Booth’s Revenge Chapter Seventy-Nine

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Johnson grants a reprieve for Mrs. Surratt, but it arrives too late. Lamon and Baker join forces to bring down Stanton. The Senate fails to remove Johnson from office. A depressed Baker goes bar hopping.
Bruton took Baker by the armpit and led him out of the saloon and over two blocks. Baker hardly noticed all the night prowlers, some staggering like himself, others leaning against lampposts and having a smoke and a good laugh with friends. Baker felt Bruton’s hands against his back forcing him into a public privy. Right after he relieved himself, Baker went to his kneels to vomit violently into the toilet.
“Are you all right, my dear friend?” Bruton called from the outside.
“No,” he replied before another round of regurgitation. Baker became aware that the door opened and Bruton lifted him to his feet.
“You are ill,” he commented with concern as he pointed the older man toward the door of Louis Lesieur’s establishment. “The best cure for the queasy stomach is a glass of Louis’s best cognac.
Before Baker could disagree, his companion deposited him in a chair and left for the bar. He felt the room swirling, and his eyes would not quite focus which made the disorientation worse. His head was about to droop onto the table when Bruton appeared and placed a healthy portion of cognac in a cut-glass goblet in front of him.
“To your health, Mr. Baker; or do you prefer General Baker?”
The gurgling in his stomach returned, and the saloon felt unbearably hot. “Huh?”
“Never mind.” Bruton sat and took a sip of his cognac. “I’m still curious about the outrageous revelations you plan to announce in your hearing before Congress. What could be more shocking than the brutal mortality statistics of the war itself?”
“This is shit,” he barely articulated after a swallow of the cognac. It had the same appalling under taste as the English ale from their first stop. He pushed it away
“Louis will be insulted.” His young friend pushed it back. “Don’t embarrass me in the pub of my dear friend Louis. I will never live it down.”
Baker scowled as he obediently lifted the glass and drank it as though it were a homemade elixir for the three-day bellyache. He did not care how fine a lawyer this fellow claimed to be and how wonderful a legal defense he might provide. Baker was convinced he did not want to remain his friend, and he desperately wanted to be in the arms of his Jenny in their own home. If drinking all of this bitter libation would hasten the end of this evening, then so be it. He upended it and gulped the rest.
“Now tell me your scandalous news,” Bruton insisted.
“John Wilkes Booth is not dead.” His numbed lips formed each syllable with difficulty.
“I find that hard to believe.” The young man’s tone went flat, without expression.
“I saved his life. Gave him money to disappear out West. The killing had to stop.” A spasm shook his thick torso as another wave of nausea swept over Baker.
“Yes, I think it is time to go home.” Bruton lifted Baker from his chair and guided him out the door. He hailed a hack, gave the driver an address and settled the older man as comfortably as he could in the carriage seat.
Baker looked up from his slumped position and pleaded, “Take me to a doctor.”
Bruton leaned in and whispered, “I can’t do that, Mr. Baker.”
“Why?”
“Because you have to die.”
“What?” Baker was confused. Bruton no longer sounded like a Bostonian but a Southerner, not the Deep South but somewhere closer. And the voice was familiar, but he could not quite place it.
“You see, I am not attorney-at-law Roman Bruton.” He padded Baker until he found the manuscript in the inside pocket. He put it in his own pocket and returned his attention to Baker. “That’s a name and a backstory I just made up. I told you once you were no gentleman.”
Baker’s brain, almost anesthetized, came to an awful realization. “You’re Booth.”
“How brilliant of you,” Booth replied in glorious derision expressed like a dream through his Maryland inflection.
Frantically Baker tried to sit aright and lean toward. “Driver! Take me home!”
“But he is taking you home.” Booth firmly pulled him back. “I gave him your address. Because you spared my life I will allow you to die in the arms of your wife.” Booth laughed in self-indulgence. “My dear Mr. Baker, I know everything about you and Mr. Stanton and the entire stinking plan.”
“But—but I saved your life! Please let me live!”
“Oh, you have ingested enough arsenic tonight that there is no way you can survive beyond morning’s light.”
“But I’ve changed! You know I have changed! I’m a good man now!”
Booth put his arm around Baker’s shoulders to grip him. “Yes, I know. But you want to reveal to the world that I am still alive, and I cannot allow that.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Seventy-Eight

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Johnson grants a reprieve for Mrs. Surratt, but it arrives too late. Lamon and Baker join forces to bring down Stanton. The Senate fails to remove Johnson from office. A depressed Baker goes bar hopping.
“We’re going to Steve Walker’s on Fifth Street, a little north of here.” After a pause, Bruton continued, “I enjoy hunting also. Spent most of my youth on horseback scouring the wooded countryside for small game to shoot. My mother lectured me severely for leaving the dead carcasses on the ground instead of bringing them home for the cook to produce an evening meal. Never cared much for wild game. But I loved the hunt. Ah, Steve Walker’s. I told you it wouldn’t take long.”
Baker looked around trying to remember if he had ever been in this tavern before. A well-dressed bartender attended the intricately carved sideboard. Fresh-faced tipplers affected a stance to display their attire to the best advantage. Baker decided such a place would have never interested him. The old warrior had no patience for men who avoided soiling their hands from hard work.
After depositing his guest at a table, Bruton went to the bar to place his order. When he returned, he had two small trays holding four shot glasses filled with whiskey and placed one in front of Baker while reserving the second for himself.
“I’m so proud. I didn’t spill a drop. If I had not become a lawyer, I would have made a good waiter. Extending his hand, he tapped the rim of each glass. “Four of the finest whiskies in Philadelphia. I am anxious for you to taste them and tell me which one you like best.”
Baker grabbed Bruton’s right hand, tugged off the soft leather glove and turned it over to examine the palm. Even in the dim light he could discern the remnants of callouses. The young man pulled his hand back, blinked several times before forcing out a light-hearted snigger.
“Excuse my blunt behavior,” Baker explained in a slur, returning the glove to the owner. “It’s just you can learn a lot about a man’s character by the condition of his hands. Though rather pampered now, I can detect a trace of callouses from years past.”
With a natural flair, Bruton fitted the glove back on his hand. “Years of gripping the reins as I galloped through the countryside, my friend.” He sat with aplomb and picked up one of the shots. “Try this one first. The dark amber. It has a nutty aftertaste I think you will like it.”
Baker lifted his glass and paused, hesitant because of his experience with English ale. Finally he sipped, then gulped. “Not bad.”
“I’m so pleased.” Bruton leaned back in his chair, his head now completely cloaked in darkness. “So you are considering another appearance before Congress.” Bruton paused as Baker downed his second round of whiskey. “Did you like that blend? I have to admit it’s not one of my favorites but is not without its merits.”
Shrugging, Baker said, “Whiskey is whiskey.” He squinted a couple of times, trying to focus. “They do have a kick, for sure.”
“What you need is a good lawyer to protect your interests in front of Congress. As I said, I’m a lawyer. I would be very proud to represent you. No charge. For patriotism, shall I say?”
“So did you serve in the Army?” Baker glanced at the third whiskey. Only one or two more drinks, and his brain would land in a blissful world of benign acceptance of mere existence.
“To my disgrace, I did not,” Bruton replied with controlled contrition. “My father insisted upon hiring a substitute. Dirty business it was.”
“Dirty business,” he grunted. “You don’t know dirty business like I know it.” He drank his third, and added, “The master of dirty business is former Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. God, I hate that man.”
“You are not the only person who feels that way, I’m sure.”
“Is there a piss pot around here someplace? I gotta go real bad.”
“The cleanest facilities in the drinking district are at the finest establishment, Louis Lesieur’s. On Seventh Street, only two blocks away. And after you relieve yourself, you must have Louis’s cognac, the best liquor in the city. But first you must try your fourth whiskey. I promise it will be the best.”
Baker leaned forward, his mouth agape. He tried to focus on Bruton’s four glasses. “But—but you haven’t finished your first drink.”
“Your mind is playing tricks on you. I’ve finished all of them. Now be a good fellow, drink, drink, drink.”
He gagged as he guzzled the last shot. A definite distress rippled through his gut. “I don’t feel so good. I need to get home.”
“I will be insulted if you do not join me at Louis’s. After all, I am offering my vast legal experience to you at no charge.”

Nora

Hello, Jerry. My name is Nora.
The voice came through distinctly even as the anesthesia coursed through my veins. I was enduring another colonoscopy.
“Do I know you?”
I don’t think so. I died before you were born.
“Oh yes, you’re Aunt Crazy’s daughter.”
Please don’t call her that. She’s much more pleasant now that she doesn’t have to lug her body around.
“You’re not here to escort me to the other side, are you?”
There is no other side. We’re all here, except some of us have bodies. The rest of us are spirits, free to go or do anything we like. It’s divine.
“So nobody’s unpleasant on the other—I mean, what do you call it?
Life. You must pay closer attention. There’s life with bodies and life without bodies.
“So no body’s unpleasant without a body?
No one. Being mean and nasty can take up so much room in a body there’s no space left for anything else.
“So when mean and nasty people die—“
Poof, all gone.
“So are you here to help me dump this body?”
No. I’m just here to chat. I love to chat.
“Why haven’t you chatted with me before?”
How do you know I haven’t?
“Oh.”
A lot of us are around you all the time but you don’t know it.
“Then why aren’t they saying anything?”
They don’t want to be rude. It’s my turn to talk.
“Why do they like to be around me?”
You’re funny. I thought you knew that.
“Some people think I am. Others say I’m just silly.”
Oh, they’re just the mean and nasty ones. They don’t count.
“So how can you be a female if you don’t have a body?”
Who says I’m female?
“Well, your name is Nora.”
Nora is a nice name. Why does it have to be male or female?
“Come to think of it, it doesn’t.”
That’s what I said.
“Who named you Nora?”
I did.
“When did you do that?”
Long ago. Time doesn’t mean anything without a body.
“So have I always been Jerry?”
Do you want to be?
“I don’t know.”
Take your time.
“I thought time didn’t mean anything.”
It doesn’t. That’s why you can take all the time you want.
“So how did Aunt Crazy—I mean your mother–know to name you Nora?”
I suggested it to her while she was dreaming.
“Does she know that you influenced her to name you Nora?”
Why would she want to know that?
“I guess out of curiosity.”
No.
“Why?”
Why indeed. Sometimes I’m the mother. Sometimes she’s the father. What difference does it make?
“Didn’t you like having a body?
After a while it doesn’t matter. I think bodies are a nuisance. But I know people who loved having bodies. To each his own.
“I don’t understand.”
I know. Don’t worry about it. Just be funny. You’re good at that.
Before I could ask another question, a nurse whispered, “It’s time to wake up. The procedure went fine. Clean as a whistle. You can go home soon.”
“Is your name Nora?” I asked her.
“No,” she replied.
“Do you like the name Nora?”
“I’m sorry. I don’t have time to talk.”
“Of course you don’t. You’re not Nora.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Seventy-Seven

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Johnson grants a reprieve for Mrs. Surratt, but it arrives too late. Lamon and Baker join forces to bring down Stanton. The Senate fails to remove Johnson from office. A depressed Baker goes bar hopping.
Someone tapped Lafayette Baker’s shoulder, causing him to look left. There stood slender young dandy, dressed in a tailored suit, adorned with a silk cravat stuck with a diamond pin. He posed elegantly, leaning upon a pearl-handled cane. “It isn’t fair, is it, Mr. Baker? There you risked your life in the service of your country, and soft clotheshorses like me discount your stories as nothing more than sweet apples hawked at a street market. I say we round them all up and kick them in the ass.”
Baker detected a Boston accent. He tried scrutinizing the man’s face but the flickering light of the tavern made that difficult. Most of the time Baker did not waste his time on dandies, but this one appealed to his ego, which was bruised to the extreme at this moment. Eventually he chuckled.
“Let me buy you a drink, friend.”
“No, it will be my honor to buy you all the drinks you wish, but not the swill in this establishment.” The young man pulled coins from the breast pocket of his brocaded waistcoat and tossed them on the bar. He put a gloved hand on Baker’s shoulder to guide him from his stool to the door and on to the street. “You look like a sportsman, sir. Our first stop should be Dick Perriston’s on Chestnut just south of Fifth Street. Dick is known for his fine old English ale.”
Baker found himself being whisked along Ridge Avenue to a better neighborhood of saloons. The young man used his pearl-handled cane deftly to push aside those who did not move fast enough.
“You have me at a disadvantage, sir. You seem to know everything about me, and I don’t even know your name.”
“Roman Bruton,” the young man said with a laugh. “Isn’t it a perfectly horrendous name? My parents honeymooned in Italy many years ago and became fascinated by everything about Rome, hence my rather pompous given name.” He nudged Baker. “My middle name is even worse. Cassius, if you can believe it. You should see the family home in Boston. My parents fashioned the parlor after an atrium. Both Papa and Mama came from wealthy shipping families so they are shamefully ostentatious in their consumption of the finer things in life. I enjoy my comforts but there are limits, don’t you think?” Before Baker could answer, Bruton lifted his cane to tap the swinging sign over the saloon door. “Here we are, Dickie Perriston’s.” He laughed loudly. “He hates it when I call him Dickie.”
Inside Bruton forced their way to an empty table in a corner and pulled a chair out for Baker. “I much prefer sitting at a table than at the bar, don’t you?” Again he continued, not waiting for a reply. “I’ll be back with a couple of ales.” Immediately he disappeared in the crowd.
Baker couldn’t explain how he lost control of his expedition. He would have been perfectly content to drink the night away in the seamier district, but this dandy took over with such positive energy, Baker didn’t mind. He even felt flattered, an emotion he rarely experienced. Bruton bustled back and plopped two mugs of the famous ale on the table, pushing one over to him.
“So, tell me, Mr. Baker, what is your sport of choice?” Bruton asked as he lifted his mug and imbibed.
“I enjoy hunting. In fact, my brother-in-law had invited me for a short trip into the woods just beyond the city’s west side. I frankly wasn’t up to it.”
“I am not surprised.” He leaned in, revealing a glimpse of his chin in the lamp light. “Here you are, an American hero, protecting the men who made the decisions that won the war, and no one appreciates you. I read your book. Fascinating.”
Baker found Bruton rather long-winded, but he decided the young man’s flamboyance gave him time to appreciate his ale. The palate was a bit disconcerting, but he had never indulged in an English ale before and perhaps it was an acquired taste.
“I look forward to your next account of your experiences.” He paused to wipe the foam away from his moustache. “Are you writing something else?”
“Yes, it’s about President Lincoln’s assassination. It’ll appear in a British periodical Colson’s United Service Magazine. It has a limited circulation. I doubt if you will find a copy.” Baker finished his mug and pushed it away.
“Then you must tell me what’s in it. But first let me refresh your drink.” Again, Bruton popped to the bar.
Putting both hands to his forehead, Baker checked himself for perspiration. Summer in Philadelphia could be muggy, but he swore he felt more like a fever was creeping across his brow. It was a sensation he had never undergone on any of his rampages through saloon row anywhere in the country. Interrupting Baker’s self-diagnosis, Bruton appeared and placed a fresh mug in front of him.
“Now, tell me, what nuggets of government scandal do you have to share?”
Baker sipped the ale and decided the undertones were not growing on him. “For one thing, John Wilkes Booth did not act alone; that is, there was more to the conspiracy than his small band of henchmen.”
“You don’t say.”
“If I can find the courage to return to Congress with a request for a new hearing, all of America will know the breadth of the evil that manipulated the fate of the war.”
“I figured as much myself.”
He frowned and pushed away the mug. “I’m sorry. I can seem to get accustomed to this ale. I know it’s impolite to decline a gentleman’s generosity but—“
“No need to say more,” Bruton interrupted with a smile. “If you take but one more sip, I will introduce you to a much finer establishment than this. It’s known for its wide selection of incomparable whiskies.”
After a brief deliberation, Baker shrugged, upended the mug and drained it. After all, he did not want to seem unappreciative of Bruton’s hospitality. With a heavy haze settling on his brain, Baker yielded completely as his young companion led him down another street.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Seventy-Six

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Johnson grants a reprieve for Mrs. Surratt, but it arrives too late. Lamon and Baker join forces to bring down Stanton. The Senate fails to remove Johnson from office. Boston Corbett decides he must kill Booth.
By summer of 1868 Lafayette Baker was back home in Philadelphia with his wife Jenny, a gentle woman who never inquired into her husband’s activities and his long absences. She merely appreciated the times he was with her. While he had told his associates that removing Edwin Stanton from the post of Secretary of War was enough justice, Baker now sat in his house without a job and with time to contemplate the situation.
He decided that Stanton had not suffered enough. Baker’s mind focused on a new crusade to punish the old asthmatic monster. But how? Every newspaper, magazine and publishing house in America would demand facts to substantiate each accusation. Questionable testimony from unreliable witnesses was precarious at best. Baker then remembered Colburn’s United Service Magazine published by a London printing house. The magazine published collections of memoirs of retired military personnel from around the world. Respectable journalists knew Colburn’s editors did not quibble over the accuracy of accounts as long as the grammar was reasonably sound. Baker determined this periodical would be the perfect platform for his new account on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
In his report, Baker claimed he first learned of the presidential murder plot on April 10, 1865. “I did not know the identity of the assassin, but I knew most all else when I approached Edwin Stanton about it,” he wrote. “Stanton told me I was a party to it too but ordered me not to do anything to stop it but to see what came of it and then we would know better how to handle it. He showed me a forged document that purported Andrew Johnson had authorized me to kidnap the President.” Most of this was fabrication—a code, he told himself–which the cleverest of the world’s detectives could decipher in years to come. He also claimed the plot included members of Congress, Army and Naval officers, a governor, bankers, newspapermen and industrialists, all of whom paid a total of $85,000 to have Lincoln killed. Baker added that only eight people knew all the details of the conspiracy, and that he feared for his life.
After the completion of the document, he carefully read it, and for a brief moment considered the possibility he was going mad. Even his wife Jenny worried about his mental stability. He walked through the house each night, stopping to peer out of every window to see if anyone lurked in the shadows. He even cancelled hunting trips with his brother-in-law Wally Pollock and other close friends, outings that always had lifted his spirits long ago, before he was stricken with a conscience. Who knows what could happen, he explained to Jenny. Wally could accidentally shoot him, or a stranger could be stalking him in the woods. Jenny wrapped her arms around him. He’d worked himself into a delusion that he was about to be murdered. Patting his tousled red hair, she whispered that she knew he had committed horrible crimes during the war but a desire to save his country had motivated him, not greed or evil intent.
“I know what will make you happy,” she announced with a sympathetic smile. “I’ll contact my sister Mary and her husband Wally to go out to dinner. You’ve always enjoyed a good meal in a pleasant restaurant. Then Mary and I will go home and you and Wally will make a round of bars to drink each other under the table.”
Baker shook his head. “No, no. That will just draw attention to me. He’ll spot me and kill me. I know he will.”
“Exactly who do you think would want to kill you?” Jenny asked, cocking her head.
“No one, really.” He tried to laugh away his outburst. “Actually, I have finished a new article for Colburn’s United Service Magazine. I’ll take it by the Post Office this afternoon, and then celebrate by myself. You won’t mind, will you, Jenny? You understand, my sweet?”
By the time Baker reached the Post Office it had closed for the day. He shrugged, folded the envelope and put it in his inside coat pocket. He would mail it the next day.
Philadelphia’s taverns huddled around the old financial district. Baker frequented all of the saloons. Each one drew a distinct clientele, all the way from wealthy businessmen and elite lawyers to actors, boxers and farmers. On this particular night, he drifted first to Paddy Carroll’s on Ridge Avenue just above Wood Street. Dog fighters gathered there. Baker had indulged in betting on the dogs while busting unions in San Francisco before the war. He liked the dog fighters. He understood how they justified in their own minds their way of making money while dogs bled to death.
Paddy himself tended bar. “Ah, Mr. Baker, ‘tis been awhile since ye have crossed me threshold. What will be ye pleasure?”
“The best whiskey you have.” He collapsed on a stool and folded his hands in front of his mouth. “I’m celebrating. I’ve written an article to a British magazine about Mr. Lincoln’s assassination.” He patted his coat pocket. “It’s in my pocket. I’m mailing it first thing in the morning. When it’s published, the whole world will know the truth.”
“De truth, Mr. Baker?” Paddy said with a laugh as he filled a shot glass. “I t’ought ye told de truth with your book last year?”
In one swift gulp, he downed the whiskey and pushed the glass back. “Another. There’s more damn truth about that business than can ever be told in a single lifetime.”
“And each time ye tell de truth, you become a richer man,” Paddy joked, putting the second round in front of Baker.
“I’m not telling the truth for money,” he growled as he sipped on his refilled shot glass . “There’s not enough money in the world to pay for the truth I know.”
“Of course, Mr. Baker, of course. As long as ye share some of dat money with me, ye can tell any kind of truth ye want.”

My Wedding Anniversary

For my forty-ninth wedding anniversary this year I watched The Nutcracker ballet on cable television.
My wife died a few years ago and ever since my son has joined me in some sort of celebration, but he’s a corrections officer at a local prison, and he had to work that night. The Nutcracker was from Prague, so I thought what the heck.
The ballet wasn’t one of my wife’s favorite but she did like the music. The toymaker with the patch over one eye creeped her out. She hated the little brother who breaks the nutcracker. And she didn’t like the mouse king and his minions who wreaked havoc until the mended nutcracker defeated them.
But the Prague production was different. Instead of a sinister-looking toy maker, Father Christmas handed out the presents. Clara, the little girl, got a giant plush mouse. Her brother—I still don’t know his name—got a giant pair of nutcrackers. Not a wooden soldier with a funny-looking mouth, but a nutcracker like you might have in your kitchen drawer to crack nuts. He was still mean and tried to hit Clara’s cute mouse with his nutcracker. The party finally ended, and the parents put Clara and her brother to bed. Instead of the mouse king showing up, the devil shows up to steal Clara’s mouse. The brother bonked the devil on the head. The devil ran off to catch a train to who knows where. Clara and her brother became best friends and spent the rest of the ballet having fun with giant snowflakes, Christmas ornaments and all sorts of other fun-loving creatures.
I kept thinking about how much my wife would have liked this version. Then I remembered I’m a storyteller and I can have anything I want happen in my story. So this is my story:
My wife and I sat on the sofa channel surfing trying to find something to watch on our anniversary night. We had take-out delivered from the neighborhood Greek restaurant and all we lacked was something to watch. I clicked on this one cable network and The Nutcracker was coming on. (This is my story so I get to control the clickit, which is what my wife called the remote control.) At first she didn’t want to watch it but finally decided it was better than an old John Wayne movie. I watched her reaction as the story unfolded, and she lit up like a Christmas tree when Clara hugged her brother. A couple who were supposed to be their parents danced romantic pas de deux
It was the best wedding anniversary we’d had in a long time. Then I remembered it was just a story I made up. But it was the best story I’ve made up about our wedding anniversary since I had to make up stories about our anniversary. I think she would have liked it too.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Seventy-Five

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Johnson grants a reprieve for Mrs. Surratt, but it arrives too late. Lamon and Baker join forces to bring down Stanton. The Senate fails to remove Johnson from office. Gabby regains his sanity.
His mission for God was finished, Boston Corbett thought as he made his way to the Washington, D.C, train station. Praise the Lord. Because nosey newspaper reporters spotted him at the impeachment trial, Corbett delayed his departure several days. He never considered he could have turned down all their interview requests. They harassed him with questions about the trial. He tried to explain he was a mere servant of God and the reporters should interview Secret Service founder Lafayette Baker and former District Marshal and good friend of President Lincoln, Ward Hill Lamon. The newsmen had none of his demure declarations. He was the man who killed the assassin. He attended the trial to remove Lincoln’s successor. They wanted to know why.Only Baker stayed by his side as he underwent interview after interview.
“No,” he told newspaper reporters, “I didn’t know Andrew Johnson personally.”
Did you know anyone connected with the political investigation, they asked.
“No,” he repeated, “except for Mr. Baker.”
“How did you come to know Mr. Baker? When did he become such a good friend to stay by your side as you talk to us?” a reporter asked.
“It is God’s will,” Corbett replied without hesitation. “God intervened to ensure we sat next to each other. We have very much in common.” He looked over at Baker who smiled.
“And what do you two have in common?” another reporter asked.
“We both love our country and our God,” he continued. At this point Corbett began to tell the journalists his journey through life, his tragedies and his triumphs. When he described how he castrated himself with a pair of scissors, the reporters lost interest and moved away.
Even the magazine writers lost interest when Corbett mentioned the castration, and he couldn’t fathom why they didn’t find that experience fascinating. Realizing no one else wished to interview him, Corbett thought about what to do next. His evangelical mission was going nowhere, so he decided to return to his adopted hometown, Boston. Once back in town, Corbett went from hatter’s shop to hatter’s shop looking for employment.
He didn’t have to look for long because all the hat makers smiled in recognition when he told them his name. They viewed him as a national hero. His long experience in their chosen trade impressed them. Samuel Mason, the man who eventually hired him, took great pleasure in introducing him to all his customers as the man who shot President Lincoln’s assassin.
Corbett smiled and accepted their congratulations, but, deep in his soul, he knew he didn’t deserve the credit. The man they thought he killed still lived and that fact made him uncomfortable. A nagging doubt lingered in the back of his mind. He felt he clung to his sanity as though grasping a tree root extending through the side of a high cliff. Corbett didn’t want to abandon all reason and tumble down into eternal madness; but, he asked himself, what was he to do?
One day he must forsake all other missions the Lord may lay out in front of him, Corbett decided. He knew he must search for John Wilkes Booth, the man he should have killed in that burning tobacco barn in Virginia. While Corbett believed Lafayette Baker was sincere in his efforts to end the killing and spare Booth, he also knew that the man was wrong. God wanted Booth to die. God wanted the truth told, because the truth will set Boston Corbett free.
***
Ward Hill Lamon sat in his favorite chair in the parlor of his Danville, Illinois, home and felt older than he had ever felt before. He hadn’t even taken his large carpetbag up to his room after arriving from the train station. All of his life he chased one thing after another. This last quest had left him drained, devoid of any emotions, which stoked his engine to keep him moving. For the past decade he had devoted his life to Abraham Lincoln, first to serve and protect him and then to avenge his murder. And in the end he had to face the consequence of not fulfilling any of his duties. Why did he allowed Stanton to convince him the President had been secreted away for his own protection? Why had he conceded that the justice system couldn’t punish Stanton? At this very moment, Stanton could be laughing at him. He could be lifting a glass of sherry, toasting himself for getting away with the most horrible crimes in American history.
Merry whispering roused him from his dark thoughts. He looked up to see his daughter Dorothy carrying a tray of cookies and his wife Sally with tray of cups and a pitcher of lemonade. At that moment, he forgot his failures and appreciated the love that surrounded him.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Seventy-Four

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Johnson grants a reprieve for Mrs. Surratt, but it arrives too late. Lamon and Baker join forces to bring down Stanton. The Senate fails to remove Johnson from office. Booth tells Stanton he will kill him someday.
Gabby and Whitman rode the train out of Washington City and across the rolling Maryland countryside back to Brooklyn, feeling the warm breeze rushing through the open window. Gabby watched the scenery slide by them. Every once in a while Gabby glanced over to see Whitman jotting words on a worn notepad.
“Are you writing a new poem?”
Whitman looked up and smiled. “Perhaps. But I don’t think anyone would believe it. Maybe. Someday.”
“People don’t understand the poems you’ve already written. I don’t know what you’re talking about most of the time. But I’m a little daft, so that doesn’t mean anything.”
“Thank you, Mr. Gabby.” Whitman chuckled. “I published one of my books of poetry right after the end of the war. My boss at the time, Mr. James Harlan with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, took offense when he read it so he fired me. He said I was setting a bad example for the other clerks, all able young men, morally, physically and politically.” He put his hand to his whiskered cheek. “I was totally devastated. I was unemployed until the next morning when I went to work in the Attorney General’s office. Remember this, Mr. Gabby, for every person who hates you, there are at least two or three who love you. It makes life more bearable.” He looked into his companion’s eyes. “Are you going to be all right staying with my mother and family? I have to go back to work in the Attorney General’s office next Monday.”
“Oh, I like Mrs. Walt very much. And if the screaming gets too bad I can go for a walk, maybe buy some peanuts. The store will let me come back and sweep floors, won’t they?”
“I’m sure they will.”
Gabby looked back out the window and smiled. Tranquility settled over his brain, which he had not experienced in years. Thank God, he told himself, he no longer had to fear the short, red-haired mean man or Edwin Stanton. They had no reason to kill him anymore. He could live his life without shame or in anticipation of certain doom. He tried to remember when life was so unencumbered and filled with hope. Finally, it came to him, that day on Long Island beach when he and his best friend Joe VanderPyl played in the surf just before they left for West Point. Oddly, Mr. Walt was there too, only Gabby didn’t know who he was then.
“The ocean waves taught me always to look beyond the things on hand as the ocean always points beyond the waves of the moment,” he mumbled, repeating what the friendly stranger had said to the two boys that day.
“You’re still quoting me, I see,” Whitman said as he put his pad and pencil away and turned in his seat to give Gabby his full attention. “You mentioned that day on the beach to me before, and I don’t think I gave you a satisfactory answer.” He paused, as to compose his thoughts. “Mr. Gabby, you are the perfect example of what that poem means. You’ve lived your life just surviving the waves crashing against you, leaving you beleaguered, baffled and overwhelmed. All you had to do is look up at the horizon. We never know what’s coming over the horizon. It may be good or it may be bad, but it is coming nonetheless. Take joy in the anticipation.”
Gabby cocked his head, remembering what happened next on the beach that day. Mr. Walt had the audacity to run his hand over the dripping wet shirt which clung to Joe’s flat belly. “Why did you touch Joe?”
“What’s wrong with touching something beautiful?” Whitman responded, smiling.
The Whitman family welcomed them back to Brooklyn and made a celebration of their return with holiday-sized meals on both Saturday and Sunday. Gabby was quite pleased to be around his adopted family who all tried to be on their best behavior. Jesse, the brother with syphilis, only threw one plate of food at the dining room wall.
When Monday arrived, Whitman caught the train back to the Capital, and Gabby resumed his duties sweeping floors at the general store down the street. At night, he performed the same duties in the Whitmans’ basement apartment. Each day his mind became clearer, and happiness made a hesitant return to his life. At one point, Gabby noticed that Whitman received several letters during the week, which he read on a Saturday and put away in a box under his bed.
As they settled into their bed for the night one Saturday, Gabby asked, “Mr. Walt, what are all those letters you get? I mean, who are they from?”
“They’re from the soldiers I cared for at the hospital during the war. And from the families of the boys whose hands I patted as they departed from this earth.” Whitman’s voice sounded weary, as though his mind demanded that he fall off to sleep.
“May I read them someday?” he asked.
“Of course you may.” Whitman had almost succumbed to slumber.
On that coming Monday Gabby began digging the letters out and reading them. Gratitude and love filled the pages. They told Whitman how much they appreciated his letters informing them of their boy’s death. In words only a poet would select he described the joyful reunion of soldier and his Maker. Those who did survive to live again announced with pride when they had become fathers and had named their sons Walter Whitman in honor of the man who nursed them back to health. Each letter calmed and elated Gabby in a way nothing else could have.
One evening, after Gabby had eaten supper and swept each room, he said good night and went to his bed. Louisa followed him, stood in the door and asked, “Mr. Gabby, you said your last name was Zook, correct?”
“Yes, Miss Louisa.” His mind had cleared so much, it didn’t make much sense to call her Mrs. Walt anymore.
“Was your father a lawyer?” Friendly expectation filled her voice.
“Why, yes, he was. My father was a very good lawyer. He didn’t make much money but he helped members of our neighborhood when they got in trouble with the law.” His dull eyes lit. “I had forgotten how proud I was of him. I never had to pay for apples or peanuts on the street where we lived. It was the vendors’ way of saying thank you to him, I guess.” Then he smiled. “Thank you, Miss Louisa, for reminding me of that.”
“I have a dear friend who always talks about the nice man who saved her son from hanging for a murder he didn’t commit. She just lives about three blocks from here. Would you like it if I took you to visit her tomorrow? I’m sure the store won’t mind. They tell me all the time what a good worker you are.”
The next morning Gabby awoke early, and after breakfast he and Louisa went first to the store to tell them he would not be working today. Louisa informed them Mr. Gabby was going to visit friends from the neighborhood where he grew up. His bosses thought that was a fine idea and waved at them as they walked up the street. After a substantial time, they arrived at an old brownstone, which had English Ivy creeping up around the windows. They knocked, and an old woman opened the door. At first she didn’t understand why this strange little man stared at her with intensity. But then Louisa introduced him. A grin broke out on her wrinkled face, and she gave Gabby a huge hug and led them into the parlor. She called for her daughter to come into the room. When she realized this was the son of the lawyer who saved the lives of many men in the neighborhood, the daughter ran out the door.
Gabby watched her as she went from house to house, knocking on doors, and waving excitedly back at her home. Within moments, a crowd lined up on the steps. Each one waited their turn to tell Gabby what his father had done to help a family member in trouble with the law. They cried when Gabby told them Cordie died while nursing soldiers in Washington City. Gabby straightened his shoulders and announced he was not as strange as he was before the war broke out, they cried again for the return of his health.
Mr. Walt was right, Gabby thought as he basked in the love from his former neighbors. One never knew what was coming over the horizon.
By the first of August, Gabby felt so self-assured that he asked Whitman to accompany him on a trip up the Hudson River to the Army Academy at West Point. As they sat on the deck of the steamboat Daniel Drew, Gabby took in the view of high bluffs, trees and bushes, which the sun dabbled with all shades of green.
“I read those letters,” he whispered.
“So you now know the true meaning of wealth,” Whitman replied with serenity.
“Yes.”
When the steamboat docked at West Point, Gabby and Walt disembarked and watched the Daniel Drew continue its journey to Albany. Then they took a leisurely walk up the knoll to the academy. After an hour or so, Gabby recognized a dusty path leading north. He touched Whitman’s arm. “Let’s go that way.”
They hadn’t gone far on the lonely road when Gabby recognized the boulders and tall trees. He stopped. “This is it. This is where the accident happened. The officer had ordered me to drive his carriage to somewhere up this road. I tried to tell him I was a city boy and didn’t know how to handle a team of horses, but he insisted I do it anyway. I asked Joe to go with me. There was something about Joe that always calmed me down.” Gabby kneeled to touch the ground. “This is the exact spot where the carriage landed on Joe and killed him. I decided if growing up meant watching your friend die, I didn’t want to grow up. So I went home.” He stood, looked into Whitman’s gentle gray eyes and smiled. “I think I want to grow up now.”

All the Best Cliches Are Taken

Anyone who has been to one of my storytelling sessions knows I like to say, “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Imagine my mortification recently when I discovered I didn’t make that up at all. Mark Twain did.
This is not the only instance when I think I’m clever enough to create a snappy turn of phrase. For example, I also tell people, “Don’t let facts get in the way of the truth.” Not mine. Maya Angelou said it first.
I’m not the only person to make this mistake. Of all people Helen Keller got caught writing a poem that had already been written. It’s not like she was eavesdropping and decided to take the words as her own. Her conclusion was that someone recited the poem to her when she was a child. As an adult when she thought she was composing it, she was just remembering it. Needless to say, she was as humiliated as I am now with my mistake.
When you think about it, all the good axioms were created by Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin or William Shakespeare. Just who did these people think they were, hogging all the best stuff for themselves? It’s hard to get credit for anything these days.
In addition to claiming ownership of bits of wisdom, I have also embarrassed myself by misquoting these smart guys.
For example, I gave Alexander Pope credit for writing, “The mind is its own place and in itself can make a hell of heaven or a heaven of hell.” It seems Pope didn’t say that. John Milton wrote that chestnut for “Paradise Lost.” Even more embarrassing was the fact that Milton had those words coming out of the mouth of the devil himself. So this sentence is not meant as words to live by, but as words of encouragement to the folks already living in hell.
Speaking of Alexander Pope, I also recently discovered that I had been misquoting one of his actual sayings most of my life. I thought the expression was “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” He actually said, “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” It seems most words coming out of my mouth are dangerous things.
I shouldn’t be let out of the house without of a copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations under my arm. I can take solace in the fact that all those guys are dead so if I take credit and/or misquote them it’s not a big deal. What they can’t know won’t hurt them.
Another way to look at my misappropriation of quotations is to acknowledge that it is really good for me. After all, who can be impressed with something an old guy in Central Florida says? Who’s he to think he’s so smart? But if they know I am quoting the best writers who ever lived, then they can think, “Wow, he’s spent a lot of time studying literature. He must know a lot.”
At least that’s my defense right now. Maybe I’ll think of a better excuse later. After all, tomorrow is another day.
Darn it, I did it again.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Seventy-Three

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Johnson grants a reprieve for Mrs. Surratt, but it arrives too late. Lamon and Baker join forces to bring down Stanton. The Senate fails to remove Johnson from office.
Edwin Stanton continued to stare into the fireplace of his War Department office. The dancing flames were mesmerizing and soothing. He knew he must begin packing his personal items to return to his K Street home, but his body didn’t care to move. A light tap at the door drew his attention. The private claiming to be Adam Christy entered. As the soldier walked over, Stanton noticed he still had a slight but distinctive limp.
“I saw the gentlemen leaving the building, sir,” the private said. “They told me the unfortunate outcome of the Senate trial.”
Stanton’s mind reeled with the contradictions the soldier presented to him, and he fought the creeping suspicion that the person standing in front of him was dangerous. “Where have you been all day? The chamber pot in the corner is full and stinking up the room.”
“My deepest apologies, sir. It has been my intention to serve you faithfully, sir.”
“And that you have, for the most part. You’ve been lax in your duties during the trial however. I’m not a well man, and I don’t need the added aggravation of smelling a full chamber pot.” Stanton glared at the soldier. “Were you at the trial? If so, you did it without orders and compounded the breach by not informing me of what you saw.” Stanton wasn’t pleased with his own posturing. It reeked of whining instead of power and rage.
“Was I, Adam Christy, at the trial? I should say not. And if you were displeased with how I conducted my duties, well, you should have told me.” Christy paused to chuckle to himself. “I’ve infinite experience emptying chamber pots for dignitaries.”
Stanton slammed his fist down on the rocking chair arm. “There you go again with your insinuations. You’re making sly accusations and taunting me, and I won’t have it!”
“I have no idea what accusations I might be making, Mr. Stanton. I’m merely an Army private appointed to service a very important man. If I do a good job, perhaps I could receive an appointment to West Point.”
“No one ever said such a thing to you, I assure you!”
“And why is that, Mr. Stanton?” A silkiness entered the young man’s tone.
“Because I know you’re not Adam Christy! I ordered Lafayette Baker to kill Adam Christy the night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated!” Horrified those words escaped his lips, Stanton leaned back in his chair, his body depleted of all energy.
“That’s what I thought.” The private’s voice lost its naïve exuberance, and gained a sophisticated malevolence. “You are, indeed, correct. I’m not Adam Christy. I only meet him a few times before his death, at Mrs. Surratt’s boarding house and under the Aqueduct Bridge at midnight.” Letting the impact of the words sink in, the private paused. “I thought I gave quite a good performance, don’t you think?”
“A performance? What do you mean?”
“It makes no difference. Only one course of action is left, and this sad comedy of errors will be complete.”
“Who are you?” Stanton forced the words out.
“I’m merely another player you manipulated upon this national stage, saying my lines, prancing and preening, sublimely unaware I wasn’t in control of my own actions.”
The older man shook his head and tried to smile. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”
The soldier stepped forward so that he was standing over Stanton, blocking the flickering light from the fireplace. “I am John Wilkes Booth.”
“That’s impossible.” His lips trembled. “He died in a barn in Virginia. There were witnesses.”
“I’ve returned like an avenging angel,” Booth continued. “Rep. Preston King of New York and Sen. James Lane of Kansas blocked Ward Hill Lamon from delivering a reprieve for Mrs. Surratt and thereby allowing an innocent lady to be hanged.”
“How did you know?”
Booth smiled. “Because I was there, in the guise of a soldier pushing his way through the prison yard crowd so Mr. Lamon and Mrs. Surratt’s daughter could deliver the reprieve, but King and Lane blocked our way.”
“But—but now they’re dead,” Stanton stammered.
“Yes, I know. I killed them. I was a beggar boy on the ferry in New York and tied weights to Mr. King before throwing him overboard. I was a carriage driver in Kansas and shot Mr. Lane. I told each one he had to pay for his sins. I have others marked for execution for participating in your evil plot to overthrow the president.”
Stanton shook his head. “I thought you hated Lincoln.”
“I did hate him, and I’m glad I killed him.” He paused to glare at the old man in the rocking chair. “But Adam Christy was an innocent young man. He didn’t deserve to die. Mrs. Surratt was a kindly woman, a good mother and a devout Roman Catholic. She didn’t deserve to die.” Booth reached out to touch Stanton’s hair and tug on it. “You deserve to die.”
Jerking his head away, Stanton narrowed his eyes. “You won’t get away with it. I’ll call out for help and soldiers—real soldiers–will drag you away. If you try to escape they’ll shoot you down like a mad dog.”
“No, you won’t call out because then they will learn who I am and why I am still alive.” An evil grin appeared. “Do it. They can hang us together.” Booth turned for the door. “No, I’m not killing you today. And not tomorrow. Sometime. Someday.”
Booth put his hand on the knob and looked back. “You might even forget I’m coming back to kill you. But I will, and no one will stop me.”