

“Andy!” Beth-Marie yelled. “Go!” She turned to the other man. “And you, Louie, keep your opinions to yourself. Please remember, this is a reenactment of something that happened two hundred years ago. Stay in character, both of you.”

“His damn character hasn’t changed since the day he was born. He’s deliberately perverting his role.”

Andy, who had completely ignored Beth-Marie and any order to leave, fluttered his hanky in his own face and said, “Louie, you are just too easy.”

I couldn’t see Beth-Marie’s face, but I could see her stance, boiling with frustration and anger. She turned and stalked away, as much as if to say, “Okay you two, go at it. See if I care.”

Can’t say as I blamed her. Andy’s superiority streak was as wide as the Chesapeake Bay, and the other man seemed to have one equally as strong. Must be some clashing history between those two.

I expected more firewords, but Louie turned away as well. “You’ll get yours,” he muttered and marched off in the opposite direction.

Andy stood there, smirking, until a starry-eyed girl came up, holding her hand over her mouth to hide her overflowing giggles. “Andy, or should I say, Admiral Cockburn, you’re nasty.”

Their conversation quieted to whispers when she got closer, but both she and Andy were laughing out loud by the time I headed to the lunch wagon. A conquest? And she, maybe eighteen to his—what? Pushing forty for sure. Or, at least, thirty-something.

Not what I needed to focus on for my next article. I no longer wrote hanky panky. Maybe mention the varied ages of those playing a part. For that, I only needed to look at our volunteers. We had them all, from children to way past retirement age.

By eleven-forty-five the crew had surrounded the lunch wagon, grabbing the wraps, pizza slices, and hot dogs. Exactly what we’d ordered. No pork barbeque on buns. Too sloppy. Too apt to spill on costumes. Too bad—my favorite. I settled for a turkey wrap and sweet tea.

As I bit into the second half of my wrap, the Tillis family, who officially ran the show, arrived en masse to select their choices. In a tone that denoted something I hadn’t heard before, maybe incredulity, maybe suppressed anger, Guy said, “And exactly why did Andy give you his tri-corned hat to wear?”

Defiantly, Daniel said, “He told me I could wear it ’til the second show starts.”

“And exactly why isn’t our admiral here with the rest of us?” Guy demanded.

“Daniel doesn’t know where Andy is, Guy,” Beth-Marie said.

Ah, a bit of anger and defiance in the perfect family. Guy stormed off. I decided to splurge, calorie-wise, get an ice cream bar, and find more agreeable conversation.

Which turned out to be Mel, a temporarily red-coated friend who wanted to be friendlier. It’s not that I object to having a gentleman friend, it’s just... Okay, he was the right age, around sixty, not bad looking, thinning hair turning salt and pepper. Not the problem. To tell the truth, my record with men wasn’t too good. Two bad marriages, and I didn’t want to try for a third. Platonic, I could handle.

“I knew I’d find you here,” he said as I unwrapped my find from the freezer, one of those pre-packaged ice cream cones topped with chocolate and peanuts.

“How did it go this morning?” I asked. He’d told me about a water leak at the police station. He’s the Maintenance Supervisor and evidently his duties involve a lot more than sweeping floors.

“One problem solved. Two more popped up. Completely unrelated. Your ice cream looks good.” He dug into the freezer and pulled out another calorie-laden confection. “This will not ruin my svelte physique, so don’t expect to put me through your karate paces.”

What could I say? Physique, not too bad, but svelte he wasn’t. And karate needed a better time and place. Instead, I asked, “Do you know a guy named Louie?”

Mel stopped unwrapping his ice cream and looked perplexed.

I added, “He’s one of the British re-enactors. He and Andy had a disagreement. Well, actually, this Louie started spouting off at Andy about not being authentic.”

“Oh, yeah, I remember him. He’s a firecracker. I’ve heard him muttering about authenticity before. He’s not too happy about our uniforms for one thing. Or the boat we use. Not fully authentic. Andy must be his latest target.”

I slurped some more ice cream. “Latest target?”

Mel crumpled the paper from his cone. “There are always a few people in any crowd who aren’t compatible.”

“You mean our war is about to blow up?”

“No, nothing like that.” Mel chuckled. “You know, adversity is just the spice of life.”

From my viewpoint, adversity was not always a benevolent spice.

Chapter 2

The afternoon presentation started a little late. For some reason we had a police presence in the form of Office Nolt. The first, and last, time I’d seen her, I was on the wrong side of her handgun. She’d had her reasons. So, maybe I was once in the wrong place at the wrong time. But I’d had my reasons as well. I didn’t hang around listening to her complete conversation. Seemed to be something about handicapped parking spaces.

Our presentation started with the street scene. There was no actual street, just a dirt path with four houses that were little more than hastily-built shells. They’d been painted in pale, weathered colors and fitted with curtains to keep from revealing the sparse interiors.

One had a front porch where I usually settled. This afternoon a volunteer I hadn’t seen before was in my spot, with a young mother and her tots gathered around him. He had to be in his nineties. He needed the rocking chair more than I did. I joined the rest of the women who wandered around the clipped field that doubled as a front lawn and vegetable garden. A few leafy plants had been placed in a row with a couple of pumpkins and squash artistically arranged. Our baskets of beets, beans, carrots, potatoes, and onions were nestled behind a short fence. The men were in the back, hammering and sawing wood, or saddling our one horse.

“Who’s the guy on the porch?” I asked one of the women.

“He signed up as the official geezer—his description according to Beth-Marie. He wants to tell the children stories about his ancestors. He was supposed to come this morning but he didn’t show up until after lunch. Frank somebody.”

Frankenstein. Okay, he’s the right age, but everyone named Frank isn’t... Nah, couldn’t be. However, I edged over to listen in.

“...fell in love with a local gal. Now, I ain’t about to go on that ship and get sent back to England. No, siree, not me. So what do you suppose I did?”

I stepped away from the kids eagerly making suggestions and back to the vegetable chatter. Damn. It was his voice, all right. His face had changed with age, but not the voice. Not again. How long will he stay this time?

No concern of mine. Ridiculous to worry. According to my sister, just as ridiculous as I was all those years ago when we were kids. What was I, eight, nine years old? Thirteen when he left the first time. I was too young to be in charge, but I was the only one available. There was nothing he could take from me now. Instead I concentrated on Guy’s amplified words that reverberated across the scene. They took over my thoughts. All of my thoughts.

“Two hundred years ago, the United States was engaged in the War of 1812, but for residents along Chesapeake Bay early in the war, life didn’t change much that first year,” he said. “The British and French were fighting each other in Europe. The British and Canadians were fighting the Americans along our northern border. Few British ships appeared in these eastern waters until 1813.”

He continued talking and we proceeded with act two of the program. The men in the back laid down their hammers, picked up guns, and began their militia training on how to march and shoot. We ladies gasped or anxiously called our children (not that I had any children), looked out to sea, and tried to ignore the parade of twenty-first century go-fast power boats and leisurely sailing craft in the center of the bay.

“Then the full British fleet arrived in the Chesapeake. They raided and burned villages, with the famous Rear Admiral Cockburn one of the most feared men on the eastern coast.”

On cue, someone yelled, “The British are coming.” Others took up the call. The men fired their guns, then marched toward the shore with more vigor. Several of the women brought out a flag and sewed on another star, then lifted it on the branch all while pointing and glaring toward the bay. Guy continued telling the history of the War of 1812.

The beach, if it could be called that, was a strip of stone and mud with weeds growing through it. Although the navigable water was several hundred feet away from shore, a fence around the field had been removed to give the appearance that those British ships could have landed.

The longboat that pulled up with our British troops was not a replica of boats from that time. It was more of a raft with sides, slapped together by a few volunteers. One of the red coats poled it from around the corner and into our view.

The call, “Advance, men!” alerted both volunteers and viewers that our next tableau was to begin.

By then, we were well on the way up the dirt path, me with my chickens, Emma with her rabbit, and one of the vegetable carriers leading the cow. Behind us, the men with guns shouted and came forward, some of the women disappeared into the houses. Other women followed us as we fled behind the houses and up the path to our staging area.

For once, Daniel didn’t lag. “Andy didn’t come for his hat,” he said. “He didn’t come at all.”

Now, that was a surprise. “Not at all?” I asked.

“No. Dad got mad and took his hat.”

“You couldn’t very well wear it as an American boy.”

Louie, the man who’d confronted Andy, certainly hadn’t scared him away. Not after he’d resisted everyone’s rants when he insisted on playing British Rear Admiral Cockburn as a hero. Since his performance added a little pizzaz to an otherwise boring history, no one worried about saving a widow’s house in Queensboro instead of Georgetown, where, according to some reports, it really happened. Nor did it matter that during the British landing in Queensboro, every one of the residents had fled and the admiral and his crew burned empty houses.

No doubt, back then, the British were frustrated because the farmers and fishermen of Queensboro disappeared with their animals and produce. Several ships full of hungry men needed to eat. Their only source of food was from their enemy. Sometimes they paid for the food they took, other times it was simply liberated. That history was true enough for the Chesapeake Bay on the whole. And, with our “burning” buildings, we had a neat little tourist attraction and money-maker for the area. Win-win, some said.

Obviously, Louie didn’t agree. A purist like Louie had to be offended. Cockburn had been the number one scourge of the war on Chesapeake Bay. And because Andy found one book that called him a hero, he was a hero. That one book, naturally enough, was published in England. True, war is war, and one side’s villain is definitely the other side’s hero, but we were performing our reenactment on the Chesapeake Bay shore for Americans.

“May I take pictures again?” Emma asked.

She’d abandoned any hope of Daniel or me joining a hopscotch game. “Sure. Same rules,” I said, and she skipped off.

“Why do the other kids get to stay and I have to come back here with the animals?” Daniel asked.

“That’s something to ask your parents, not me.”

“It’s not fair.”

Things are often not fair, but he wouldn’t want to hear that.

“There’s no boys to play with. Just girls.”

“Really? No boys in your camp?”

“Nope.” He shrugged and pulled out his cell phone.

He was back to his games. Daniel was definitely a kid who preferred real play over electronics.

Meanwhile, I wondered who would take Andy’s place to pardon the widow’s house. Probably Ibbie. He and Andy did everything else together. Of course, Ibbie and all the other British re-enactors wore scarlet jackets with white pants, but a new audience wouldn’t know the lead was usually dressed differently. The British uniforms of the day were far from identical. Various groups wore different uniforms. Many British units had replaced the red coats they wore during our Revolution with navy or black, and trousers were more often grey. The high boots common in our earlier war were replaced by short boots. Andy’s costume came from an 1814 painting of Cockburn, so perhaps a navy blue uniform was his personal style.

Finally, Daniel yanked on my sleeve. “Is it time yet?”

“Must be. Let’s go.” I motioned to Emma and followed Daniel. Would Ibbie take Andy’s part?

We arrived in time to hear the widow beg, “Please Admiral, spare my house. I have nothing. My husband is dead and my children will be homeless.” The row of red-coated enemies stood before her.

The one who stepped forward, waving his sword was not Ibbie. It was that Louie person who’d not been happy over Andy’s performance. He yelled, “Madam, step aside. This village must pay for their sins.”

She bellowed, “Oh, kind sir. Please be benevolent to this poor widow. I have nothing but my house.” She got on her knees, grabbed Louie’s hand to kiss it.


He pulled away. “Are there any men in this house? Any sons who have fought against the sovereign?”

The widow was confused. “No sir, no fighting men.”

Just then Daniel appeared. “Please, sir,” he said.

“Then who is this?” he thundered. “Men, take this boy to the ship.”

Every one of the volunteers gasped.

Louie continued. “Ma’am, in exchange for saving your home, you forfeit your son. He’ll grow up as a good British citizen, my personal cabin boy. I’ll train him right, you can be assured of that. Now, do you want your house or your son?”

I was finally close enough to hear the widow whisper, “What are you doing?”

Guy must have wondered too, because the loud speaker came to life. “Villagers on the Chesapeake Bay never knew what would happen when the wind changed. Would it bring the British Navy and their looting and burning, or would it bring the American frigates?” He rushed through his spiel and ended, “When you leave, please stop by our refreshment and souvenir stand. Thank you for attending our reenactment today.”

As the other red-coated men ran around waving torches I clapped. Enthusiastically. That wasn’t my job, but somebody had to do it. Guy usually started the applause indicating the show was over, but he hadn’t. Andy’s absence evidently threw them all off schedule.

Slowly, our audience dissipated. I wondered what had happened to Andy.

Beth-Marie stomped up and said, “Andy is so toast. After all the fights we had about him being the star, he doesn’t show up. How inconsiderate! We change the whole...” She clenched her fists and shuddered. “Then Louie...”

Pissed? You bet.

But she wasn’t through. “So Louie was right. But we were all set...” She glared. “Cockburn was not a hero. Not for the Americans in 1813. He saved one house in Georgetown, and Andy insists we play it in Queensboro. How is that teaching history? How is that reliving history?”

One of the other workampers, as they called themselves, headed for his RV. “Hey it’s theater, Beth-Marie. You ain’t getting paid enough for all that angst.”

Guy answered the man who passed. “You know Beth-Marie. She likes her history to be accurate. She doesn’t mean anything. Right BM?”

“Don’t you dare call me that,” Beth-Marie snapped. If looks could kill, her husband would be toasted right alongside Andy.

Ah, even the loving family can erupt. Fortunately their kids weren’t near by. Daniel had dodged into one of the burning houses to escape Louie. Much more fun to help turn off the fire-imitating lights. He was on his way back. Emma, too, slowly headed our way, looking around the ground for a new picture to snap. The last one I saw was a cow pie with a blade of grass growing through it. The kid had a good eye.

Emma stood at her mother’s elbow and said, “Mamma, I took a picture of the forgotten soldier. See?” She held her camera up, but Beth-Marie still glared at her husband.

Our police presence, Officer Nolt who evidently had done her job, whatever it was, stepped up with a chart. “Tomorrow, will you please mark two more parking spaces as handicapped? Those you have were filled.”

“We have the required number already,” Guy said. “But I’ll see what we can do. We aim to please.”

Emma turned to me. “See my picture of a forgotten soldier, Granny Jo?”

I gave up reminding her that I wasn’t really her granny, merely a free-lance writer hopefully researching some future best seller of the view from inside a reenactment. I wondered what combination of weeds and stones she’d assembled for her soldier. But before I could look, Daniel came over and stared at the camera Emma held. He jumped back and whispered, “Is this real?”

“He’s a forgotten soldier,” Emma said. “It’s just pretend.”

I looked at the picture, then held my hand out for the camera to take a closer look. I stared for a moment before it made any sense. Stay calm. There are kids present.

Finally, I opened my mouth. “Uh, huh. Forgotten soldier, all right.” I passed the camera to Officer Nolt.

As she looked at a picture of a man lying on his back with a ceremonial sword through his gizzard, I realized Daniel was hitting Guy’s arm with both fists.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Norma Huss calls herself The Grandma Moses of Mystery since her first book was published by a small press the month before she turned 80. Grandma Moses was famous as a primitive artist at 80 and continued to paint until she was 101. Since Norma’s mother lived to 103, she has the genes to do the same with her writing. The years she and her husband spent sailing Chesapeake Bay inspired the location of her mysteries. And the grandma part? She has that covered too.

Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
When my husband and I sailed on Chesapeake Bay, I loved to browse the souvenir shops and select books on local history. Most of them included that area’s involvement with the War of 1812. I knew this was a subject that had to involve my amateur detective. What better way than through a reenactment?
Q. What did you learn while writing this book?
A.
The American War of 1812 is mostly forgotten by history. While researching enough to keep from making mistakes in my current-day mystery, I learned about political and commercial changes caused by that war. I wanted to share all of it, so I did—but in my blog, not in my book.
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
Forgotten Body is the second in the Jo Durbin Mysteries. The first, Yesterday’s Body, was originally published by a small publisher, then independently published. It also takes place on Chesapeake Bay where Jo acts the homeless bag lady, hoping the resulting story will reboot her writing career.

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