Author Archives: jerrycowling

What I Think About While on Quarantine Part Two

Like many people on quarantine I think about how I’m not getting to work. My job is a storyteller.
Upon reflection, it’s a poor career choice. Storytellers were probably one of the first professions. Everyone enjoyed traveling minstrels who could make you laugh, cry, be scared or pluck any other emotional string of your heart. They put their hats on the ground, and you dropped in any coin you wished.
We haven’t had a pay raise in five thousand years.
I’m seventy-two, so I’m too old to change jobs. Besides I was really incompetent at everything else I tried. And I have to admit I think I’ve gotten better at storytelling. On what criteria I based that is unscientific at best.
Over the years I have been told I haven’t grown up yet. Another said they hadn’t seen anyone go from sixty to six in six seconds before. I’ve been cut off in mid-sentence by good church people because I used terrible words like Halloween or witch. Some people think it’s funny to interrupt to ask questions about a phrase I used which doesn’t really influence the story. Or a few like to blurt out the end of the story early to let everyone else know how smart they are to figure it out.
Then there are the people who sit there and smile. Some parents like to take pictures of their children smiling at my stories. One lady said she had just left her husband in the hospital and came to the event where I was performing because she had promised a friend she would attend. Then she heard my stories and they made her feel better. I’ve had parents tell me they’ve never had their children sit still that long before.
The truth is these stories jump into my head and they won’t leave unless I share them with someone. If I don’t tell them I think I get emotionally constipated (Can I say that? I already did so it doesn’t matter.)
I’ve seen a lot of entertainers on television in the last few years who claim in interviews that they are storytellers, whether they be actors, musicians, film editors, directors, whatever. I don’t know if I like them claiming my profession. Why can’t they just be happy with all the fame and fortune?
That reminds me. Do you know the difference between a storyteller and a politician? A politician makes a lot more money. Besides when I tell a bad story people can just walk away, buy some kettle corn and forget the whole unfortunate incident. When a politician tells a bad story it becomes law and everyone is stuck with it for years.
Genuine storytellers know they won’t change the world. They won’t make it a better place, but they won’t make it a worse one either. I do know many people who are high-minded crusaders who want to make the planet a better place. I admire their courage, determination and tenacity. More power to them.
But I must settle for what I do. For a brief moment in time I can look into someone’s eyes, smile, tell a little story that doesn’t mean anything in particular and help make the cares of the world go away.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Fifty-Five

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Anna Surratt pleads for her mother’s life. Johnson grants a reprieve, but it arrives too late. Stanton plots Johnson’s impeachment. Whitman tells Gabby all the news from Washington. Someone threatens a key witness in a corn field.
Ward Hill Lamon decided after the hangings in the summer of 1865 that the best course he could take would be to continue in his duties as Marshal for the District of Columbia. He intended to go about his ordinary chores while discreetly probing the dealings of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, whom he considered the linchpin in the entire conspiracy.
Weeks passed into months without progress in his investigation. The deaths of Preston King in New York and James Lane in Kansas did not pass without his notice. Local coroners declared both had been suicides, but Lamon had his doubts, remembering the roles they played in blocking Mrs. Surratt’s reprieve. He also learned that Louis Weichmann left his government job to live in Indiana. Obtaining Weichmann’s new address, Lamon sent letters, asking to speak with to him. Weichmann never replied to any of the letters; in fact, the last one returned with “Refused” scrawled across it.
The man writes like a damned schoolboy. He’s scared to death.
Meanwhile Lamon searched all the local newspapers for political developments. By late August, four different mid-term conventions met to select candidates for the House of Representatives. Delegates at one convention urged Johnson to fire Secretary of War Stanton, while participants at other conventions called for the president’s impeachment. In fact, impeachment was the central issue in congressional elections around the country.
When Johnson announced plans to go on a speaking tour in the fall, Lamon’s first instinct was to offer his services as a personal bodyguard. Johnson’s traveling companion was William Seward, who had sufficiently recovered from his knife wounds to continue his duties as Secretary of State.
Seward was too weak to defend Johnson against any attack.
After many nights of late drinking, Lamon dissuaded himself from making the offer. As long as Stanton obsessed over impeachment, Lamon knew Johnson’s life was not in danger. Stanton’s faction carried enough seats in the November mid-term elections to maintain its lead in the House.
Lamon spent the week before Christmas ensconced in one of his favorite taverns in Washington City reading newspapers. He sighed as he considered the ongoing battles between Congress and the President on one piece of legislation after another. The new session began in December of 1866, and the House passed a bill giving Black men in the District of Columbia the right to vote. Representatives then passed the Tenure of Office Bill.
That bill looks tame enough but it could raise a lot of hell. Thaddeus Stevens had a hand in it.
The tenure bill stated the President couldn’t fire a member of his cabinet without permission of Congress. Another bill called for Johnson’s impeachment if the President did fire anyone.
The New Year will only bring more presidential vetoes and more congressional overrides.
“Excuse me.” A soft voice of easy manner interrupted Lamon’s thoughts. “Are you not Marshal of the District of Columbia Ward Hill Lamon?”
“Yes, I am.” He wrinkled his brow trying to make out the figure of the man standing over him. He was older than Lamon, somewhat shorter and less stout, and his shoulders sloped in such a way to render his presence benign.
“I thought so.” The man smiled through his full gray beard. “I’m Walt Whitman. You visited my home in Brooklyn last year. You spoke to my mother and my dear friend Gabby Zook.”
Lamon’s eyes widened and he stood to shake Whitman’s hand. “An honor, sir. I’ve been trying to make your acquaintance for some time. Every time I go to the Office of Indian Affairs I’m told you’re away for a few days.”
“Yes, I don’t make a good employee, it seems. But they have a good nature and overlook my shortcomings.”
“Please, have a seat.”
“Thank you.”
“Would you like ale?”
“Another hot tea would be pleasant,” Whitman said as he sat. I’ve witnessed in my family what alcohol can do to one’s constitution, but I do enjoy the company of men who enjoy their liquor.”
Lamon ordered another tea for Whitman and a large pewter mug of ale for himself. After taking a deep gulp, he leaned back and smiled. “So, do you agree with your mother’s assessment that Gabby Zook is insane?”
“Insane is a complicated word.” Whitman furrowed his brow. “I’ve observed insanity first hand in my own family. My colleagues in journalism have called me insane. Mr. Gabby has an extremely high degree of anxiety. Such anxiety cannot be created merely from the wild imagination of an insane man but rather from harsh, stark reality.”
Lamon nodded. “I agree with you.” After another draught, he leaned forward so no one standing nearby in the noisy tavern might eavesdrop. “I’ve proof—well, eyewitness testimony for whatever that’s worth—that Gabby Zook, President Lincoln and his wife were held captive in the Executive Mansion basement.”
“And a private Adam Christy attended to their needs,” Whitman added. “Mr. Gabby thought he heard Christy murder the butler in the middle of the night. He also said an intimidating short man with red hair killed the private. Mr. Gabby fears the man might kill him.”
“So he told you the same stories. Do you think you could convince him to tell President Johnson what he knows?”
Whitman shook his head. “I’m a gentle man, Mr. Lamon. Mr. Gabby feels secure around me and opens his heart to me. You and President Johnson, on the other hand, are rough, crude men. You scare him.” He put down his cup and rose. “Thank you so much for the refreshment.” Patting Lamon on the shoulder, he added, “I’ll do all in my power to convince Mr. Gabby to trust you. Have patience. Our Captain must be avenged.”
“Our Captain?” Lamon was confused. “Who’s our Captain?”
“Our Captain,” Whitman repeated. “Mr. Lincoln, dear sir. We must avenge our Captain.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Fifty-Four

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Anna Surratt pleads for her mother’s life. Johnson grants a reprieve, but it arrives too late. Stanton plots Johnson’s impeachment. Whitman tells Gabby all the news from Washington. Someone murders Senator Lane.
By summer of 1866, the political climate was stultifyingly hot. Johnson and Congress continued to battle over the shape of the post-war government. Sharp, ugly words intensified the dark mood in Washington City. Louis Weichmann, whose testimony was a linchpin in the conspiracy case against Mrs. Surratt, return to his clerk’s job in the War Department. A day didn’t go by without a stranger accusing him of being responsible for her death. Faceless members of the crowd pushed and shoved him along busy streets. Weichmann received letters containing death threats. He developed tics and jerks, which brought more attention to him.
Walking to his boardinghouse one day, he saw standing on his building stoop a woman who waved at him. Weichmann waved back.
“No! No! Run!” she screamed pointing to the other side of the street.
He turned to see a man wearing a large hat shading his face. The stranger aimed a revolver at him. Just as he crossed the threshold of the boardinghouse, Weichmann heard a bang. He saw a bullet hole in the door, only inches from his head.
“They almost got you that time, Mr. Weichmann,” the neighbor lady said.
“This is driving me mad,” he whispered.
“Get out, get out while you can.” Her voice was firm. “Go to your family. Family has to take you in during times like this.”
The next day Weichmann tapped at Stanton’s office door but didn’t wait for an invitation to enter.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Stanton looked up with a scowl. “Well, come in and shut the door before anybody sees you.”
He did as he was told and sat. His shoulder began to twitch.
“You’ve got to get me another job, out of town. Someone shot at me last evening.”
“I can’t do anything right now. All the job openings I have are still in this building.” Stanton paused, then gestured at the young man’s face, his left eye winked out of control. “Don’t be so nervous. That’s been your problem all along. You’re too nervous.”
“If I’m shot at again, I’m going to the newspapers. I’ll tell them you personally put a noose around my neck and threatened to hang me if I didn’t say Mrs. Surratt told me things about the plot I knew she never had a part in. Get me a job in Philadelphia. My father and mother live there. I could live with them.” He thought a moment then shook his head. “No, everyone knows I’m from Philadelphia. They’ll just follow me up there.” He put his head in his hands. “God, I’m so scared I can’t think straight.”
“Do you have any place to go for just a month or so until I can find a good job for you?” Stanton spoke in soft, conspiratorial tones. “Customs office. They always have clerk openings up and down the coast. Even out West.” He leaned over the desk. “And the customs office pays a good wage. Maybe the money will make you braver.” A cynical smile creased his thin lips.
Weichmann looked up. “My brother is a priest. He recently took a post in Anderson, Indiana, a small town in the middle of cornfields. No one would suspect me living there.”
Stanton leaned back. “Then go visit the good Father Weichmann for a while. It’ll be good for your soul.”
During his first week in Anderson, Weichmann indeed felt the heavy burden vanish. It took countless visits to the confession booth where his brother leant a sympathetic ear. His nerves settled down, and sleep came easier at long last. Most townspeople didn’t even make the connection between their beloved padre Weichmann and the witness Weichmann in the conspiracy trial. Then, on Sunday night of the second week, all that changed.
As he lay in bed in the spare room of the parsonage, Weichmann heard a voice from outside the open window.
“Run for your life!”
His eyes opened wide, and he looked around. It was a moonless night so he had trouble defining shadows in the inky blackness. A slight breeze blew through the lacey curtains. He rose from his bed and went to the window, pausing a moment before sticking his head out. Just as he observed the yard’s gloom, a rock struck a pane. Shards of glass pricked the back of his head.
“Run!” the disembodied voice repeated.
All reason escaped his mind as he rolled out of the window onto the ground, not remembering he wore only ill-fitting long johns. Another rock hit the small of his back.
“Run!”
Looking around him, his shoulder spasmed. Weichmann considered which way to scurry. To the left was downtown Anderson, deserted by that hour of night. Straight ahead of him was the town’s livery stable, probably locked up. To the right were the countryside and a farmer’s full field of cornstalks. Another stone flew at him. This time it hit his butt, causing him to wince in pain.
“I said run!” The voice became angrier.
His lips quivering in fear, Weichmann ran toward the cornfield, hoping to find some measure of protection among the stalks. No matter how fast he ran, the voice seemed to stay close, now laughing in insanity. Taking an abrupt left into the cornfield, Weichmann hoped he had eluded his pursuer and slowed down to catch his breath. As soon as he did, he felt a body throwing itself against his back, knocking him to the ground.
A hand grabbed locks of his curly hair and slammed his face into the loosened soil of the field. Weichmann tasted blood on his lips. All he could comprehend was that he was about to be murdered.
“You deserve to die,” the voice hissed into his ear. Many people deserve to die for what they did to Mrs. Surratt.”
Weichmann felt spittle on his cheek as the man spoke. The voice was familiar. If his wits had not left him, he could identify it. Its tone had a certain melodious quality to it. Shuddering as the name came to him, Weichmann could not believe that a dead man was back from the grave and lying on top of him muttering threats into his ear.
“I should kill you tonight, you craven, lily-livered coward. How should I accomplish the good deed? Perhaps I should twist your head until your neck snaps. Or push your face down into the ground, forcing you to inhale dirt until you choke to death. I have a knife. I could slit your throat. No, I think I shall save that execution for a person far more evil than yourself. I know. I could impale you on a spiked wooden pole, and let the good citizens of Anderson find you in the morning in the cornfield, hanging there like a human scarecrow.”
Weichmann began to cry. “Please, please, don’t kill me. They made me lie about Mrs. Surratt. They were going to hang me right then and there if I didn’t agree to lie.”
“Who were they?” the voice demanded.
“Stanton. Secretary Stanton.”
“I’m not surprised.” The man eased up, allowing Weichmann to breathe. “I don’t think I’ll kill you now after all. Watch the newspapers for mysterious deaths of some famous people. Do you know who James Lane and Preston King are?” He slapped the back of Weichmann’s head. “Answer me!”
“Uh, uh, they’re congressmen, aren’t they?” he mumbled.
“Something like that. They’re nothing at all now. They’re dead. As Lafayette Baker will be dead.”
“Him? He scares me. He’s mean.”
“Well, you won’t have to be scared of him very much longer. He’s going to die soon.” He paused to lean down to Weichmann’s ear again. “And Edwin Stanton.”
“Good.” His voice was small and scared. “I hate him too.”
“Don’t think you have nothing to worry about. Your execution has been merely postponed. One day, perhaps when you are an old man and no one really cares whether you live or die, I will appear to put you out of your misery. Or maybe not.” He slapped Weichmann in the head again. “Can you count to one hundred?” He paused, but there was no response. “Can you count to a hundred?”
“Yes. Yes, sir.”
“Do it. Then you may go back to your bed. Pleasant dreams.”
Weichmann didn’t want to take any chances so he counted slowly—very slowly—to two hundred. When he finished, he stood to look around the cornfield. He crept back to the narrow lane leading into Anderson. No one was there.

What I Think About While on Quarantine

I found this picture of me when I was three years old. My family had just finished eating in a Fort Worth, Texas, café with an aunt and uncle. My aunt said that I had wiped my mouth after every bite of food, which she thought terribly cute. When we got to the car, she said she had to take my picture.
My mother told me to stand by the car. I had just spent all my energy trying to be well-mannered and was now a little nervous about having my picture taken by myself. I’d never done that before and didn’t quite know what to do. Thinking I should try to hide as much as possible, I stood behind the car bumper. As you can see, it didn’t hide much.
By the time I married my hair had turned so dark brown some people thought it was black. Many years later my aunt gave me the picture. My wife was surprised to discover I had been a blond as a child. I told her I had seen a picture of my mother as a little girl in front of her family’s car and she had blonde hair too. She knew better than to hide behind the bumper so she put her hand over her face.
My daughter thought she had been adopted because she had blonde hair while the rest of us had dark hair. I pulled out this picture to reassure her we had not kidnapped her. Now she has dark hair and a little girl with blonde hair.
What jumped out at me when I looked at the old photograph was the pose in from of an old car. I got this strange feeling that if Bonnie and Clyde had a child he would have looked just like me. They posed in front of cars too. Of course, it couldn’t have been me because Bonnie and Clyde had been mowed down in an outburst of rifle fire on a lonely country road in the hinterlands of Texas and Louisiana more than ten years before I was born.
It’s just as well I belonged to Florida and Grady instead of Bonnie and Clyde. Loud noises always scared me so I’d been an emotional wreck in the backseat of the getaway car after Mom and Dad robbed a bank. With my luck one of the stray bullets meant for Bonnie and Clyde would have hit me instead. And if I had survived that day on the country road, who would have raised me? I don’t think the infamous banker robbers’ relatives would have wanted anything to do with me.
The photo did make me grateful for my nice boring family. Although at times my brothers could be real pains in the keister, they weren’t on “wanted—dead or alive” posters in three states.
This picture will be a keeper. My granddaughter will want to show it to her children so they’ll know they weren’t adopted. But that won’t be a problem if she does marry a blond-headed guy and the kids take after him.
Reflections like this happen when you get old, on quarantine and don’t have anything better to think about.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Fifty-Three

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Anna Surratt pleads for her mother’s life. Johnson grants a reprieve, but it arrives too late. Stanton plots Johnson’s impeachment. Whitman tells Gabby all the news from Washington. Gabby wonders why everyone can’t just get along.
One story of the crisis-ridden spring of 1866 did not appear in a New York newspaper which Walt Whitman could read to Gabby. That story was the internal moral battle going on within Sen. James Lane of Kansas. In 1865 he ingratiated himself to Secretary of War Stanton by agreeing to monitor President Johnson’s behavior and, when discretion allowed it, lead the president back into old habits of drinking.
As one who had hardened his scruples during the bloody conflict of slave and free factions in Kansas of the 1850s, Lane didn’t question Stanton’s motives because of the overriding goal of total equality for black people. Now he feared the civil rights battle lost its focus and degenerated into a simple exercise of impeaching President Johnson.
Several times during the spring when Stanton felt Lane’s resolve waning, he stiffened it with hard cash, in untraceable small denominations of currency. Several newspapers ran stories based on vague government sources that claimed substantial amounts of money had appeared in Lane’s financial portfolio. They were true and eroded Lane’s sense of honor and self-respect. Rumors of bribery ran amok on Capitol Hill. Finally, the stress of placating Stanton and battling for his inner core of decency forced Lane to take a few weeks rest back in his hometown of Leavenworth in June.
Abolitionist editor of the Kansas Tribune Edmund Ross denied him that rest. Ross left his prosperous Wisconsin newspaper during the 1850s to move to Kansas and advocate the free-state movement. At the outbreak of the war, Ross joined the northern forces to combat slavery and rose to the rank of major. Lane didn’t want to talk to Ross because he was a tough, courageous man who had two horses shot from underneath him during one battle. Lane cringed every time Ross wagged his finger in his face.
“Sen. Lane,” Ross began in his blustering baritone when he cornered him in a livery stable in Leavenworth, “you, sir, still have not adequately explained your vote to uphold Andrew Johnson’s veto of the Civil Rights Bill! I asked you about that vote at the town hall meeting not a week ago. Again I asked you on the courthouse steps when you were dedicating the plaque to the dead and still you evaded. My God, man, you stood with me when I first came to Kansas to fight for the cause of abolition. What has happened to you?”
“Well, if you wouldn’t talk constantly and I could get a word in edgewise, I could make you understand what so many other thoughtful men found self-evident.”
A groom approached the men. “Mr. Lane, sir, your carriage is ready for your daily ride.”
“He’s not going anywhere until he explains why he supported Johnson in blocking a colored man’s rights. The war is over. Slavery is dead. What would it serve to fight civil rights now?”
“We have enough laws to protect colored rights.” Lane’s face turned crimson. “We don’t need laws on top of laws on top of laws.”
“Sen. Lane,” the young man pushed his way into the conversation. “This horse and carriage have to be back to take the mayor and his wife to supper.”
“Boy,” Ross turned to bellow at the groom, “I said this would take only a second!”
“You talk about rights? What about this young man’s rights? How can you think of the colored when you don’t treat a simple white stable boy with respect?” Lane fought back.
“You’re changing the topic again. You’re trying to put me on the defensive, and I just won’t have it!”
Lane turned away, put his arm around the groom’s shoulder. “Maybe you want to get rid of me so you can become senator!”
“I might just do that!” Ross yelled to no avail.
As Lane mounted the carriage, he noticed the boy seemed stooped over on purpose to hide his true height. Probably the result of a war wound, he decided, and didn’t press the matter as he climbed into the carriage. Long carriage rides were among the few activities that alleviated his melancholia. The dry winds of the prairie seemed to clear his mind.
“Where you hankerin’ to visit today, Sen. Lane?” the carriage driver asked as they lost their view of town through the trees. The boy had indiscernible features. He wore an oversized duster and an enormous flop hat.
Lane frowned. “You’re not Joe, my usual driver. He knows my favorite routes.”
“No, I’m not Joe. Sorry to inconvenience you, sir.”
“Well, just head north.” Lane waved his hand without conviction. “It makes no difference.”
A few miles passed in silence before the driver spoke again. “Make way! Presidential pardon! Make way!”
Lane sat up. “What the hell did you say?”
“You know very well what I said, Sen. Lane. They were my words from just a year ago in the prison yard where Mrs. Surratt and the others were about to be hanged.”
“Your words? Who the hell are you?”
The driver turned and smiled. His features were young and pleasant enough, but Lane couldn’t quite place him.
“You stood in our way so that those foul soldiers could hang a good and honorable woman.”
Lane’s flinty eyes lit in indignation. “That woman was as guilty as sin! She had to die to restore peace to our nation!”
“And you have to die to restore peace to my nation.” The driver pulled a gun from an inside pocket of his duster.
“No!”
Lane jumped from the carriage, but before his body reached the ground, the driver put a bullet through his skull. The shooter hopped from the carriage seat and watched the horse pick up speed, turn and head back to the livery stable in Leavenworth. He placed the gun a few inches from Lane’s hand where his body lay on the road. Then he ambled South, with a slight limp to his gait.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Fifty-Two

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Anna Surratt pleads for her mother’s life. Johnson grants a reprieve, but it arrives too late. Stanton plots Johnson’s impeachment. Whitman tells Gabby all the news from Washington.
Gabby Zook became accustomed to the Whitman family chaos. They lived in the basement of their Brooklyn brownstone. Tranquility came down upon the residence during the Christmas season of 1865, and remained during the first cold months of the New Year.
Mr. Walt, as Gabby called the poet, found him a job sweeping floors at a mercantile establishment a couple of blocks from home. Mrs. Walt—that was the name Gabby gave Whitman’s mother Louisa–walked him to the store of a morning and back home that night. Gabby particularly liked Louisa who seemed to have a large, loving heart, even though she complained of being sick all the time. He looked forward to the weekends because Whitman came home from Washington where he worked in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Gabby liked Mr. Walt’s stories of peculiar things happening in the government.
After Whitman told him President Johnson fired head of the Secret Service Lafayette Baker, Gabby leaned forward and wrinkled his brow.
“What does this Mr. Baker look like?”
“Well, let me see.” Whitman scratched his chin whiskers. “I’ve seen him many times myself around Washington City, and I must say I didn’t like the look of him. Which is very unusual for me. I can talk for hours with any common laborer on the street, but I never had a desire to even meet Mr. Baker. He’s not a big man, perhaps your height, Mr. Gabby. Not quite as old, and with a thick shock of red hair. He walks into a room, and you’d think he hated everyone in it and was determined to shoot and kill them all.”
Gabby’s eyes widened. “A short red-headed mean man.”
Whitman cocked his head. “Yes, I suppose you could call him mean. Yes, that would be a good word to describe him.”
“That’s him.” Gabby’s hands began to tremble. “That’s the man I’ve told you about. The man who killed Adam Christy.”
“Of course he is.” Whitman smiled and patted Gabby’s quivering hands. “Well. Let’s talk of more pleasant things. What else is happening in the capital that might amuse you?” Over the next few months, he only had more troubling news to tell Gabby.
In March, President Johnson vetoed the formation of the Committee of Fifteen on Reconstruction, claiming it would impede elected Southern representatives from taking their seats in Congress. Soon afterwards, Johnson vetoed a Civil Rights Bill and asserted it contained portions of the previously vetoed Freedman Bureau bill and predicted the legislation would create a “terrible engine of wrongdoing, corruption and fraud.
“What do you think about that, Mr. Gabby?”
“Mr. Walt, all that talk about rights and corruption confuses me,” he admitted, shaking his head.
“Me too.”
“I feel I want to be on President Johnson’s side, but I don’t like the idea of keeping black people from having their rights. I didn’t have any rights when I was in the basement of the White House, and it made me feel bad.” After a pause, he added, “To tell you the truth, I don’t think the President likes black people very much. And that makes him bad. But Mr. Stanton doesn’t like him, and I know for sure that he’s a bad man. Isn’t there anyone good in the Capital anymore?”
In early April the Senate overturned the President’s veto of the Civil Rights Bill. After that, Johnson vetoed a bill to admit Colorado to the Union because many of the Southern states had yet to have their sovereign rights restored.
“Why can’t they all just find a way to get along with each other and stop butting heads?” Gabby asked.
“I agree.” Whitman smiled and looked out the window as he sipped his coffee.

Why Are You Late?

(Author’s Note: I’m a day late with my Mother’s Day tribute, and it wouldn’t surprise her in the least bit.)
“Why are you late?
My mother said that almost every time I walked in the door. Sometimes I was down the street at a friend’s house. His family had the first television on the block. Mickey Mouse Club came on at 4 p.m., and was an hour long. The first half was singing, dancing and acting silly. It was all right. I was too young to appreciate fully Annette Funicello at that time. When I was older she became Annette Full of Jello and much more fascinating. The second half was a serial. My favorite was Spin and Marty, two boys at a summer camp. Spin was a city street kid, and Marty was a naïve rich kid. At first they didn’t like each other, but by the third season they were buddies. As soon as the final song–“MIC, see you real soon, KEY, Why? Because we love you”—finished I was supposed to be out the door and headed home. In the winter the sky was getting dark at that time of time. Everyone knew if you were caught outside after dark, something terrible was going to happen.
The only situation worse was to be out of the house in the dark and dark clouds rumbled with thunder and lightning. My brother was bringing me home from the movies one time. He always resented having to pick me up places. It cut into his cruising time up and down the main drag of downtown. On the average I’d have to wait about thirty minutes on the street outside the theater. When I decided to start walking home, he became even madder I wasn’t where I was supposed to be.
“Why are you late? Didn’t you see the clouds in the sky? Didn’t you realize it was about to rain?” my mother said with a particularly angry exasperation.
Yes, I knew it was about to rain. I knew she was going to be hysterical, but there wasn’t much I could do about it since my brother continued to scour Main Street for a girl desperate enough to go out with him. Of course, I would never get away with saying that so I instead went into my sniveling little coward role and whined, “I’m sorry.” I suspected she gave up her tirade because she didn’t want to listen to me whimper. On the other hand, my brother jutted his chin up and out as he walked right past Mother without acknowledging her.
As a child I seriously debated with myself whether I wished to bother to try to date when I was a teen-ager. The appeal of the young ladies hardly seemed worth the inquisition. If my brother came in after ten o’clock, she would greet him at the front door with her hands on her hips. She knew the movie downtown never let out after nine o’clock. You could drive a young lady home anywhere in town and still be home by ten.
“Why are you late?”
He tried to ignore as was his custom, but she blocked his path. Squinting she pushed her nose into his face.
“Let me smell your breath.”
“Aww, Mom.” He took a quick step to the left and escaped into the next room.
“Are you having sex with that girl? You better not get her pregnant!”
That imperative statement contained two major ironies. One, my brother did start coming in staggering from too many beers, and when he did Mother just stood there giggling, finding the way he lost his balance and fell on the sofa to be quaintly enchanting.
However, Father was not amused at all. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? You’re scaring the hell out of your little brother!”
The other irony was that by the time he finally got a woman pregnant I was married and had impregnated my wife, and I was six years younger than he was.
The fear of being on the receiving end of the withering question “Why are you late?” tended to make any situation worse. One year for Halloween my mother took me downtown to a five and dime so I could buy a mask for the school festival. She sat out in the car while I was supposed to rush in to pick out the mask. I stood in front of the table and froze. Not only did it infuriate Mother for me to be late, she also blew up if I spent too much money on foolish things such as Halloween masks. I saw ones I liked but they were too expensive. Dithering for too long a moment, I finally decided on the cheapest thing I could find. By the time I paid for it and ran out to the car, it was too late—Mother’s face was crimson.
“Why are you late? How hard was it to pick out a simple mask? Now I have a splitting headache!”
Well, that took the thrill out of Halloween, and it was the last one before entering junior high school. Once you’re in junior high you’re too big to wear silly Halloween masks.
I soon found out the reason Mother had such a short fuse. She had cancer and died before I entered high school. All dread of the scoldings went out the window. After a while I kind of missed them. It wasn’t any fun staying out after midnight on a date because Father went to bed at 9 o’clock every night and didn’t know when I came in or even that I had gone out in the first place. In fact, I was usually home by ten o’clock anyway. After all, the movie was over by 9:30. We could make the drag a couple of times to see who else was out that night, drop by the local drive-in for a quick soda and still be home in time to make Mother happy, if Mother had been there.
I am now older than my mother was when she died. I’m still home by ten o’clock. I never had to stand by the front door demanding why my children were late coming home. My son hardly ever went to movies unless it was Star Wars, and my daughter always dated guys who had earlier curfews than she did.
With luck I have a few more years. Boring people like me usually live a long time. It’s too strenuous to do anything exciting. But I do know that when my life is up and I finally am reunited with my loved ones in heaven, my mother will be standing at the Pearly Gates with her hands on her hips and a scowl on her lips.
“Why are you late?”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Fifty-One

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Anna Surratt pleads for her mother’s life. Johnson grants a reprieve, but it arrives too late. Stanton plots Johnson’s impeachment. Baker tries to get dirt on Johnson.
The next evening Baker dropped by the Executive Mansion. President Johnson was pushing his wife’s wheelchair out of the private family dining room on the main floor. Behind them were their daughter Martha and her husband David Patterson. The President smiled when he saw him.
“Mr. Baker, so good to see you. You’ve met my family, I believe. Not only is my son-in-law the new senator from Tennessee, he’s the only man in this blasted place I trust to carry my wife up to our private quarters. She suffers from consumption. But she’s a fighter. She’s not giving up to her ailments.”
Patterson picked up the First Lady and with grace led the way up the staircase.
“At some point I’m afraid Eliza will have to return to our home in Greeneville. This big city living is not good for her health, it seems; but my daughter Martha will act as hostess when the time comes. Please join us upstairs.”
Baker nodded as they began up the staircase. Johnson leaned into him to whisper.
“Wait for me in my office. I have some documents to show you. It doesn’t look good for Stanton.”
“Yes, sir.”
On the second floor, the Johnson family turned toward the bedroom.
“We must get Eliza into bed before she sprains my poor son-in-law’s back.” He smiled again at Baker and motioned to his office at the end of the hall. “Go ahead. I’ll join you momentarily.”
Baker found himself alone in the president’s office. First he looked back down the hall to make sure no staff members lingered after hours. He returned to Johnson’s desk which was a jumbled mess of papers. On top of the heap was what he was expecting from Johnson’s comments—an investigation into the private affairs of Edwin Masters Stanton, Secretary of War. Pushing the report aside, Baker dug deeper into the stack where he found another report—alternatives to the Freedman’s Bureau, achieving dissolution with minimum political impact.
Taking a small notebook from his inner coat pocket, he began scribbling notes from the report. This would be information Stanton and his friends in Congress would want to see. Johnson grumbled about his displeasure with the agency for months, but no one knew what his plan of attack might be.
When the door creaked open, Baker twitched and looked up to see the president glowering at him. This was not the first time he had been caught in the act of spying. The Confederates had walked in on him often during his war years in Richmond where he pretended to be a photographer. A ready smile flashed across his face.
“I found that report you told me about, the one exposing Stanton’s background. I was just making a few notes so I might help in furthering your investigation.”
Johnson walked to him with his right hand extended. “Oh really. May I see what information impressed you so much?”
“It’s nothing much, actually.” Baker’s voice weakened.
“Nevertheless, I want to see it.” The President paused and added in a growl, “I said, hand it over.”
Baker knew he had been sloppy. He should have moved more quickly. He should have brought a second notebook, to make non-incriminating notes, which he could hand over in a situation like this, keeping the real notations hidden.
How had I forgotten the art of espionage? Did I allow myself to be caught in such a compromising situation? Did I create an excuse for Johnson to throw me out? Did I think this episode would extricate me from this ongoing political nightmare? Yes. I am tired. I want to go home to Jennie.
The President grabbed the notebook and began reading. First his eyebrows went up and then he pursed his lips before returning his gaze to Baker.
“I don’t see anything in here about Mr. Stanton.”
“Well, you see, I have devised a special code for my private purposes—“
“Interesting. You chose the words Freedman’s Bureau as code for Edwin Stanton?” He walked over to the stove, opened the iron door and threw the notebook into the flames.
“I am not a smart man, Mr. Baker. Not anywhere as smart as Mr. Lincoln, but remember this one fact: he’s dead, and I’m still alive. After years of living in poverty in the Tennessee mountains, I have developed a keen sense of smelling bullshit. I could have you thrown in prison, tried and executed for treason, but to maintain a façade of unity for the citizens of these United States I’ll simply say your services are no longer needed. Now get the hell out of here.”
Baker left without saying a word and returned to his hotel room where he slept more soundly than he had in years. His termination had lifted the awesome burden of being an evil embodiment of political expediency. Private Adam Christy’s pale, ghostly face smeared with blood no longer haunted his dreams.
The next morning he took the train back to his home in Philadelphia. He walked up the steps to his front porch. The house was not large. When he entered, he smelled bread baking.
“Who’s there?” Jennie’s voice called out. She stopped short when she entered the parlor and saw her husband. She hugged him and wouldn’t let him go. “What are you doing here? Do you have to leave on another one of your trips?”
“There’s not going to be any more trips.”
“Good.” She pulled away. “Why not?”
“President Johnson said my services were no longer needed.”
“Well, you didn’t like him anyway.” She hugged him again. “I’ve prayed for this day for a long time.”
“”I want to be in the one place where I know I’m loved.” He shut up before he started crying.
“Yes, thank God. We’re free.”
His face snuggled in her brown hair. Baker realized he was not completely free, even now.
To ensure my future safety I have to write my own version of the Lincoln assassination, as I’m sure everyone else involved will eventually do. I’ll make the book’s main subject my role in the creation of the Secret Service, a topic of interest but not daunting. By the end of the manuscript, I’ll reveal that John Wilkes Booth kept a journal from the time of the assassination to his own supposed death. I’ll also reveal I immediately handed the notebook over to Secretary of War Stanton. Eighteen pages are missing. I know there are eighteen pages missing because I was there when Stanton tore them out.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Fifty

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Anna Surratt pleads for her mother’s life. Johnson grants a reprieve, but it arrives too late. Stanton plots Johnson’s impeachment.
Raucous laughter emanated from the Executive Mansion’s basement kitchen in February of 1866. Lafayette Baker told President Johnson some of his tales of breaking up undercover rings during the war years. In particular, Baker embellished the details of how he tracked down and arrested Belle Starr, the notorious female spy. He claimed her charms held nothing for him for he was a good family man.
“So you have children?” Johnson asked, a small smile on his lips.
“Oh. No, sir,” Baker replied, a bit taken off guard. “My wife Jennie and I were never blessed with children. But I consider myself a family man because I am married and as such I—Jennie and I—we are our own family.”
“And where does she live?” Johnson’s tone lowered and his gaze was dogged.
“In Philadelphia. I was a mechanic there, before the war.” Baker heard footsteps and looked behind the president to see the butler and his wife, the cook, pass by the kitchen door and glance in. He realized they knew what he actually was and what he was capable of. Yet he still had to carry on. “She’s been my saint through all these years of separation.”
Baker didn’t know why but Johnson preferred to have relaxed conversations in the kitchen where the walls were rough hewn and the corners covered in cobwebs. Since the first of 1866, his kitchen friend had been Baker who in the months following the assassination had been more accessible to late night talks. Baker’s official job title had always been chief of the Secret Service, an agency dedicated to rooting out counterfeiters. Unofficially he handled unpleasant tasks assigned by Secretary of War Stanton. His latest job was to ingratiate himself to the new President so he could observe Johnson’s imperfections. The ultimate goal was to gather such irrefutable evidence that Congress would have no choice but to impeach and remove the President from office as soon as possible. The ruse only intensified Baker’s hatred for Stanton.
“Do you know why I like you, Lafe?” Johnson asked.
“No, sir. Why?” He clinched his jaw and hoped he would find the correct response to the president’s answer.
“Because you’re a real man. You know what it’s like to grow up snot poor. You got up and out of it. Made something out of yourself. Went out West. Did the tough work nobody else had the belly for.”
Baker’s eyes went down. “Some of it I’m none too proud of.”
“Oh, hell, pride never did nothing for nobody. I’ll be damned if I’m proud of anything I did in my life. But I’m proud to have you the head of the Secret Service.”
Baker looked up and smiled. “I’ll drink to that.” Pulling a flask from his inside jacket pocket, he extended it to the president. “Let’s share a toast to getting things done. It’s the best whiskey from your home state of Tennessee.” He could not continue to look at Johnson. One of the supreme tasks given him by Stanton was to lure the President back into his old drunken habits, a sure way to make impeachment efforts successful.
“Eliza is in the house now, along with our daughter and her husband and their children. They would skin me alive if they smelled liquor on my breath.” His face went grim when he stood. “In fact, she’ll be expecting me upstairs in a while.” He extended his hand to Baker. “Come again when you have the time. You don’t know how much these talks help me to relax.”
After Johnson left the kitchen, he walked up the stairs, his heavy boots crunching on the straw mats on the steps. Baker took a moment to compose himself before going outside through the kitchen door, turning his coat collar up to protect himself from the bitter winter winds. Going back to his room at the National Hotel, he took off his boots, sprawled across the bed, opened the flask and took a couple of gulps.
He tried to think back to a time when he decided money was more important than morality, honesty and loyalty. Baker knew. It was after he rose in the ranks of the military, each new position gave him more power. It seemed so easy. Discover the crimes of a public official. Tell the man he had two choices–submit to the humiliation of a trial or pay Baker to hide his sins.
Then, in 1862, Stanton approached him with his hare-brained scheme to kidnap Lincoln and hold him captive in the Executive Mansion basement. Baker saw this ultimate act of immorality easy to commit. He masterminded the abduction of Abraham Lincoln and manipulated simple-minded rebels to carry out the president’s assassination. He personally murdered the man and woman who pretended to be the Lincolns and drove the innocent young soldier who guarded president and the first lady to commit suicide. Those atrocious sins disgusted Baker and awoke what was left of his soul. Now Stanton coerced him into a new round of deception and murder, and Baker’s newly resurrected humanity said, “No.” Baker had to find a way to escape the grasp of Stanton. He was sick and tired of deception.
Washington City entered a new chapter of turmoil as Baker planned his personal emancipation. President Johnson began to set his own course for reconstruction, which followed neither the wishes of the late Mr. Lincoln nor the dictates of the Radical Republicans in Congress. It led into treacherous, uncharted waters. Baker saw rough sailing ahead.
In February, the President vetoed the extension and expansion of powers of the Freedman’s Bureau, which not only provided welfare relief for freed slaves but also to white refugees, now homeless after the ravages of war. Johnson wrote in his opinion that the bill was unconstitutional and, now a year after the war had ended, not needed.
Stanton summoned Baker to his office and berated him on his lack of action. Each time the war secretary slammed his fist on the desk, Baker cringed.
“What’s wrong with you? Why haven’t you forced him back into the liquor bottle? What’s going on in his mind? What other shocking steps will he take? Which bill will he dare veto next?”
“He won’t take another drink of liquor as long as his wife is in residence at the Executive Mansion.”
“That should be easily solved. The woman is an invalid. No one would be surprised by her sudden death.”
Baker glared at Stanton, but only a whisper came out of his mouth. “I’m not killing another woman for you. It’s got to stop. All this has got to stop.”
Stanton sat back in his chair. “Of all the men in Washington City, you are the last one I would suspect of turning coward.” He sighed. “Get into his office. Make notes of the documents on his desk. That should not disturb your new delicate sensibilities.”

The Ask Grady and Maude Show

(Transcript of the last performance of a radio advice program originating from Del Rio, Texas)
Announcer: Telephone lines are now open so call in your questions for Miss Maude, the sweetest church lady this side of the Pecos River, and Mr. Grady, who has been the janitor of the Eternal Flame of Truth Church for sixty years.
Miss Maude: Good evenin’, folks.
Mr. Grady: I gotta git outta here and milk Josie Belle. She’s about to bust a gusset. So iffen you got a question, you better call in fast.
Announcer: We just got our first caller of the night and it’s for Mr. Grady. Tell us your name, sir.
First caller: This is Homer Dipsheidt.
Mr. Grady: What can I do for ya, Homer? And make it fast.
First caller: Well, Grandma died in Fort Worth night and Mama’s wantin’ me to take the Greyhound up to her house in Cleburne, so I can drive her into town for the funeral. I got so upset about grandma that I went out to Mel’s tavern and drank up my whole paycheck on beer. I can’t afford the bus ticket no more. Should I call Mama and ask her to wire me the money?
Mr. Grady: Oh hell no. First, the phone call will cost too much. Then when you git to Cleburne your mama will expect you to pay the gas to drive into Fort Worth and on top of that you’ll have to pay her back for the bus ticket.
First caller: Mama will git awful mad.
Mr. Grady: Let ‘er git mad. You got a job to go to. By the way, tell your boss Jim Ed at the poultry farm I said hey.
First caller: I kinda wanna say good-bye to Grandma. She raised me, you know, when mama got caught stealin’ a car to run off with that travelin’ Bible salesman.
Mr. Grady: Aw, your grandma ain’t gonna hear you say good-bye. She’s dead.
First caller: But—
Mr. Grady: Get off the phone and let somebody else git a chance to squawk at us.
Announcer: Next caller is for Miss Maude and the name is Miss Odeen Fluger…fluger…how the hell do you saw that?
Miss Maude: Oh my goodness, I know Miss Odeen. What can I do for you, hon?
Second caller: Well, as you know, Miss Maude, old Mr. Dewberry went on to his heavenly reward last week, and they read the will today. I was flabbergasted to find out old Mr. Dewberry left me $500 with strict instructions to invest it in Sinclair Oil Company.
Mr. Grady: What the hell were you doin’ to get $500 out of ‘im, girl?
Miss Maude: Ever’body knows Odeen has been cleanin’ his house and cookin’ his food for the past three year.
Mr. Grady: That’s a hell of a lot of cleanin’ for $500!
Announcer: So what is your question, Miss Odeen?
Second caller: I don’t know how to go about investin’ in anythin’ so I thought Miss Maude could help me.
Miss Maude: The stock market is way too risky, my dear. You take that money and put it in a passbook savin’s account at the bank.
Mr. Grady: I wouldn’t trust that old devil down at the bank. You git that money in cash, put in a cigar box and hide it under your bed.
Announcer: And our next caller is Mary Beth Klownhausen. It seems Mary Beth has a bone to pick with the both of you.
Miss Maude: Oh dear me.
Mr. Grady: I didn’t hold no shotgun to ‘er head. It’s her own fault to call in to a silly assed show like this in the first place.
Third caller: Iffen you remember, I called last month ‘cause Kerwin Klownhausen asked me to marry ‘im. I didn’t know iffen I should or not ‘cause he jest got away with killin’ Susie Belle Mundkowski.
Miss Maude: Now the jury said he didn’t do it so you can’t say he did kill Susie Belle.
Mr. Grady: Listen, girl, you’re uglier than sin and marryin’ a damned killer is the best you can do.
Third caller: Well, Kerwin talks in his sleep and he’s sayin’ he did kill Susie Belle ‘cause he found out she was foolin’ around with Homer Dipsheidt.
Miss Maude: You should have slept with him first then you’da knowed he was a killer.
Third caller: But Miss Maude, you’re always sayin’ never give away the milk unless he buys the cow.
Mr. Grady: Susie Belle Mundkowski was a slut. You ain’t a slut, are ya, girl?
Third caller: No I was a virgin on my wedding night. Otherwise I’d never marry a killer.
Mr. Grady: There you have it. He’s not gonna kill you ‘cause you ain’t a slut.
Miss Maude: You’ve made your bed, Mary Beth, now you have to lay in it.
Third caller: But I’m scairt.
Mr. Grady: That’s what you git for callin’ in to a silly assed show like this.
Announcer: And we’re running out of time. Do you have any last word of advice, Miss Maude and Mr. Grady?
Mr. Grady: Stay away from the sexo-maniacs.
Miss Maude: I don’t know what that means, but I’d say Mr. Grady knows what he’s talkin’ about. He’s worked at the church for 60 years.
(After this program ran, Kerwin Klownhausen killed his wife Mary Beth Klownhausen, Homer Dipsheidt and Odeen Flugermeister, and stole the $500 in cash from a cigar box hidden under her bed. The judge ruled a mistrial and let Klownhausen out on $500 bail because Miss Maude and Mr. Grady were on the jury and couldn’t agree on a verdict. Shortly thereafter Klownhausen skipped town and was rumored to have moved to Las Vegas. The FCC took the radio station’s broadcast license away because Mr. Grady continued to call the program a silly assed show.)