THE RELUCTANT PRINCE
the Duchess, lighting another cigar.
The castle gates were
closed, the Berlin Times and the
Bad Baden Dagblatt newspaper
boxes full; there was no sign
of her nephew.
It was nine o'clock
in the morning, too early for the
Americans with their
black Japanese cameras and their plaid
Bermuda shorts to be
poking about the palace, the dungeons,
and the keep. The castle
would not be open for another two
"It's exactly like
that boy to be still asleep," she
muttered to herself.
"Herve, ring the
bell and announce us," she said to the
chauffeur. Herve heaved
a long-suffering sigh, got out of
the Mercedes and trudged
the ten meters up the cobblestones
to the intercom mounted
on the stone gatepost. The Duchess
thought for the hundredth
time about giving him the sack.
Then she thought for
the thousandth about the secrets he
Better just to have
him killed, she thought.
Through the cigar smoke,
the windshield, the gate and the
mist her sharp old eyes
could see the windows of the
Prince's living quarters
on the third floor of the palace
within the castle walls.
There was a flurry of
activity at one of the bedroom
curtains and the old
lady had the distinct impression of a
sleepy young blonde
face mouthing a silent "Oh" at the
sight of the car in
the drive, then quickly disappearing
back behind the draperies.
Well, that's encouraging
at least, she thought. He's got
some burger's little
lamb up there with him. All is not
But the driveway gates
did not open. Instead, the small
front door that led
to the Prince's living quarters
disgorged a lanky, tousled,
bare-footed apparition in jeans
and T-shirt who ambled
across the lawn toward the limo.
He was unmistakably
He slouched through
the small gate cut into the wall, past
the perplexed Herve,
who was still waiting by the intercom,
around the front of
the car to the rear window where the
old lady sat, and then
he stood waiting. She rolled down
said with a laconic grin.
"I've come to see
Prince Rupert," she said. "And by the
way, what are YOU doing
The shit-eating grin
remained in place. "Rupert ain't
around. And do you mean
here, like on the planet, or here,
Ignoring his impertinence,
she took a massive pull off her
flask. "Where is
my nephew?" she asked.
The revelation of her
relationship to the Prince produced a
dramatic change in the
young man's demeanor. He became
frisking around like a puppy.
"Wow, I'm sorry,
you must be Aint B," the apparition said.
me all about you. Well, maybe not
everthang, I guess,"
he winked. "Anyhow, Rupert went to
to pick up a guitar at Dirk Witte.
He'll be back today
around noon. Y'all wanna come in? I
can probably figure
out how to make the gate work. My
name's Robert. Robert
Johnson Pickens. I'm a friend of
Rupert's. I'm from Alabama,"
the old lady thought.
However, despite young
Mr. Pickens's obvious lack of
breeding, as evidenced
by his shoeless excursion into the
morning, she felt drawn
Obviously if her favorite
- well, only, really - nephew
entrusted his home to
this seeming lout, there must be
redeeming factors at
"Well, I've come
a long way to see my nephew. And if it's
not an imposition..."
she said, glancing once more at the
bedroom window curtains.
"Oh, you mean Birgitte?"
said Robert. "No, ma'am, she's
already gone to work
at the souvenir shop. Left by the
back door as soon as
she saw the car."
"Then we will
come in, and may I say that you have a
about you, young man," said the Duchess.
is my middle name."
"I thought your
middle name was Johnson."
too," he laughed. "I'll go open the gate."