Last Bottle of Burgundy

Chapter 1


Columbus, Ohio, June 1938

Ted stood at attention in the doorway of his father’s study, listening to the squeak of the leather chair, the ting of ice in the crystal highball glass, and the pounding of his own heart.

“At ease, son,” Ted’s father grumbled, with a quick glance away from his newspaper. “What is it? You look like you’re about to face a firing squad.”

Ted filled his lungs with the familiar scent of leather, whisky, and cigarette smoke. “Well, sir…” He stood on one foot, then the other, “well sir….” His long arms and legs felt even more awkward than usual. “Ahh…”

On the wall behind Ted’s father, Retired Navy Commander Theodore Grantham, III, shadowbox frames guarded Purple Hearts, Silver Stars, Bronze Stars, an Air Medal, and a Medal of Honor, all earned by Grantham family warriors. The exhibit included a Military Badge of Merit from the Revolutionary War. Below the distinguished medals hung a musket used in the Civil War by Ted’s fifth-great grandfather. A wooden stand on the sofa table cradled a sword and scabbard once carried by his eighth-great grandfather in the Revolutionary War.

“Spit it out son.”

“My girlfriend is pregnant.”

Theodore Grantham put The Columbus Dispatch on the ottoman and swallowed the last of his Glenlivet single malt scotch. “You have a girlfriend?”

“Yes, sir, Audrey, sir.”

“That pretty girl you play music with? The French scientist’s daughter is your girlfriend?” Theodore’s voice reflected his astonishment as he placed the crystal highball glass on the side table. He took a final drag from his Lucky Strike and exhaled out of the side of his mouth. Smoke curled around the six-foot, shovel-shaped antlers of a moose head that seemed to charge through the adjacent hunter-green wall, ready to defend its territory. Flanking the formidable moose, a sweet-faced, pointy-horned gazelle, and a meek-looking, ten-point white-tail buck gazed through the smoke with glassy eyes. A thousand-pound Blue Marlin hung with its intimidating three-foot sword-like snout pointing toward Ted’s heart. Ted’s father killed them all, long before Ted was born.

The vainglorious display of hunting trophies and war memorabilia reminded Ted that he would never live up to his father’s expectations. His brothers had made their father proud by excelling in sports in high school, then enlisting in the military, but Ted, the youngest by more than ten years, preferred playing the violin.

“How old is the girl?”

“She’ll be sixteen in December, sir.”

With his head still bent, snuffing his cigarette, Theodore said, “You mean she’ll be sixteen when the baby’s born.”

“Yes, sir.”

Theodore finally looked Ted in the eye. “When do you leave for boot camp?”

“Next week, sir, after graduation. My orders came yesterday.”

“Well, there’s enough time for a civil ceremony. Have you asked the girl to marry you?”

“No, sir. She told me yesterday when I walked her home. She wasn’t at school today.”

“Have you told your mother?”

“No, sir.”

“You realize you have to do the right thing here.”

“Yes, sir,” said Ted, trying to keep his voice steady.

“Let’s go on over there and make this right. Tell your mother we’re going for a walk before dinner. No point in upsetting her until we work this out.”

“Yes, sir.”

Ted walked to the kitchen on quivering legs, “Dad and I are going for a walk before dinner,” he said in the strongest voice he could muster. He was relieved when his mother remained facing the stove with her back toward him, she would have seen that he was panic-stricken. “Have a nice walk. Dinner will be ready at six.”