Category Archives: Novels

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Eighty-Seven

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails a mission because of David, the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer is also a spy. David becomes king. David abdicates, they marry and he becomes Bahamas governor. Leon dies and his son Leon becomes a mercenary. MI6 briefs the Windsors on the situation in the Bahamas.
Sidney bought a newspaper before he started walking across the northern hills to meet up with Jimbo. Word had made it over to Eleuthera that some trouble was expected tonight. It was a long time coming and not a secret. Details of the air field construction projects began to leak. Whites imported from the United States were to receive four times the pay for the same work black Bahamians would do. All of the crew leader jobs were going to be offered to white Bahamians.
A story on the front page of the paper stated the Duke of Windsor had cut his diplomatic tour of the Eastern United States short and had returned to the Bahamas to address certain government issues. Sidney grunted.
I guess they didn’t want to admit a race riot was about to break out.
As he entered the village, Sidney wadded the newspaper and threw it in the brush alongside of the road. Two fears held his attention: first, he didn’t want the Duke to be involved in any way. Sidney’s contact with the organization made it clear there would be hell to pay if any harm came to the island governor. Second, he didn’t like the way Jimbo was getting involved in the situation. He was a big boy, for sure, but he was still just a boy, much less grown up than Sidney.
He didn’t want to see his new friend hurt. Even though Sidney was only sixteen himself, he felt like a father figure to Jimbo. He was family. And Sidney knew families’ bellies must be filled.
By the time he arrived at the campground, Leonard Green was already preaching to the crowd.
“We are tired of feeling like second-class citizens.” Green’s voice was loud and intense. “We are the majority in the Bahamas, but we are treated like the minority! It’s not fair, and it ends tonight!”
“I’se a man!” a voice in the crowd called out.
“That’s right!” Green agreed. “I’se a man!”
The chant rolled through the crowd as they held their torches high. Sidney searched the mob for some time before he found Jimbo. He didn’t like the glint in his friend’s eyes highlighted by in the torch flames.
“Now pick up a stick, a rock, anything,” Green ordered. “We’re going to the Public Square right now!”
Sidney stayed right by Jimbo’s side as they marched back over the hills to the town square where the Governor’s House sat alongside the Parliament building and the Colonial Secretary’s Office. When they arrived, Green conferred with a group of older black men in suits who stood at the top of the steps which led to a plaza connecting the three buildings. He turned to address the crowd.
“I have been informed by this group of gentlemen that a representative of our new Bahamas Federation of Labor is meeting at this very moment with the Duke of Windsor about our concerns.”
A white man stepped in front. “I am Attorney General Eric Halliman, and I assure you the Duke is very interested in your concerns and will act on them within the fullest measure the law will allow.”
A low moan of disbelief went through the crowd.
“Now I ask you, most kindly, to go home and not to spoil the good impression you have made.”
Most of the men did as they were told and in due time turned back towards home.
A woman’s voice rang out, “Cheap talk! That’s all it is!”
“Let’s go shoppin’ down on that Bay Street they’re always talkin’ about!” a man shouted.
“We never even seen it before!”
“Yeah! They won’t even let us walk down the street!”
“Let’s see what they got down there!”
“Yeah!” Jimbo chimed in.
Oh crap. How am I going to keep him from getting killed?”
Before Sidney knew it he and Jimbo were being shoved downtown. Stones shattered windows. Rioters flung torches in the shops. The night sky glowed in orange and yellow. Women spurred the men on.
“Get me some of that expensive perfume!”
“I want a fancy radio!”
Small children danced through the ransacked stores, laughing as though they didn’t understand the dire circumstances of the insurrection.
“We declare war on the conchy joe!” another voice erupted from the crowd.
“No white man is passin’ here tonight!”
Sidney grabbed Jimbo’s arm. “Come on, buddy. Let’s get out of here!”
“No!” Jimbo replied in a shrill snarl. “They right! They right!”
Sidney looked around when he heard the thudding of soldiers’ boots on the cobblestones. The governor had called out the troops.
Jerking on his friends arm, Sidney hissed, “It doesn’t make any difference if they’re right if the soldiers shoot us dead on the street!”
Now Sidney heard the bells on the firetrucks arriving to stop the shop burning. His worst fears came true when his eyes focused down the street where a slender white man silhouetted against the flames stood directing the action. Sidney decided the Duke left the negotiations when he was informed of the rioting.
Damn. Who knew he was going to be a hero tonight?”
The situation exacerbated when he saw Jimbo pick up a shard of glass in front of the stores.
“Damn white governor,” Jimbo growled. “It’s all his fault.” He started stalking toward the Duke.
Jimbo’s not thinking straight. He should know the Duke was really on their side. It’s too late to explain it to him now. He’s hot under the collar. How can I stop this without killing anybody?
He ran to catch up to Jimbo and kicked him several times in the back of the knees, which caused the boy to collapse on the street moaning.
Sidney looked behind him and saw a gray-haired black man who looked as scared as Sidney felt. He pointed to his friend on the ground.
“He done got sick. Take him back to the camp, please.”
The older man nodded, leaned down to help up Jimbo, and they disappeared in the crowd. As soon as he was sure they were gone, Sidney looked back at the Duke and saw several black men creeping up behind him.
Sidney ran to the Duke, grabbed him around the waist and dragged him to one of the firetrucks. He shoved him into the arms of a firefighter.
“He’ll be safer over here.” Sidney told the firefighter as he began to walk away.
“Who are you?” a fireman asked.
“One of the good guys—whatever the hell that means.”
The Duke turned around, shook his head and looked at Sidney. “Come by the Governor’s Palace when everything calms down. I want to thank you, properly.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Twelve

Previously: Just before shooting Lincoln, Booth thinks of the events leading to this moment.Stanton goes to Seward’s house when he hears of the stabbing. Someone tries to shoot Andrew Johnson. Gabby runs away from the basement in the rain.
Ward Lamon tapped the window of the train car as the engine chugged its way from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore. Rain streamed down the pane blurring the passing dark landscape. Lamon did not notice. He was anxious to see his friend Abraham Lincoln after an absence of two and a half years.
They had been friends in Springfield, Il. Part of that time Lamon was Lincoln’s law partner. When Lincoln became president, he asked Lamon to be his bodyguard on the trip to the capital. Later Lamon served officially as Federal District Marshal and unofficially as the president’s protector. Many nights he slept on the floor outside Lincoln’s bedroom door to ward off assassins. Then one day in September of 1862, Lamon rode to a meeting on Capitol Hill in the carriage of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Stanton told him the president had gone into hiding because of threats on his life. Doubles replaced both Lincoln and his wife. To insure the protection of the president, Stanton told him, Lamon had to pretend Lincoln was still living in the Executive Mansion.
Lamon never trusted Stanton, nor his personal bodyguard Lafayette Baker. Both of them were short men who bullied people to make themselves feel bigger. Since he himself was well over six feet in stature and burly in appearance, he had no need to bully people for respect.
Stanton told him that night to mind his own business and leave well enough alone. Baker smirked, which irritated Lamon to no end. He hated the man. Rumors circulated throughout Washington City about Baker’s nefarious history in California. The little man worked for companies that paid him to beat men to death who did not fall in line and accept low wages and stinking living conditions. Lamon believed every story.
He had pressed the Lincoln impersonator to tell him the truth during those two and a half years, but the impersonator had revealed little. Sitting in the railroad car staring out at the dark, Lamon remembered another train trip. He and the imposter were coming back from Gettysburg after the cemetery dedication. They looked out of the window as the train pulled into Washington City station.
Placing his hand over the double’s fist he whispered, “Say nothing but continue to wave. I’ll ask you questions, and you’ll respond by making a fist under my palm for yes. If the answer is no, flatten it. Is this plan really the plan of Mr. Stanton?”
The hand shook but did not change configuration.
“Is Mr. Stanton acting on the orders of Mr. Lincoln?”
He again made a quick fist, but his hand trembled.
“So Mr. Lincoln is not being held against his will?”
The hand went flat.
“Are you afraid?”
The hand stayed flat, but Lamon could sense beads of sweat popping up on the knuckles. Lamon wanted to jerk the man up by his shoulders and shake him. Be a man and tell the truth, he wanted to scream at him. You are not worthy even to pretend you are Abraham Lincoln, he wanted to yell. But, Lamon reminded himself, they were surrounded by people who did not need to know this man was not their commander-in-chief. Instead he patted the man’s hand. “Wave to the people, Mr. President.”
Cowardice was another personality trait the federal marshal did not understand. Lamon had never been afraid of anything, at least until this day as he rode the train to Baltimore. Now he feared he would not find President Lincoln in time to save his life. Shifting uncomfortably in the wooden bench seat on the train, he thought back to going to the Executive Mansion earlier that day. It was Good Friday morning, and he had implored the double to tell him where the real Lincoln was being held.
“Mr. Lincoln is going to die despite what I can do. I’m already dead.” After a pause the imposter added, “But we all don’t have to die.”
“That’s right,” Lamon told him. “Nobody has to die. Where is Mr. Lincoln?”
“Baltimore. Fort McHenry.”
“I’ll leave right now.”
The man grabbed Lamon’s arm. “Take the woman with you. I want her out of here tonight. I don’t trust Mr. Stanton.” Lamon offered to take him, but the man replied, “No, I have meetings to attend. People still have need to see their president.”
Lamon frowned as he recalled walking into Mrs. Lincoln’s bedroom where the woman sat by the window. “I’m leaving for Baltimore tonight. There’s no reason for you to stay.”
“I don’t want Tad to be alone. He’s been through so much, and he’s come to depend on me. I can’t let him down.”
As Lincoln’s friend continued to stare out of the rain-stained window, he decided he had been wrong about the imposters. At first, he thought they were despicable for participating in such a deception, but now he realized they were in the final analysis ordinary people forced into a terrible situation. And when the end was near, only thought of the good of others. Lamon hoped he would return from Baltimore with the president in time to save the couple. He realized their lives were in danger also. If Stanton were capable of kidnapping, he was capable of murder. Shaking his head to clear his mind, Lamon decided he would feel better once he had rescued Lincoln from Fort McHenry. The world would be set aright once he could look into the president’s eyes.
But what about looking into the eyes of his own wife back in Springfield? Lamon felt the back of his neck burn with guilt as he acknowledged he had set aside the needs of his own family when Lincoln became president. His first wife Angeline died in 1859. Two daughters, Kate and Julia, died in 1853 and 1854 respectively. Lamon asked his sister to raise his surviving daughter Dorothy. Right at the same time as the election in 1860, he married Sally Logan and immediately left his daughter and new wife to serve Lincoln in Washington City.
Sally and Dorothy saw him only occasionally in the first two years. After all, the nation and the president needed him. When Fort Sumter was under siege, the president sent him to Charleston as his special representative. Republicans criticized him for his failure to save the fort from falling. His wife and daughter never mentioned the war in their letters. They only said they wanted to see him again.
After September of 1862 when Lincoln allegedly went into hiding and an imposter took his place in the Executive Mansion, however, Lamon rarely made the train trip home to see his wife and daughter. He had to be in the White House constantly, looking for clues about the location of the real Lincoln and pushing the imposter for information. He even cancelled plans for his wedding anniversary with his wife to go with the imposter to Gettysburg. Her letters did not speak of her disappointment, but he could tell by her stiff penmanship she was in emotional pain.
Once the president was safe, Lamon told himself, once the crisis was officially over, he would return to his law practice in Springfield and be the proper husband to his wife and father to his dutiful daughters.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Eighty-Six

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails a mission because of David, the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer is also a spy. David becomes king. David abdicates, they marry and he becomes Bahamas governor. Leon dies and his son Leon becomes a mercenary. Woolworth heiress invites them to dinner.
The Windsors returned to the Bahamas just in time for the sultry season of summer; and, oh, how Wallis loathed it. Social life centered on dinners with the Bay Street Boys and their poorly dressed wives who fawned over her to excess. The wife of Harry Oates, the only one with anything of interest to say, had the good sense to go north during the dog days. An idea kept buzzing in Wallis like an irritating house fly while local gossip flourished in the after dinner social hour.
Wouldn’t I be put to better use somewhere else around the world killing a Nazi or someone else equally unpleasant?
Wallis did find a satisfying usefulness in her afternoons with the Red Cross ladies. On any given day she could be found at the hospitals caring for sick babies, counseling unwed mothers, darning socks, distributing clothing and bedding among the unwashed on the north side of the island among the unwashed. She would take notes of where medics needed to visit homes and tents where dreadful diseases abounded. Her fellow volunteers were women of compassion, reason and ideas. They were also ladies of age who after an afternoon with the Red Cross went home to a quiet supper and forthwith went to bed. They needed their rest to have the strength to attack their duties the next day.
Of particular interest to the Duchess were the children of the street. They appreciated little things like new sandals, shirts and an extra bit of food. In their eyes she saw the French valet’s son Jean who was pushed aside because the adults deemed him of no consequence. Yet it was he who saved her life the Christmas at La Croe. Who knew if one of these children might do the same thing if given the opportunity?
By September Wallis couldn’t stand the tedium and convinced David they might be of more use building goodwill among the Allies with another trip to the United States. Besides, she hadn’t had a decent new dress in years—at least it seemed like years. Even MI6 agreed another trip to the states was a good idea.
As usual, crowds lined the streets of Washington, D.C., as the Windsors drove down the boulevards in their limousine. British Ambassador Lord Halifax was out of town, which Wallis and David expected. The Royal Family demanded the couple receive as little attention as possible in their activities. Wallis had to remind herself that the King, Queen and his Royal Mum knew nothing of their MI6 connection. They assumed David’s abdication was as it was presented to the world—an affaire d’amour taken to excess. It was not as though Buckingham Palace was rude to them: it just acted like they didn’t exist.
Palace connections did maneuver behind the scenes. A White House dinner for the Duke and Duchess was cancelled for no apparent reason. Still, David did have an extensive private talk with President Roosevelt. The Duke spoke to the National Press Club. And the British embassy hosted a small dinner for them. Wallis was surprised they weren’t served watercress sandwiches and day-old tea cakes.
The palace did allow them to visit David’s ranch near Alberta, Canada. He bought the four thousand acres in 1919. On the surface David ran it as a business with a paid management staff. MI6 also used it for agent training. David had not been there since a couple of visits during the thirties. Wallis had never visited the ranch. The Windsors assumed the King didn’t want them to receive a large reception in metropolitan areas like Ottawa or Montréal. The tweedy types in the King’s cabinet didn’t know MI6 had arranged the time on the ranch.
When Wallis and David walked into the ramshackle log ranch house, they saw the smiling face of Gerry Greene, who had replaced the retired General Trotter as their main MI6 contact.
“Are we having fun yet?” Greene asked, seated in a large tufted chair.
“Now that you’re here I certainly hope so,” Wallis cracked as she lounged across an old leather sofa. “I hope you have an assignment for us. Something terribly sinful.”
“It might be.” Green looked at David. “There’s another one of these comfy chairs for you. “ He paused. “Oh. I’m supposed to stand or something when you come into a room. I hope I wasn’t rude.”
David plopped in the chair. “Not any more than my own family. Don’t worry about it. I’m used to it by now.” He pulled out his cigarette case and offered cigarettes to Wallis and Greene. “I do have one concern. I do miss my brother George. The rest of them I could do without, but if you could arrange a brief encounter with George every once in a while I’d appreciate it. Of course, I know he can’t know anything about MI6 but I’d just like to talk over old times.”
“And his wife Marina,” Wallis added. “She’s such a dear.”
“Well.” Greene broke into a wicked grin. “You be a good little boy and girl and keep war from breaking out in the Bahamas and I’ll see what we can do about George.”
Wallis sat up. “Another war? Don’t we have enough to worry about with the rest of the world going to hell?”
“It’s all related, my dear,” Greene replied.
“The RAF fields, right?” David looked at him with his squinty eye.
“Those bases must be built,” Greene continued. “No one has given too much thought about the danger of a German takeover of the Caribbean. It is vital not only to British interests but to American.”
Wallis blew smoke through her nostrils. “I thought that was a done deal. The Bay Street Boys were taking care of it.”
“The Bay street Boys are taking care of themselves.” Greene slouched back. “The Empire has been trying to impress on them the national security necessity of the project but all they can think of are big profits for themselves.”
“Of course.” David’s voice was licked by his usual schwermut.
“We could take out Harry Oates and Harold Christie,” Wallis offered. “They’re the worst ones. In fact, I’d enjoy killing Harry myself.”
“Wipe the drool from the corner of your mouth, dear,” David suggested.
“But they’re not the only players,” Greene explained. “We’ve heard bad things about this fellow named Merigny.”
“I know he wants to marry Harry’s daughter,” Wallis confided. “And he gets under Harry’s skin.”
“It isn’t just the Bay Street Boys,” Greene continued. “Right now there’s a race problem. Oates and Christie refuse to pay the black workers the same as the whites.”
“Ah, the Bourbon Street Boys,” Wallis threw in.
“Burma Road Boys,” David corrected her.
“I knew that. Maybe bourbon is on my mind because I’m thirsty.” She looked around room. “Where do you keep the booze?”
“We have to walk a tight rope,” Greene continued. “We don’t need a full-blown race riot. The airfields have to be built, dammit.”
David nodded. “Shanghai. 1925.”
“Exactly,” Greene agreed.
“I remember Shanghai.” Wallis smirked at David. “I saved your life.”
“I don’t remember that.”
“Reminisce later,” Greene ordered.
An envoy entered and handed Greene a telegram.
“Hey, you,” Wallis called out to the envoy. “Do you know where they keep the bourbon?”
Greene opened the wire, read and threw it aside. “More good news. A tropical storm just trashed the north side of Nassau. Ravaging the people who aren’t getting enough money as it is.”
Wallis sat up and turned serious. “Are we caught up? David and I need to get this trip over and back to the islands. Can you see that a telegram is sent to the Red Cross assuring them help is on the way?” She rolled her eyes. “Oh God, and we have to finish this awful tour.”
Greene agreed to cut their talks short. The Windsors returned to the United States, stopping off at Aunt Bessie’s house in Baltimore.
“My darlings, how wonderful to see you!” the old woman exclaimed. “I’ve been reading about you in the papers.”
Wallis’s face lit up. Bessie seemed more cogent than the last time they saw her in La Croe.
“Now when are you inviting me back to your lovely place in France? I enjoyed that Christmas there. But of course, you did seat me in the wrong place.”
And the air escaped Wallis lungs.
The Windsors had one last stop before returning to the Bahamas—New York City. Wallis needed a brief shopping spree to recover from the visit with Aunt Bessie. Dear Aunt Bessie who was still in decline, never to return.
Wallis picked a particularly elegant gown for their last social evening of the season—dinner at the home of Jessie Donohue at 834 Fifth Avenue, the size of a grand hotel but just for one family.
Once again Jimmy and Wooly greeted them at the front door, like they had in Florida, and escorted them to the grand staircase just as Jessie, in a haute couture gown accented with brooches, rings, bracelets and a diamond necklace around her sagging neck, descended to receive them.
Wallis put on her best official social event smile.
This is exactly the type of American poseur I loathe. So why do I find her so fascinating?

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Eleven

Previously: Just before shooting Lincoln, Booth thinks of the events leading to this moment.Stanton goes to Seward’s house when he hears of the stabbing. Someone tries to shoot Andrew Johnson. Gabby runs away from the basement in the rain.
Gabby scurried down the muddy path to Fifteenth Street and then broke out in a full run through the rain. He tripped over his own feet and fell face first into a muddy puddle, his hat flying off. He stood and without pausing to wipe his face, Gabby started running again, his arms flailing against the raindrops as he reached for the hat. He could not help but moan in terror as he scrambled along. Nothing looked familiar to him. His feet slipped on a wet rock and he fell into another quagmire. He tried to lift himself up but fell again.
“You would think the police would do something about the drunks on the streets.”
Gabby looked up to see two men walk by, glaring at him from under their wide umbrellas. His hands reached toward them.
“Help me!” He stood and stumbled in the direction of the two men who quickened their pace.
“I will send a telegram tomorrow!” one of the men said in a growl. “This is totally unacceptable!”
“No, please. I need help.” Gabby heard the tone of his voice. He sounded crazy. The two men disappeared in the darkness. Realizing his hat was missing again, he went back for it. Bending over, Gabby gasped for air. He had to calm himself down. Cordie was not here anymore to take care of him. He had to take care of himself. Before he put the hat on his head, Gabby turned his face to the dark angry sky. As the rain washed his face clean, Gabby told himself to keep thinking about Cordie and surely something would come to him. Cordie never let him down. Yes, Cordie worked at the hospital. Armory Square Hospital, the private had told him. All he had to do was find Armory Square Hospital.
Walking down Fifteenth Street again, Gabby realized he had to act as if he were in control of himself. People would not talk to anyone on the street they thought was crazy. He straightened the stovepipe hat on his head and brushed the overcoat to make it look presentable. Gabby approached an older man walking by himself.
“Excuse me, sir,” he said in as possessed a voice as he could muster, “could you please point me in the direction of the hospital?”
“What hospital?” the man asked, raising an eyebrow.
Gabby’s mouth gaped as he forgot the name of the hospital. “Ahh….”
“There are plenty of hospitals around here.”
“The one with the soldiers,” Gabby replied in a weak voice.
“They all have soldiers” The man emitted an aggravated grunt and walked away.
Gabby scampered after him with his arm outstretched, “No, please, I need help.” He stopped and after a moment began to cry.
A man and woman walked past, but Gabby did not try to hide his tears. He heard the woman stop and turn.
“That poor man is crying.” She sounded like she cared.
“Can’t you tell he’s mad,” the man replied with a hiss. “He’s obviously stark raving mad. Stark raving madmen on the street in the rain can be very dangerous.”
“I knew you were a coward when you paid to avoid the draft,” Her tone was sharp. “This poor man needs help.”
“No,” the man insisted, pulling on the woman’s arm. “He’s dangerous, I tell you.”
“I won’t hurt anybody.” Gabby wiped tears from his eyes. “I just want to know where the hospital with the soldiers is.”
“All the hospitals have soldiers,” the man retorted.
“John, please.” The woman pulled away and walked to Gabby. “Now, calm down so I can help you.”
“Thank you, ma’am. My sister Cordie used to work at one of the hospitals. She’s dead now, but she said the woman there was real nice and would help us if we ever needed it.”
“Do you remember the woman’s name?” The lady smiled, and it was gentle.
“No…” Gabby’s voice trailed off.
“I am wet and I am hungry.” The man patted his foot in a puddle.
“Dick Livermore,” the woman mumbled, “that’s who I should have married. He is a real man. Fought in the war. Decorated for bravery. No, I had to choose you—“
“Dick, that’s the name,” Gabby interrupted. “I remember now. Dick somebody. No, not Dick, Dicks, or something like that.”
The woman focused on Gabby. “Dorothea Dix?”
“Yes, that’s it.” Gabby jumped a little with joy. “Miss Dix. That’s what Cordie called her. Do you know her?”
“Everybody knows about Dorothea Dix,” she replied with a smile.
“What hospital is she at?”
“Armory Square Hospital.”
“That’s right. That’s what the private said. Armory Square Hospital. Sometimes I get so upset I forget things.”
“For God’s sake can we go now?” the man growled.
“But I don’t know where Armory Square Hospital is.” Gabby was nervous again.
“This is Fifteenth Street,” the woman pronounced in a slow cadence. “See the sign? Fifteenth Street.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Keep going down Fifteenth Street. You’ll cross a big iron bridge across the slough at the Mall. Then turn left on Independence Avenue and go past the Smithsonian Museum. It’s the big red stone building. Keep going until you see the hospital. There are signs outside of it. Do you understand?”
“I think so.”
“Tell me back what I said to you,” she instructed in a soft voice.
“Oh for God’s sake,” the man hissed. “If you don’t come with me right now I’m going without you.”
“You better go, ma’am,” Gabby said. “I don’t want you to miss your dinner.”
“Are you sure?”
“Elizabeth!”
“He sounds mad. You better go.”
She patted his shoulder and hurried away with her husband. Gabby kept repeating the instructions in his head. He did not want to forget them. He had to find Miss Dix. She would know what to do. He ducked his head down and walked toward the Mall. Go across the iron bridge….
The street began to fill with people running the other way on Fifteenth Street. The low buzzing of the crowd became louder until it was a roar. Gabby stopped a man by the arm.
“Excuse me, sir, but what’s going on?”
“The President has been shot at Ford’s Theater.” He pulled away and continued running back up the street.
Gabby felt the soaked coat he was wearing. The private said it was the president’s coat. He was wearing the coat, but he knew he had not been shot. Maybe they were talking about the other man, the one who had been in the basement with Gabby for two and a half years. That was not fair, Gabby told himself. Life could not be that unfair. His heart pounded in his chest. Gabby gave in to his emotions and started running with the crowd to Ford’s Theater.
After only about a block Gabby stopped. He remembered he needed to find Dorothea Dix. She would know what to do to help him. That poor man who was shot did not need his help now. Turning again down the street Gabby focused on the signs to make sure he was going in the right direction. Out of the darkness loomed the large iron footbridge across the Mall slough. He knew he was on the right track. Next find Independence Avenue and turn left. No matter what those people in the Army told him, Gabby knew he was smart. He could follow orders. The Smithsonian Institution was on his right. Gabby kept going until he saw the sign: Armory Square Hospital.
After he walked inside, Gabby felt awkward. The walls were whitewashed and pristine. The wooden floors were swept and mopped. He, on the other hand, dripped rainwater and mud. The nurses bending over the beds were in crisp clean dresses. Even the wounded soldiers looked freshly bathed. He did not belong there, Gabby told himself. He would make the soldiers sick. Gabby stepped back, about ready to leave the hospital, when a nurse looked over to see him. Even though she smiled, Gabby wanted to leave.
“Sir? May I help you? Please don’t leave.” She was a tall woman with broad shoulders and big hands. “Are you here to see someone? Are you ill?”
She had a sympathetic face so Gabby stopped, his hand on the doorknob. Behind the first nurse came a second, this one almost as old as Cordie with pepper gray hair pulled back in a bun. He stepped toward them and tried to brush the raindrops from his coat.
“Oh, my dear man, you are soaked to the bone.” The first nurse took the stovepipe hat from his head and pulled the drenched coat from his back. She turned to put them in a closet.
The second nurse put her hand to his forehead and muttered, “No fever. You must get out of those clothes. We have a nightgown for you. There’s a changing room in the back.”
“I—I need to see Miss Dix, Dorothea Dix,” Gabby announced as loudly as he could without sounding ungrateful for all the attention he was receiving. “The private told me Dorothea Dix could help me.”
“Of course, of course,” the second nurse murmured as she ran her fingers over his head, straightening his hair. “All in due time. But first you must get out of these wet clothes and into a nice warm bed.”
“Cordie, she said Miss Dix was a good person….”
“And what is going on here?”
Gabby looked up when he heard the shrill, high-pitched voice. He flinched as his eyes beheld a short, thin woman dressed in black with her hair pulled back in such a severe bun that Gabby was sure it gave her a headache.
“This poor soul says he wants to see you, Miss Dix,” the first nurse explained.
Miss Dix, Gabby thought. This woman looked too scary to help anyone. He felt the urge to run out the door into the rain, even without his overcoat. The women firmly held his arms so he could not escape.
“What do you want? Who are you?” Miss Dix’s voice reeked of impatience.
“Cordie said you were a good person. She said you could help me. But you don’t have to. I think I’m in the way here, so I’ll just leave—“
“Cordie?” Miss Dix interrupted him. “Do you mean Cordie Zook?”
“Yes, ma’am. She was my sister, but she’s dead now.”
“Yes, I know. She was a dear soul. You must be Gabby. She talked about you all the time,” Miss Dix softened her tone.
“Cordie always took care of me. Now she’s dead, and I’m all alone. I don’t have anybody to take care of me anymore.”
A gentle smile crossed her thin little face. “Poor man. Don’t worry a bit. We will take care of you now.” She extended her arms and enveloped him. “You won’t be alone again. I promise.”
Dorothea Dix was bony, unlike Cordie who was soft and plump. Gabby decided she would suffice, and gave her a hug. “Thank you, ma’am.”
He burst into tears.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Eighty-Five

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails a mission because of David, better known as the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer is also a spy. MI6 makes them a team. David becomes king. David abdicates, they marry and he becomes Bahamas governor. Leon dies and his son Leon becomes a mercenary and makes friends with Nassau street boy.
By April of 1942, Jessie Donohue’s intrigues to have the Duke and Duchess of Windsor dine at Cielito Lindo had come to fruition. During the great escape of socialites from Europe as Germany invaded France, Jessie gave shelter to Lord Sefton, allowing him to stay at Cielito Lindo until he received orders from the crown. Sefton had been a Lord-in-Waiting to David and remained an ally to the duke after the abdication. She pressed Sefton to inform the Duke of Windsor about the grandeur of Jessie’s winter home. She also suggested to her niece Barbara Hutton to insinuate herself into Wallis’ life.
Now Jessie waited with patience in her drawing room seated in a red velvet tufted arm chair next to her Renaissance fireplace. Patience. A virtue she had developed into a fine art.
She heard a commotion in the entry hall. The Windsors had arrived. Her sons Wooly, now twenty-nine, and Jimmy, now twenty-six, had greeted them. They were both handsome. The older Wooly had no spine and the younger had no morals; however, they practiced the highest form of social graces when necessary.
The first voice to echo down the marbled hall was that of the duke. She had heard it enough in the newsreels to recognize it.
One of the boys must have said something amusing. Probably Jimmy. Wooly didn’t have a sense of humor.
As the hubbub became louder, Jessie pulled out her compact and looked in the mirror. She lifted her left hand to pat her jaw.
If only someone could invent a makeup to create the illusion she had a chin. Too late for that.
She picked up a powder puff and daubed a dark shade of beige under her jaw line. Jimmy’s shrill laughter pierced the air. The duke, duchess and entourage was upon her. Jessie forced her best naïve smile upon her face and stood just as the couple entered the room, as she knew they would one day. Jessie had very good connections.
“My dear Mrs. Donohue,” David announced. “Your son has the most remarkable sense of humor.”
She looked at Jimmy and smiled.
“When I introduced myself as the Duke of Windsor, Wooly replied, ‘I am the duke of Cork’.”
Jessie’s jaw dropped. She had never heard Wooly make a joke in his life.
“Don’t worry,” David added. “I know he was referring to his Irish heritage. How clever.”
She glanced at Jimmy who rolled his eyes. Recovering her sense of decorum, she curtsied first to the duke and then to the duchess. While royal command forbade such a greeting to Wallis, Jessie did it any, just to get on the duchess’ good side.
Hooking her arm around Wallis’ elbow, she led her to French doors to her formal garden.
“I want you to meet my dear friends who will be dining with us today.”
Outside were twenty-five people dressed as though they were about to be presented to the King and Queen. Jessie was pleased to see they had practiced their bows and curtsies.
Footmen, costumed for an Austrian operetta, entered, each with a glass of champagne on small silver trays, one for every single guest. After a respectable amount of time the butler opened another set of French doors on the other side of the garden which led to an Italianate dining room. The footmen attended well to each guest.
Jessie placed David next to her, Wallis next to Jimmy while Wooly was hopelessly lost among the other guests.
“I know you are Anglican so I hope you don’t mind I invited the monsignor of our local diocese to offer the blessing.”
“Of course not,” David replied with smile. “We English haven’t burned a priest at the stake in years.”
Jimmy emitted a ruffian’s guffaw which Jessie found inappropriate; but after all, he was her little Jimmy.
The priest performed a short bland prayer, and the footmen served the salad in small bowls from the eighteenth century. Jessie had just started her salad when she noticed the muscles in David’s jaw flex as he masticated his lettuce. She leaned into him.
“I hope you enjoy the tomatoes,” she whispered. “They are grown locally.”
“Good for you.” David daubed his mouth with a linen napkin before adding, “I urge everyone to buy local produce. It helps stimulate the economy, don’t you think?”
Jessie paused to consider his blue eyes. No matter how much he tried with his pleasant demeanor he could not hide their innate sadness. For the first time in many years, she felt a twinge of romance undulate through her body.
“Oh my God, Mummy!” Jimmy exclaimed. “You should see this brooch on Wallis’s shoulder.” He turned to the duchess and smiled. “You don’t mind if I call you Wallis, do you?”
“Of course not.”
She replied in such a gracious fashion Jessie could not tell if Wallis were being sincere or not. Jessie admired that quality in a woman.
“It’s a flamingo made up of emeralds, rubies diamonds—and what are the blue stones?”
“Sapphires,” Wallis filled in as she raised her napkin to her mouth.
“Mummy, you’d just kill to have this flamingo.” He giggled. “Am I telling too many family secrets?”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Ten

Previously: Just before shooting Lincoln, Booth thinks of the events leading to this moment.Stanton goes to Seward’s house when he hears of the stabbing. Someone tries to shoot Andrew Johnson.
The short man with the red beard scared Gabby Zook. Gabby was on his way out of the White House basement wearing a long coat and black stovepipe hat with a bullet hole in it. The young soldier gave him the hat and coat because it was raining, and it was going to be a long walk from the White House to the Armory Square Hospital. He said the coat and hat belonged to the President of the United States, so Gabby decided he must be the President of the United States. He did not know for sure. The last two and a half years had been very confusing.
“Who the hell are you?” the short man bellowed at him as they met in the basement door.
“I’m the president, aren’t I?” Gabby remembered telling the man.
“Get the hell out of here,” the man barked.
More than half an hour had passed since he left the grounds of the White House, but the rough words still haunted him. That man sounded mean enough to kill someone, Gabby told himself as he put his head down to protect his face from the rain. He gathered the overcoat around him.
“If I am the president,” Gabby mumbled to himself, “then why was that man talking mean to me?” He concentrated on his shoes splashing in the mud. “Maybe he was mean to me because I’m not really the president. I’m just wearing his hat and coat.”
If only he could remember. Cordie would tell him what he needed to know. His sister always took good care of him. That was right. He could not be President because he was Cordie’s brother, and not anyone related to Cordie could be President. Gabby began to recall that he worked at the White House as a janitor. Cordie had gotten him the job because their uncle Samuel Zook was a general, and she felt the government owed the family something because Uncle Sammy was doing such a fine job. One day Gabby was setting out rattraps in the basement when this man and the young soldier brought down a very tall man and short woman to the billiards room. He was behind some boxes setting the traps when the man and soldier caught him. Because “he knew,” the man with the soldier explained, Gabby had to stay in the basement. Gabby did not know what it was “he knew,” but it must have been something bad.
They kept saying the president was being held captive in the basement. Gabby was not certain if they were talking about him or the tall man. The tall man seemed very nice and smart enough to be the President. At times Gabby was sure this man was the President and the woman was his wife. Other times Gabby was sure he was president, and the woman was his wife. He shook his head. That could not be right. He would have never married a woman like that. She was crazy.
Gabby looked up at the street sign. It was Fifteenth Street. Sighing, he wished he had paid more attention when Cordie took him places. He had to find Cordie. What did the young soldier tell him right before he left the basement? Go to Armory Square Hospital. But where was Armory Square Hospital? He must have been walking in the right direction or why else would he have been walking in that direction, Gabby asked himself. Most of the time Gabby listened to his own advice because down deep in his heart Gabby knew he was smart.
He went to West Point, and only the smartest of boys went to school there. Yes, he remembered his best friend Joe VanderPyle was his classmate. They were going to be Army officers. They would have been good Army officers, and then something bad happened. A colonel told them to drive him in a carriage into town. Gabby tried to tell the colonel he had never handled a team of horses before, but the colonel insisted his orders be obeyed. Gabby lost control, and the carriage overturned. Joe died. The colonel said it was Gabby’s fault. After that, Gabby did not know what was right or wrong or up or down. The Army confused him, and he wanted to go home to Brooklyn to his sister Cordie.
Cordie did a good job taking care of him through the years until their money ran out, and they had to sell the old house. She made sure the government gave him a good job. She volunteered at the hospital and took in sewing at the boarding house where they lived. Life was good until he got locked into the basement. The boardinghouse, Gabby repeated. Maybe that was where Cordie was. He took a few steps back the other way before stopping. No, Cordie was not at the boardinghouse. Cordie was dead.
The private told him so, just a day or two ago. But Gabby already knew. He dreamed it. He knew he would never see his sister again. The soldier had brought him a plate of fried eggs for breakfast. They were Gabby’s favorite. Now he was not hungry anymore.
“We’re going home on Friday,” the soldier told him. “You don’t have to worry about anything anymore.”
“Cordie’s dead. There’s plenty to worry about,” Gabby remembered telling the soldier. “Uncle Sammy is dead. Mama is dead. Papa’s dead. Joe is dead. Everybody’s dead except me.” Then he said to the soldier, “Don’t worry. I forgive you.”
Gabby thought the soldier appreciated hearing that. He did not want the young man to feel guilty for keeping him and the couple in the basement for so long. It was someone else’s fault. He had not quite figured out whose fault it was, but he was pretty sure it was the man with the private the day who locked him in the basement. The soldier thought he had been doing the right thing. Gabby could tell he was a good young man. Maybe he could help Gabby figure all this out.
Turning back up Fifteenth Street, Gabby began walking to the White House. The young man told him to go to Armory Square Hospital, but Gabby could not remember why. He was sure the soldier would not mind explaining everything to him again. Finally, he reached the White House grounds and trudged up the path to the basement door. He stopped short. The mean short man with the red beard was carrying a big bundle out the door. He dumped it in an open carriage and went back inside. Gabby edged closer, afraid the man would see him and yell at him again. Looking in the carriage, he saw it was a body. As he leaned in, Gabby lifted a corner of the blanket covering it. He gasped. It was the private.
The soldier’s eyes were wide open and blank. Blood covered his mouth. Gabby carefully put his hand under the private’s head. When he pulled it out he saw more blood. He held his hand out and let the rain wash it clean.
“My God,” he mumbled. “That mean man killed him.” His lip quivered. “Now I really am alone. Even the soldier is dead.” Gabby looked at the door. “And if I stay here I’ll be dead. That mean man will shoot me too.”

Remember Chapter Twenty-Five

Previously: Retired teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. Lucinda remembers Vernon decided to marry Nancy but instead was drafted. Her last advice to him was less than kind. She has a vision of Vernon right after he was shot in Vietnam. Troubles of the day overwhelms her and she dreams of a a fire in the boardinghouse.
Bertha knocked at Lucinda’s door. “Lucy? Can I come in? I have to apologize. Lucy?” Coming through the door, she saw the teacher on her bed. The late afternoon sun spotlighted her limp body, her eyes stared blankly at the ceiling. Bertha’s hand flew up to her mouth. “Emma! Cassie! Come here quick!”
Emma and Cassie rushed in. The mother goes over to the bed while the daughter comforted her aunt.
“What on earth is goin’ on here?” Emma peered at Lucinda’s face. “What a stupid look.”
“She’s dead, Emma.” Bertha had trouble forming the words. “I kinda got into a fit with her, just a few minutes ago. The last thing I ever said to her wasn’t very kind.”
“Don’t worry.” Cassie hugged her. “You didn’t know she was goin’ to die.”
“But you should always treat people like you was never goin’ to see them again, so that if the last thing they ever hear in life is from you, it’s somethin’ sweet,” Bertha replied, as though in a revelation.
“Don’t worry about it,” Emma told her sister. “At least she was paid up a month ahead.”
“We better call the hospital,” Cassie said.
“You call the police when you find somebody dead.” Emma spoke with a weary tone. Cassie should already know things like that.
“I never could figure that out,” Cassie muttered as she followed her mother and aunt down the staircase.
Nancy came in the front door but stopped short when she saw the three women coming down the steps. Bertha was wiping tears from her eyes, Cassie shook her head and Emma puffed deeply on her cigarette.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“We jest found Miz Cambridge dead in her room,” Cassie replied.
“Oh no.” Nancy turned to look through the screen door at Shirley who was playing with a couple of neighborhood friends on the front lawn.
“I know you didn’t care for her much,” Emma said bluntly as she went toward the kitchen.
“I’m so sorry.” Nancy put a hand to the screen.
Bertha patted her on the back. “Don’t worry about it none. You didn’t know she was goin’ to drop dead.” She followed her sister down the hall.
“You goin’ to be all right, Nancy?” Cassie wrinkled her brow.
“I guess.”
“Well, if you need us we’ll be in the kitchen callin’ the cops.”
Nancy hurried up the stairs to Lucinda’s room. She didn’t want to go in, but something forced her, perhaps a sense of atonement. Walking over to the bed, Nancy was surprised to see a smile on the old woman’s face. She looked around the room until she found the college yearbook from the year she and Vernon were in school. She picked it up and turned to the page with Vernon’s picture. As she left the room, Vernon’s memory appeared again, as though evoked from dreams long abandoned. Going over to the bed, he tapped Lucinda’s shoulder.
“Mrs. Cambridge?” he whispered.
Lucinda’s eyes fluttered open. “Vernon?”
“Thanks for coming back to save me, Mrs. Cambridge. And thank you for Shirley.” He helped her to her feet.
She looked back on the bed to see her body, the serene smile still on her graying, cold face. “Then I’m dead?”
“Just like me.”
“Then if we’re still here, that means we must be someone else’s memory now.”
“As long as somebody thinks about you, you’re never really gone.”
Lucinda hugged Vernon. “Oh, whoever you are, remember us. Please remember!”
Nancy went out on the porch and called out, “Shirley! Come here!”
Shirley stopped talking with her friends to look at her mother. “What’s wrong?”
Nancy smiled at Shirley’s friends. “You girls need to go home now. Shirley can play later.”
The children walked away, looking back a couple of times. Shirley took each stair with apprehension. Nancy pulled her close, and they sat on the top step.
“Mrs. Cambridge, she’s dead,” Nancy whispered.
“What?”
“She was old, Shirley.” Gentleness entered her voice. “It was her time.” Nancy held up the yearbook and opened it to the right page. “You know that yearbook you wanted to look at? Well, here it is. Let me show you a picture.”
“Vernon Singleberry?” Shirley asked.
“Yes. A very sweet, wonderful man. He looked a whole lot like you.”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Eighty-Four

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails a mission because of David, better known as the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer is also a spy. MI6 makes them a team. David becomes king. David abdicates, they marry and he becomes Bahamas governor. Leon dies and his son Leon becomes a mercenary.
Sidney didn’t take long to walk the winding road across the hills separating Nassau and the community of black Bahamians. By the time he reached the other side the road was a mere path and the houses reduced to shanties. Dogs roamed the area looking for scraps of food and occasionally fighting when another dog had found a juicy bone. Women sat in their front yards tending huge vats of boiling soapy water to wash their clothes. Wearing his ragged fisherman clothes, he fit in. On the right was an elderly woman stirring a pot of clam chowder with a delicious smell, reminding him of his mother’s cooking. He closed his eyes and thought back to when his mother was alive. He pulled a pence from his pocket and handed it to her. She nodded and filled a soup bowl and handed it to him.
He sat on the ground nearby and closed his eyes again so he could savor the aroma. Sidney pushed the thoughts of his mission from his mind to contemplate whether life in the hills over Nassau might be preferable to the life he was living. His meditation crumbled when he felt another body plop next to him. When Sidney opened his eyes he saw a young man grinning at him.
“I like you,” the boy said. “You’re the only one who has more holes in his clothes than me.”
Sidney cocked his head.
“Don’t mind me. I’m always making bad jokes. I think it’s better to laugh than to cry, don’t you?” When no answer was coming, he stuck out his hand. “They call me Jimbo. Who are you?”
“Sidney.”
“You ain’t from around here. I know all the boys who are scratching out a living. Your parents dead too?”
“Yes.”
“Where you from?”
“Eleuthera.”
“Oh! A Out Islander. You don’t have to worry about food then. You can go fishing.”
“My whole family used to fish,” Sidney offered.
“Did you hear the story about the fisherman who got ate by a shark?” Jimbo asked. “It was years ago.”
“It was my grandfather.” Sidney’s voice was hardly above a whisper.
“Oh.” Jimbo stopped in mid-gulp of chowder. “So that’s why you don’t talk much.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Sidney explained. “Fishermen get used to hours of not talking. It takes our minds off business.”
“You talk good. You get to go to school?” Jimbo asked.
“My father taught me.”
“So, he went to school?”
“No, his father taught him.”
“The one who got ate by the shark,” Jimbo whispered as though connecting the dots of Sidney’s story.
“You don’t need a school to learn if you if listen and force your mind open to new things.”
Jimbo patted him on the back. “You need to meet Leonard Greene. You’re as smart as he is.”
Sidney finished his bowl of chowder. “And who is he?”
“He’s the leader of the Burma Road Boys.”
Sidney didn’t say anything but stood to return the bowl to the old woman. He considered how to learn more about the Burma Road Boys without acting too excited. This was his first lead on his mission, and he didn’t want to disappoint the organization.
“Is he the local preacher?” He chose not to sit.
Jimbo stood instead. “He’s more than a preacher.” He looked around as though checking who might be listening in. “Excuse me. I gotta give granny my bowl.”
When he returned, Sidney thought it best to change the subject a bit. “So, the chowder lady is your grandmother?”
“Oh no,” Jimbo replied. “That’s what everybody calls her. I’m like you. No relatives at all.” He motioned to Sidney to walk down the path. “That’s what Leonard Greene is. He’s like everybody’s father and best friend.”
Sidney decided it was best to continue appearing disinterested. “Where do you sleep? I gotta have a place to sleep.”
“A bunch of us boys have tents deep in the woods.” He pointed to the trees. “The bobbies come run us off every now and then to keep the Bay Street Boys happy. But we always find someplace else.”
“Can I sleep in your tent, just for tonight?”
“Sure. You can meet Leonard Greene. He’s holding a rally at our camp at sunset.”
The sun had just disappeared behind the hills when the camp began to fill with black men who gathered around a big fire. A tall man, dressed in a worn business suit, approached the group and gazed into their eyes. His wrinkled face shined with righteous hope.
“Did all of you work hard today?” Greene’s deep voice resonated around the camp and through the trees.
A discontented grumble arose. Sidney was sure they were all saying no.
“No! You may not have earned a single coin but you worked hard! You worked hard staying alive, keeping hope alive, defending your dignity so it’s still alive!
The negative rumble turned positive bit by bit.
“I guess you’ve heard there’s a new boss man down on Bay Street along with the rest of the rich white boys,” Greene began his speech. “It’s called the American Pleasantville Corporation. Don’t that sound nice? Don’t that sound friendly? And it’s going to create a heap of jobs for all you men and boys out there. Don’t that make you happy? They’re going to hire 2,500 of you to build two British air force bases south of Nassau and Grants Town. You know where that is, don’t you?”
A chant rose up. “Burma Road! Burma Road! Burma Road!”
“That’s right!” Greene replied. “The meanest plot of scrub brush God ever did put on this earth! And they’re going to use your muscle, your sweat, your blood to pull those thorn-infested bushes out so they can build a runway for all those pretty airplanes to land.” He paused to wipe his brow with his handkerchief. “But you don’t mind that, do you? You’re proud you can work hard, ain’t you? That scrub brush ain’t nothing to you, right?”
“Right! Right! Right!”
“But what they’re not going to tell you is that they’re going to pay you only part of what white men get for the same work! And the light-colored folks, who happen to have a white daddy and a black mama, they’re going to be paid more than you!”
“No! No! No!”
“You know the pretty pink building downtown where the government is run? It’s the representatives in that building who decide it’s all right to pay black folks less. And who elects those representatives? The white folks, not you!”
“Not me! Not me! Not me!”
“And why is that? Aren’t all men supposed to vote?”
“Yes! Yes! Yes!”
“So why can’t I vote?” Greene pounded his chest. “Just because I’m black! I’se a man too!”
“I’se a man! I’se a man! I’se a man!”
Sidney, not understanding why, joined in.
“I’se a man!”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Nine

Previously: Just before shooting Lincoln, Booth thinks of the events leading to this moment.Stanton goes to Seward’s house when he hears of the stabbing. Someone tries to shoot Andrew Johnson.
Another knock at the door interrupted Andrew Johnson’s thoughts about his sobriety. Turning, he wondered if “they”—the ones who had told the drunk to shoot him—had come to finish the job. In his younger years, Johnson would have flung open the door, grabbed the gun from the hand of the assailant, and beaten him with it, but he acknowledged he was an old man now who had a responsibility to stay alive for his family and his country.
“Who is it?” he called out in a strong voice.
“Mr. Vice-President!” a young voice replied in a loud fright-tinged voice. “Major Eckert sent me!”
The name was not familiar to Johnson, but he could tell by the young man’s tone he was in earnest. “What’s this all about?” he asked as he removed the chair from his door.
“The president has been shot!”
“What the hell?” Johnson opened the door to see a private, still panting and his eyes wide with excitement. He was drenched by the rain.
“He and his wife were at Ford’s Theater watching this play and while everybody was laughing—I don’t know what the joke was but it must have been awful funny because everybody was laughing and this guy shot the President in the back of the head, and everybody stopped laughing because the President’s wife Mrs. Lincoln started screaming and this man jumped to the stage and–”
“Please, private,” Johnson interrupted in a mellow voice, “please take a moment to compose your thoughts. I know this must be very frightening for you. I’m kind of scared myself.”
“But—“
“Sshh.” Johnson put his hand on the private’s shoulder. “You and I ain’t going to catch the attacker any time soon by ourselves. Take a deep breath.” He smiled. “You remind me of my son back in Tennessee. Mighty fine young man he is.”
The young man smiled, revealing how shy and frightened he was. He looked into Johnson’s eyes. “Thank you, sir. Mighty kind of you, sir.”
After a moment, Johnson asked in an easy-going voice, “How badly hurt was the President?”
“I don’t know for sure. The doctors are tending to him now. Across the street from the theater. A boardinghouse. Peterson’s, I think. The way the folks were acting in the hallway there, it don’t look good.”
“Did they capture the man?”
“No, he jumped from the president’s box to the stage and ran out the back. I don’t think anyone knew what was going on until he was gone and Mrs. Lincoln started screaming. I don’t know for sure, sir. I wasn’t there. Major Eckert ordered me to the boardinghouse only about an hour ago. I work for him at the Military Telegraph Bureau.”
“Do they know who it was?”
“I heard on the street that it was the actor, John Wilkes Booth,” the private replied. “But I don’t take much stock in what—“
“Did you say John Wilkes Booth?” Johnson said, remembering the note. He pulled it from his pants pocket to read it again.
Sorry I missed you. J.W. Booth.
“You ever see him on stage?” the soldier asked. “I don’t go to the theater myself but I understand all the young ladies have a soft spot for him.”
“Yes, I’ve heard,” Johnson mumbled. Was Booth the same man who had knocked on his door, he wondered. Johnson dismissed the thought. The man he saw was not an actor.
“I also heard Secretary of State Seward has been stabbed,” the private added.
“What? Seward too?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Is he dead?”
“No, sir,” the private replied. “But he’s hurt real bad.”
“A man just knocked at my door within the last hour,” Johnson said, almost to himself. “He had a pistol. I think he intended to kill me.”
“They’re out to bring down the whole government.” The soldier shook his head.
“They?” Johnson thought about what the drunk had said at the door.
They told me….
“Does anyone have any idea who they are?”
“No, sir.” The private hung his head.
“Well.” Johnson patted him on the shoulder. “We won’t let anybody bring the government down, will we, boy?”
He smiled. “No, sir. We won’t.”
“I suppose you just ran over from the boardinghouse?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Well, I’m too old to do any running tonight. Will you please flag down a carriage for us while I get my coat?”
“Yes sir.”
After he put on his coat and tie, Johnson considered asking the hotel for coffee. No, he did not have time for that. He had to force his mind to focus on the task in front of him. Knowing Stanton as well as he did, Johnson expected to see him at the boarding house set up as commander-in-chief. He had to brace himself for a confrontation with the secretary of war.
Downstairs he dashed from the hotel to the open carriage door. He waved to the private to join him.
“No, no, sir. I’ll walk back.”
“Nonsense. Get in. It’s pouring!”
As they rode to the Peterson House, Johnson amiably asked the soldier questions. Where was he from? Did he see much action during the war? When was the last time he saw his family? The private answered every one of them with a smile, though Johnson did not hear any of it. He just nodded and smiled, his mind trying to figure out why John Wilkes Booth would have called on him at his hotel just hours before shooting the president.
Johnson’s head was swirling with questions. Who were the mysterious “they” mentioned by his own would-be assassin? If the president, secretary of state and vice-president had been marked for murder, Johnson thought, why had no one tried to kill Stanton?
The carriage stopped at the boardinghouse, and the private pushed through the crowd, making way for the vice-president. Dozens of hands reached out to touch him. Johnson tried to make contact with as many of them as possible. These were the common people. His people and they needed to know their government was going to be all right. Inside, Johnson stopped for a brief moment as he surveyed the crowded halls and staircase.
“This way, Mr. Vice-President,” the soldier said, leading him down the hall.
Johnson saw other Cabinet members milling about. Military officers shouted orders to privates who scurried from place to place. He paused by the back room where the President lay at an angle on a bed. Lincoln’s face was ashen. Doctors conferred over him and shook their heads.
“Mr. Stanton is across the hall,” the private whispered.
Johnson stepped into the parlor where, as he suspected, Stanton was in his natural environment, writing telegrams and giving orders. Officers brushed past the Vice-President, barely acknowledging he was there. When Stanton failed to look up, Johnson cleared his throat.
“Mr. Stanton,” he announced in a firm loud voice, “what are the President’s chances of survival?”
Stanton stopped making notes long enough to glance up. When his eyes focused through his small glasses, he dropped his pencil and his mouth fell open. Johnson always prided himself on his ability to read the expressions on men’s faces, and what he saw on Stanton’s face was shock and fear.
“My God,” Stanton finally said. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m the vice-president. I’m supposed to be here.”
“I mean,” Stanton fumbled with his words. “Thank God they didn’t shoot you too.”
Once again, Johnson observed, the mysterious “they”.

Another knock at the door interrupted Andrew Johnson’s thoughts about his sobriety. Turning, he wondered if “they”—the ones who had told the drunk to shoot him—had come to finish the job. In his younger years, Johnson would have flung open the door, grabbed the gun from the hand of the assailant, and beaten him with it, but he acknowledged he was an old man now who had a responsibility to stay alive for his family and his country.
“Who is it?” he called out in a strong voice.
“Mr. Vice-President!” a young voice replied in a loud fright-tinged voice. “Major Eckert sent me!”
The name was not familiar to Johnson, but he could tell by the young man’s tone he was in earnest. “What’s this all about?” he asked as he removed the chair from his door.
“The president has been shot!”
“What the hell?” Johnson opened the door to see a private, still panting and his eyes wide with excitement. He was drenched by the rain.
“He and his wife were at Ford’s Theater watching this play and while everybody was laughing—I don’t know what the joke was but it must have been awful funny because everybody was laughing and this guy shot the President in the back of the head, and everybody stopped laughing because the President’s wife Mrs. Lincoln started screaming and this man jumped to the stage and–”
“Please, private,” Johnson interrupted in a mellow voice, “please take a moment to compose your thoughts. I know this must be very frightening for you. I’m kind of scared myself.”
“But—“
“Sshh.” Johnson put his hand on the private’s shoulder. “You and I ain’t going to catch the attacker any time soon by ourselves. Take a deep breath.” He smiled. “You remind me of my son back in Tennessee. Mighty fine young man he is.”
The young man smiled, revealing how shy and frightened he was. He looked into Johnson’s eyes. “Thank you, sir. Mighty kind of you, sir.”
After a moment, Johnson asked in an easy-going voice, “How badly hurt was the President?”
“I don’t know for sure. The doctors are tending to him now. Across the street from the theater. A boardinghouse. Peterson’s, I think. The way the folks were acting in the hallway there, it don’t look good.”
“Did they capture the man?”
“No, he jumped from the president’s box to the stage and ran out the back. I don’t think anyone knew what was going on until he was gone and Mrs. Lincoln started screaming. I don’t know for sure, sir. I wasn’t there. Major Eckert ordered me to the boardinghouse only about an hour ago. I work for him at the Military Telegraph Bureau.”
“Do they know who it was?”
“I heard on the street that it was the actor, John Wilkes Booth,” the private replied. “But I don’t take much stock in what—“
“Did you say John Wilkes Booth?” Johnson said, remembering the note. He pulled it from his pants pocket to read it again.
Sorry I missed you. J.W. Booth.
“You ever see him on stage?” the soldier asked. “I don’t go to the theater myself but I understand all the young ladies have a soft spot for him.”
“Yes, I’ve heard,” Johnson mumbled. Was Booth the same man who had knocked on his door, he wondered. Johnson dismissed the thought. The man he saw was not an actor.
“I also heard Secretary of State Seward has been stabbed,” the private added.
“What? Seward too?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Is he dead?”
“No, sir,” the private replied. “But he’s hurt real bad.”
“A man just knocked at my door within the last hour,” Johnson said, almost to himself. “He had a pistol. I think he intended to kill me.”
“They’re out to bring down the whole government.” The soldier shook his head.
“They?” Johnson thought about what the drunk had said at the door.
They told me….
“Does anyone have any idea who they are?”
“No, sir.” The private hung his head.
“Well.” Johnson patted him on the shoulder. “We won’t let anybody bring the government down, will we, boy?”
He smiled. “No, sir. We won’t.”
“I suppose you just ran over from the boardinghouse?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Well, I’m too old to do any running tonight. Will you please flag down a carriage for us while I get my coat?”
“Yes sir.”
After he put on his coat and tie, Johnson considered asking the hotel for coffee. No, he did not have time for that. He had to force his mind to focus on the task in front of him. Knowing Stanton as well as he did, Johnson expected to see him at the boarding house set up as commander-in-chief. He had to brace himself for a confrontation with the secretary of war.
Downstairs he dashed from the hotel to the open carriage door. He waved to the private to join him.
“No, no, sir. I’ll walk back.”
“Nonsense. Get in. It’s pouring!”
As they rode to the Peterson House, Johnson amiably asked the soldier questions. Where was he from? Did he see much action during the war? When was the last time he saw his family? The private answered every one of them with a smile, though Johnson did not hear any of it. He just nodded and smiled, his mind trying to figure out why John Wilkes Booth would have called on him at his hotel just hours before shooting the president.
Johnson’s head was swirling with questions. Who were the mysterious “they” mentioned by his own would-be assassin? If the president, secretary of state and vice-president had been marked for murder, Johnson thought, why had no one tried to kill Stanton?
The carriage stopped at the boardinghouse, and the private pushed through the crowd, making way for the vice-president. Dozens of hands reached out to touch him. Johnson tried to make contact with as many of them as possible. These were the common people. His people and they needed to know their government was going to be all right. Inside, Johnson stopped for a brief moment as he surveyed the crowded halls and staircase.
“This way, Mr. Vice-President,” the soldier said, leading him down the hall.
Johnson saw other Cabinet members milling about. Military officers shouted orders to privates who scurried from place to place. He paused by the back room where the President lay at an angle on a bed. Lincoln’s face was ashen. Doctors conferred over him and shook their heads.
“Mr. Stanton is across the hall,” the private whispered.
Johnson stepped into the parlor where, as he suspected, Stanton was in his natural environment, writing telegrams and giving orders. Officers brushed past the Vice-President, barely acknowledging he was there. When Stanton failed to look up, Johnson cleared his throat.
“Mr. Stanton,” he announced in a firm loud voice, “what are the President’s chances of survival?”
Stanton stopped making notes long enough to glance up. When his eyes focused through his small glasses, he dropped his pencil and his mouth fell open. Johnson always prided himself on his ability to read the expressions on men’s faces, and what he saw on Stanton’s face was shock and fear.
“My God,” Stanton finally said. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m the vice-president. I’m supposed to be here.”
“I mean,” Stanton fumbled with his words. “Thank God they didn’t shoot you too.”
Once again, Johnson observed, the mysterious “they”.

Remember Chapter Twenty-Four

Previously: Retired teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. Lucinda remembers Vernon decided to marry Nancy but instead was drafted. Her last advice to him was less than kind. She has a vision of Vernon right after he was shot in Vietnam. Troubles of the day overwhelms her and she dreams of a a fire in the boardinghouse.
Bertha whimpered as the teacher guided her out the door and to the top of the stairs. “Now. You go downstairs and out the front door while I get Cassie!”
“No! Don’t leave me!” Bertha clutched her. “I’ll die if you leave me!”
“You won’t die walking down the stairs and out the front door!”
“If I git confused and go wrong, I’ll walk right into the fire! I’ll die! You must guide me!”
“Very well. But hurry!” Lucinda ordered. The two women walked looked down at their down at their feet with stealth caution as they went down the stairs and out the front door. “Here, now you’re safe on the front lawn.”
“Thank you. I guess I was silly. I could have gotten out by myself.”
“No time for that. I’ve got to go back to get Cassie and Mrs. Lawrence!”
“Oh no! My foolishness cost time!” Bertha rebuked herself, bawling. “They’re already dead! I killed them!
“Oh shut up!” Lucinda went back inside the house and started up the stairs, but Cassie was already limping down.
“So it finally happened. Mommy caught the house on fire. Let’s git out of here!” She clasped Lucinda’s hand. “Come on, Miz Cambridge!”
She stopped as she thought of Emma. “I’ve got to get your mother!”
“Don’t worry about her!” Cassie replied with brutal honesty as she tugged on Lucinda’s hand, dragging her to the bottom of the stairs.
“No! I must save her! Where’s her bedroom?”
“Back by the kitchen.” She pointed down the hall before going through the front door. “I’m gittin’ out of here!”
Lucinda only made it partway down the hall before being repulsed by smoke and overwhelming heat. Flames peeked through the door to the kitchen. She ran back to the front, out the door and down the steps.
“Where’s Emma?” Bertha’s voice overflowed with hysteria. “Where’s my sister? Oh God, she’s dead! My sister’s dead!”
“Oh shut up, Aunt Bertha!” Cassie ordered, She was all out of patience.
Lucinda reached out to hold her hand. “I’m sorry, Cassie. I was too late.”
“I understand.” She looked at the house. “She was probably smoking in bed again. This time she fell asleep and the cigarette must have set the sheets on fire.”
Bertha put her arm around Cassie’s shoulders. “At least we’re all safe.”
“Oh! There is one more person!” Lucinda jumped and ran back up the steps into the house.
“No! Don’t!” Bertha screamed. “You’ll be killed!”
Lucinda barged through the front door and saw that the blazes headed down the hall toward her. She kept her eyes on the steps as she went up the stairs. She yelled, “Vernon! Vernon! Wake up! Fire!”
Rushing into her room, Lucinda went to the bed and jostled the sleeping body. Rolling over, Vernon sat up, looking sleepy and disoriented. But he was young and fresh again, no battle scars, no emotional pain etched his face. To Lucinda, he looked like a lovely angel, unravaged by the harsh realities of life. She heard a crackling, as though the flames were scorching the stairs.
“Hurry! Fire!” A loud pop let them know the wood staircase fractured and collapsed. “Oh my God! The flames are already up the stairs! We’re trapped! What can we do?” She looked at the window and remembered what Cassie told her about the drain pipe. “The window! Quick! Out the window!
Lucinda pulled Vernon from the bed and almost had him out the window when he hesitated.
“Go ahead, Vernon! There’s a drainpipe outside my window! Crawl down it!”
“You go first.” He tried to push her in front of him and out the sill.
“No! Vernon! We don’t have time! The flames are at my door!”
“I’m not leaving without my little girl.”
“Shirley!” Lucinda thought she had escaped with her mother. She turned around to see the little girl in her pajamas, smiling as though unaware of the flames.
“Here I am!” Shirley ran straight to Vernon and hugged him. “Daddy!
Another loud crackle drew Lucinda’s attention to the bedroom door which popped opened from unbearable heat. The blaze, now glaring white with tinges of orange and yellow around the edges advanced on its prey.
“You don’t have time! The fire!” Lucinda urged them through the window.
Vernon and Shirley crawled through, looked back, smiled and each one kissed Lucinda on the cheek. They disappeared down the drain pipe and into the darkness of the night. Lucinda stunned by the kisses, held her cheek and smiled. The withering heat entered her lungs; she felt scorching pain inside her old wrinkled body for only a split second before she collapsed; and the flames overwhelmed her.