Monthly Archives: February 2016

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Three

Now he belongs to the ages.”

Yes, that was what Secretary of War Edwin Stanton would say to the waiting crowd of reporters when he announced the death of President Abraham Lincoln.  It had dignity and gravitas; it would do nicely.  Stanton repeated it in his mind as he tried to drift off to sleep for a few moments at his home on K Street, just blocks from the Executive Mansion.  His wife, Ellen, was already asleep,  breathing in a soft, easy rhythm.

For the first time in more than two years, Stanton was able to relax.  But sleep was harder.  He sighed, thinking back to his decision to place Lincoln under guard in the Executive Mansion basement in September 1862.  After a summer of disastrous defeats for the Union army,  Stanton concluded that the fate of the country had to be wrested from the bumbling fool who sat in the president’s office.  Under Stanton’s firm leadership—through the guise of the Lincoln double he had placed upstairs—the war would be over by Christmas.

However, Christmas came and went, and yet the war still waged on.  Soon Stanton found himself going to the basement to ask Lincoln’s advice on which general to appoint to lead the Army of the Potomac and what strategies to pursue. It was humiliating.  Stanton found himself under stress.  The war shook his once mighty self-confidence.  He had created a terrible quagmire because of his arrogance, and he did not know how to get out of it.  The end of the war finally, inexorably came, and Stanton faced the impossible question of what to do with Lincoln now.

Things had a way of working themselves out, he told himself as he nestled down into his pillow.  All Stanton had to do was exert pressure on the soldier who had murdered the butler and the young man capitulated, agreeing to find assassins to kill Lincoln, Vice-President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward.  Stanton’s bagman Baker killed the impersonators and the soldier.  The mob would take care of the assassins.  It was a plan; it was clean; and it was coming to fruition.

Once the duplicate Lincolns and the Vice-President were dispatched, U.S. Rep. Schuyler Colfax, speaker of the House, would be sworn in as president.  Colfax was a simpleton, Stanton reasoned, and Stanton could easily manipulate him as he had the Lincoln imposter.  His entire misbegotten attempt to control the outcome of the Civil War would remain a secret throughout the ages.  Of this he could be sure.  Stanton sighed.

Stanton had never felt in control of his life.  Asthma gripped his body as a child and would not let go.  His parents, devout Methodists, prayed over him, and he miraculously survived.  Stanton was painfully aware that some dark, outside force made all the decisions.  Death hovered over him.  Because so many people in his life died, Stanton had a roiling anger in the pit of his stomach.  The list was relentlessly personal—his father, his first sweetheart, his first wife, his two children and any dreams of being respected as a leader of his country.

Perhaps now he could be in charge of his destiny, he thought, as his eyelids began to feel heavy. A sudden rap at the downstairs door jarred him back to consciousness.  From downstairs, Stanton heard faint mumblings at the door.  His butler was talking to someone who was urgent in his message.  He would soon be climbing the stairs with dreadful news of assassination.

“What’s going on, dear?” his wife, Ellen, asked, not bothering to roll over.

“I don’t know,” he lied.  “Don’t worry.  I’ll take care of it.”

“Very well,” she said, and she drifted back off to sleep.

Stanton got out of bed, put on his slippers and reached for his robe.  After he put it on, he brushed his hair back with his hands, reached for his pebble glasses, and placed them on his pocked nose.  His first instinct was to go for the door, but he decided it would be more prudent to wait for the butler to come for him.  Stanton sat in a nearby padded chair and listened for footsteps up the stairs.  A light rap at his bedroom door made a smile come to his cupid’s bow lips.

“Yes, what is it?”

“A young man downstairs, sir.  Most disturbing news.  Needs your immediate attention, sir.”

Slowly rising, Stanton went to the door.  “Disturbing news?  What is it?”

“I think he should tell you,” the butler said.  “Dreadful, dreadful news.”

“Oh, dear.”  Stanton went to the front door where a young man in civilian clothing, stood, shivering from the night rain.  He recognized him as a family acquaintance, Joe Sterling.  “Mr. Sterling, what news do you bring?”

“The President was shot while at the theater.  I’m afraid he’s dead, sir,” Sterling said.

“Do you know who shot him?”

“Yes,” the young man replied.  “They said it was a man named Booth.  He sprang to the stage from the President’s box with a large knife and escaped in the melee.”  After a pause Sterling added, “As we were coming to your house, a man informed us that Secretary Seward also has been assassinated, but that may be street rumor and untrue.”

“Oh, that can’t be so.  That can’t be so,” Stanton replied, shaking his head solemnly and sympathetically.

Immediately another man appeared on the doorstep.  Maj. Norton Chipman from the Bureau of Military Justice said, “Are you all right, sir?  Secretary Seward has been attacked.”

“I heard he was dead.”

“No, brutally stabbed, but he still lives,” Chipman said.

“Oh.”  Stanton paused.  “That is good news.”  He cleared his throat.  “Have you heard about the President?”

“No, sir,” Chipman replied.

Stanton turned sharply to Sterling.  “Who told you this news about the president?”

“A policeman, I—I don’t know his name,” the young man said, stammering.

“Hmm.” Stanton thought about where he should make his first appearance.  “This rumor about the President is probably just an exaggeration of an altercation at the theater.  I think I shall go to Mr. Seward’s house first with Maj. Chipman.”

“But Mr. Stanton,” Sterling insisted.

“That is all,” Stanton dismissed Sterling abruptly.  He turned to the major.  “Hold the carriage for me.  I’ll be dressed in a moment.”

In the carriage ride over to Seward’s home, Stanton thought about how much he hated the man, remembering the first cabinet meeting in which the Lincoln double conducted the meeting.  Stanton wanted Gen. Ambrose Burnsides to become the next general over the Army of the Potomac.  Unexpectedly Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase put forth the name of Gen. Joseph Hooker.  Attorney Gen. Caleb Smith suggested Gen. John C. Fremont.  Seward, with  silky insinuation, persuaded the befuddled Lincoln impersonator to stay with Gen. George McClellan instead.

Stanton never knew if Seward knew the man in the White House was an imposter or not.  He was not a man who could be easily deciphered.  That was why Stanton hated him.  The carriage pulled up in front of Seward’s home bordering Lafayette Park across from the White House.  Soldiers surrounded the building.  Darting through the rain, Stanton made it to the door and entered a madhouse.  Soldiers milled everywhere.  Blood stained the banister leading to the upper floors.  One man lay on the floor in a pool of blood with a doctor kneeling over him.

“What happened to him?” Stanton asked.

“He’s been slashed the entire length of his back,” the doctor said.  “From the looks of it, perhaps two inches deep.”

Seward’s sixteen-year-old daughter Fanny wiped tears from her eyes as she descended the stairs and staggered to Stanton, falling into his arms.

“It’s my fault,” the girl said.  “It’s all my fault.”

“What do you mean?” Stanton asked impatiently, holding her quivering shoulders at arms length.

“If I hadn’t opened the door to papa’s bedroom, the man wouldn’t have gotten in.”

“What man?  What are you talking about?”  Stanton forced his eyes to widen in shock.  “What did this man do?”

“The man who stabbed papa,” Fanny replied, still blubbering.

“Get hold of yourself, child,” Stanton ordered.

“What kind of insensitive fiend are you?” bellowed a tall man with white hair who had just walked up.

Stanton looked over to see Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, another cabinet member whom he loathed.

“Fanny just witnessed the stabbing of not only her father but also her brothers and two other men.  Of course, she’s crying,” Welles said as he stood next to Stanton, towering over him.

“I’m just trying to learn the facts of this case,” Stanton replied in a huff.  When taller men stood close, he always felt inferior which made him livid.  In addition, when his emotions took over his asthma erupted.  Stanton stifled a wheezing cough before returning his attention to Fanny.  He tried to soften his tone.  “Please tell me what happened.”

Fanny Seward breathed in deeply as though to compose her thoughts.  “There was this loud knocking at the door.  Billy answered it—“

“Who’s Billy?” Stanton interrupted.

“Billy Bell, our Negro doorman, he answered the door, and this huge man said something about having medicine—“

“What do you know about this doorman?” Stanton interrupted again.  “Has he been in the household long?”

“For God’s sake, let the girl finish,” Welles said with exasperation.

“He said he was from Dr. Verdi,” Fanny continued meekly.  “But Dr. Verdi had said nothing to us about more medicine. So Billy tried to tell him to go away but he wouldn’t.  Freddie—“

“Who’s Freddie?” Stanton asked.  He then remembered Seward’s son Frederick.  He had attended the afternoon cabinet meeting to represent his father.  “Yes, I know, your brother.  Go ahead.”

“Freddie heard the commotion and came out of papa’s room to find this man grappling with Billy and forcing his way upstairs.” Fanny paused to put her handkerchief to her wet eyes and look at Welles.

Welles put his large arms around her shoulders.  “There, there.  You’re doing just fine.”

“The man insisted on seeing papa in person, but Freddie said he was asleep.  Then I came out of the room, not knowing what was going on, and said papa was awake and wanted to see Freddie.”

Stanton could not control his asthma any longer.  He emitted a long and loud cough.  As he wiped his mouth he mumbled, “Well, go on, go on.”

“Then this man pushed passed us all and rushed into papa’s room.  It was awful.”

“Both Seward boys, Frederick and Augustus, were stabbed as was a male army nurse and the State Department messenger here on the floor,” Welles filled in as Fanny broke down weeping.

“If I hadn’t opened the door right at that moment the man would have never gotten in.  It was all my fault.”

“My dear, this man was insane,” Welles said soothingly.  “From what all the servants told me, he was a monster with the strength of ten men.  Nothing could have stopped him from his foul deed.”  Welles glanced at the Secretary of War.  “Tell her, Mr. Stanton.  It wasn’t her fault.”

Stanton grunted, but he was not interested in Fanny or her story any longer.  His attention went to the third floor.  Stanton walked up, at first putting his hand on the banister but removing it quickly when his fingers felt a moist tackiness.  His nostrils flared with the acrid smell of blood.  Stanton looked down to see the banister smeared with blood, now turning a dark brown.  When he reached the third floor, he saw Frederick Seward sitting on the floor in a daze, blood flowing from his head.  His brother Augustus stood by his side nursing three gashes in his arm.  Stanton ignored them and march into Seward’s bedroom. The male nurse, who had bandages on his neck and head, attended the doctor who bent over the bed.  At first, Stanton thought they were just looking at a bundle of bloody sheets until he saw Seward’s head, framed by a leather brace.  As Stanton focused on the face, he noticed Seward’s teeth and jawbone exposed through the sagging, slashed bloodied cheek.

When Stanton leaned over the bed, Seward’s eyes focused his eyes on him.  “What have you done?” he whispered.

“Did you recognize the man who attacked you?” Stanton asked, ignoring Seward’s question.

“What have you done?”

“Did he say anything to you?” Stanton said, in a louder voice.

The doctor brusquely pulled him away.  “Do this questioning elsewhere, at another time,” he ordered.  “We have people bleeding to death here!”

“Do you know who I am?” Stanton asked indignantly.

“I don’t give a damn who you are,” the doctor growled.  “Get the hell out of here!”

Taking a step back, Stanton decided not to force a confrontation.  Again, he felt humiliated, and his breathing became labored.  With luck, Stanton told himself, Seward would be dead by dawn anyway.  At the bottom of the stairs, he saw Welles talking to the other doctor attending to the State Department messenger on the floor.

“What does he have to do with this bloody business?”  Stanton said.

“My God, man, don’t you have a heart?”  Welles stared at him but when no answer was forthcoming, he sighed.  “Poor man happened to arrive at the door with documents for Mr. Seward when the madman was escaping.”

“So he knows nothing,” Stanton stated nonchalantly.

“I suppose you heard about the President?” Welles asked.

“Yes, I did.  I thought it was just a rumor.”

“It’s no damn rumor.  The whole world has turned upside down.”  Welles scrutinized Stanton’s face.  “You look like you don’t give a damn.”

“That is an insult, sir,” Stanton snapped.  “But I forgive you because of the emotional scene.”  He paused.  “I have a carriage outside.  Do you want to join me on the ride to Ford’s Theater?”

Welles shook his head as he let out a sardonic laugh.  “I don’t understand you.  First you say I insulted you, and then you offer me a ride in your carriage.”

“That’s because I am a gentleman, sir.”  Actually, Stanton conceded to himself, he was trying to control the situation again.  He did not want to leave Welles at the Seward house asking too many questions.  He wanted him near him so he could filter any information he received throughout the night.

The two cabinet members sat in tense silence as they rode through the streets in the rain.  Occasionally Stanton coughed.  The rain only made his condition worse.  He listened to Welles drumming his knuckles against the wall of the carriage.  Between the rapping and the dripping of rain on the carriage top made Stanton feel ready to explode.  He bent over in an asthmatic rage.

“You should be home in bed,” Welles said in a way that was a lecture as opposed to expressing concern.

“You would like that, wouldn’t you?” Stanton spat.  “Then you could be in charge and not me.”

Welles just shook his large, parrot-like head and stared out the windows at the milling crowds.  “All these people.  The people who loved him.”  Welles made the statement not to Stanton in particular but out the misty window.

Stanton, on the other hand, prayed that Lincoln would already be dead.  The carriage pulled up in front of the theater.  Stanton leaned out of the window and waved over a soldier.

“Where have they taken the President?”

The soldier pointed across the street to a three-story tenement.  “There, sir.”

Both men stared at the huge crowd gathered under their umbrellas in the pouring rain.

“We may as well get out here,” Welles said.  “No way will the driver be able to get the carriage any closer.”

Stanton went first, elbowing his way through the people.  Inside, another soldier told them Lincoln was in a bedroom at the back of the stairs on the first floor.  As they began to walk down the hall, Mary Lincoln appeared from the bedroom and screamed.

“How dare you!” she said at the top of her voice, pointing at Stanton.  “How dare you show up here!”

“She’s overwrought,” Welles muttered.

“She’s insane,” Stanton replied.

She scurried down the hall and slapped Stanton full across the face.  “It’s all his fault!  I knew it was too good to be true!  You would not let him live!  You had to kill him!”

Welles tried to put his large hands on her shoulders but he could not control Mrs. Lincoln because of her flailing arms.

“You’re as stupid as all the rest of them!”  She glared at the Secretary of the Navy.  “Didn’t you know?  Couldn’t you tell the difference?”

“Tell what difference?”  Welles stopped trying to contain Mrs. Lincoln to look deep into her eyes.

Stanton motioned to a soldier.  “This woman is hysterical.  Take her to a parlor down the hall.  Make sure she doesn’t leave until I say so.”

The soldier took her by the elbow and gently guided her away.

“A parlor this time?  Not the basement?  Why not the basement?  Couldn’t you tell the difference?” she screamed.

“The basement?” Welles said incredulously.  “And what did she mean?  Tell the difference?”

“Like I said, the woman is mad.”  With that, Stanton continued down the hall with Welles behind him.  He barged into the tiny bedroom to find a young man in evening clothes bent over Lincoln who was naked.

“Who are you?” Stanton demanded.

The young man looked up and said, “Dr. Charles Leale, Mr. Secretary.”

“You don’t look old enough to be a doctor,” Stanton replied gruffly.

Leale smiled a little.  “Well I wasn’t one until six weeks ago.”

“Hmph.  So.  What’s the situation?”

“The president received a bullet wound on the left back of his head,” Leale explained.  “The bullet is lodged deep inside.”

“So this is a mortal wound?”

“Yes, sir, I believe so, sir.”

“Very well.  Carry on.”    Stanton looked around.  “Is Eckert here?  Is Major Eckert here?”

“Over here, sir,” a voice rang out from the hall.

Stanton looked up to see Eckert, who was the chief of the War Department’s Military Telegraph Bureau, walking briskly toward him.  Stanton liked him because he took orders without question.

“I got here as soon as I could, Mr. Secretary.”

“I need a room to set up in,” Stanton said.

“I already secured the back parlor across the hall, sir.”

“Good.  Set up a relay between here and the department’s telegraph office on Seventeenth Street.”  Turning, Stanton left the room and went across the hall with Eckert close behind.

“You still haven’t told me what you think Mrs. Lincoln meant when she said, ‘Couldn’t you tell the difference.’”  Welles stayed on Stanton’s heels.

Stanton turned to Eckert.  “First thing, get Mr. Welles a room also.  He needs to keep the Navy informed of every development.”  He looked at Welles.  “Don’t you agree, Mr. Secretary?  The assassins might try to make their escape by sea.  You don’t want them to slip through our fingers, do you?”

Welles sighed wearily.  “No, we don’t.”  He turned away and began asking for a naval officer.

“Where’s my desk?” Stanton asked Eckert.

“Right here, sir.”  He led the secretary to a desk and oil lamp.

Stanton sat and reached for paper to begin writing notes.  “Shut down the theater.  Take everyone there in custody for questioning.  Shut down all bridges leaving the city.  Telegraph the New York City police.  Tell them to send every detective they can spare.  Telegraph General Grant.  Tell him to return to the city immediately.”

“Yes, sir.”  Eckert saluted and left.

Stanton knew exactly why he made each of his commands.  He wanted to give the illusion he was doing everything possible to catch the conspirators.  He was certain the owners of the theater were innocent but blame had to be cast everywhere except on him.  New York City had more detectives than any other city in the nation.  Every one of them had to be in the District, getting in the way of the district police who knew where to look and who to interrogate.  And he had to keep General Grant under his supervision.  Left to his own devices Grant might start asking too many questions.

Stanton was now in his element.  He was in charge.  At this point of history, he was the Commander In Chief, and he relished every moment of it.

“Sir,” Eckert said, coming back into the room and leaning over.  “The District chief of police is here, sir.  He demands that his forces be in charge of the investigation.”

“No,” Stanton snapped.  “This is not a civilian affair.  This will be a case for a military tribunal.  No question about it.  Tell him to keep the mob orderly.  That’s his job.”

Stanton instinctively knew if he could keep the war department in charge of the investigation and trial, he could control the release of information.  No one must ever know the truth about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.





Bessie’s Boys Chapter Sixteen

Maria continued her sprint to safety until she reached the end of the long marble hallway which opened onto a broad balcony, looking over the manicured gardens of the Alhambra. Gasping, she clung to the railing, trying to catch her breath and regain her composure. By the time she finally began to feel calm, she felt strong arms wrap around her waist.


A frightened whimper escaped her lips as the arms spun her around. Maria smiled with relief when she saw it was Rodney, still dressed as Gypsy with a Gypsy-style smile on his lips. She immediately kissed him. She would have run her fingers through his thick black hair but an elaborately colored scarf covered his head.

“Dearest!” she murmured in his ear.

“I’ve missed you so.” He tried to go in for another kiss but, Maria stepped away.

“Have you?” Her tone took on a definite Germanic interrogative style.

“Why, of course.”

“Are you sure there isn’t anyone else?” This question had more of an icy English inflection.

Rodney’s eyes went wide with innocence. “Only Elizabeth.”

“Elizabeth!” Maria put her hands on her hips. “Aha! So there is another woman!” After a pause she added, “Elizabeth who?”

“Why, Queen Elizabeth, of course.”

“Oh. Of course.” She giggled like a proper English schoolgirl. “How silly of me.”

“Am I wrong, or do you think I’m seeing another woman?”

“Well, are you?”

“Why would I want to do that?”

Maria cocked her head and returned to her Spanish inquisitive tone. “Why did you answer my question with a question?”

Poor Rodney was completely befuddled. “Have I given you any reason to doubt my love?”

“You did it again!”

Taking her back into his thick manly arms, he looked deeply into her eyes. “Believe this. Until the day I die there shall be no other woman for me. I love you and only you.”


Meanwhile, in another long hall of the Alhambra, Clarence crept along, trying to stay hidden in the shadows. Suddenly a door swung open hitting him square in the forehead. After he shook his head Clarence saw Lord Steppingstone standing before him with the most startled expression on his face.

“Clarence Flippertigibbit!”

“Lord Steppingstone!”

Flustered, Steppingstone stumbled about with his words before he was able to blurt out, “What are you doing here?”

Clarence lifted his tiny but well chiseled chin. “I might ask the same of you.”

“Why, I’m here trying to find out the identity of the traitor in Elizabeth’s court, of course.”

“Well, that’s what I’m doing here too.” Clarence looked at the lord askance, not quite believing him.

Steppingstone rubbed his hand across his lips. “Um, have you had any luck?”

“None so far….” Clarence puffed out his chest and stood toe to toe with the lord trying to be intimidating. “But I’m not giving up until I have the rascal in my grasp.”

Being a toad, as King Phillip called him, Steppingstone took a minor step back. “Then we shall work together.”

“Very good.” The young man still had his doubts but shook hands with the lord. He immediately regretted it because Steppingstone grip was more like a wet dishtowel.

“By the way,” the lord added as he withdrew his hand quickly, “how have you escaped capture?”

“Well, you might say I’m staying under wraps.” He absently wiped his hand on his breeches, as though to dry it. “And yourself?”

“Oh. Well.” He forced a weak smile. “I’ve inside help.”

“Ah. It’s best not to reveal operatives, right?”

“Um, correct. I think it best if we separate.”

“I agree.” The bastard’s lying to me, Clarence told himself, as he turned away. Going down another hall and descending a broad staircase, he found himself in the moonlit garden.

By mere happenstance, he tripped by the large water fountain and landed on the ground next to a dark figure.

“Clarence?” a small feminine voice whispered.

He squinted, trying to focus his eyes in the shadows. He recognized the petite Gypsy dancer from the dining hall earlier in the evening and realizing it wasn’t a Gypsy at all but his own beloved sweetheart.

“Alice! My darling!”

They clutched each other like two Chihuahuas in heat. When their passionate moans became too loud, a female voice with a pronounced French accent rang out from one of the upper chambers which opened on to the balcony overlooking the garden.

“Would someone throw some water on those two dogs? I kissing my boyfriend here!”

The outburst broke the spell and the couple sat up, breathing deeply.

“Alice! When did you decide on dancing career? And in King Phillip’s court!”

“I am not a dancer!” she protested.

“You can say that again,” he mumbled, hoping she did not understand him.

“I’m here to check—“ she stopped abruptly to amend her statement—“to help you.”

Clarence hugged his beloved. “But that’s dangerous!”

She stiffened. “It’s also dangerous to stay home while your fiancé spends his time among the dark-eyed beauties of Spain.”

“Surely you jest.” He tried comforting her again. “You know you’re the only one for me.”

“Well, sometimes I wonder.” She failed to hide the suspicion which tinged her voice.

“You cut me to the quick, darling.” Clarence realized he was sounding a bit whiney, but he couldn’t help himself.

“I’m sorry, Clarence.” The whining seemed to have had a positive effect on her, however. “It’s just that I love you so. I suppose I’m being a silly goose.”

“And I love you all the more for it.” He successfully maneuvered her in for another kiss.

They paused before they became too noisy and looked up at the full moon.

“Look, Clarence darling, the moon is shining for our love and our love alone.”


Meanwhile on the balcony, Maria and Rodney came up for air from their kissing marathon. She sighed and lay her head on his chest, which was as broad as his shoulders. He looked up at the full moon.

“Look, Maria, the moon is so big and pretty.”

She grabbed his head with her strong hands and pulled it down to face. “And it shines only for us.”


Back in his private quarters Phillip wriggled about his king-sized bed with a naughty smile on his face.

“Tell me who the spy is, my dear, or I’ll subject you to my own inquisition.” He slowly opened his eyes to see Boniface leaning over him.

“Your Majesty?” the Englishman whispered.

Phillip screamed which caused Boniface to scream. In the distance the same female voice, this time with a thick German accent, bellowed, “It’s those two damn dogs again!”

The guard outside Phillip’s door rapped loudly. “Your Majesty?”

The King grabbed Boniface and stuffed him under the layers of sheets and blankets. “Quick! No one should know you’re here!”

The guard burst through the door with his sword drawn. “Sire! Where’s the danger?”

“It’s nothing.” He let go with an uncharacteristic laugh. “I just dreamed I had to make love to that Englishwoman.”

Putting his sword back in its scabbard, the guard replied, “Yes, Sire.”

“That would be a nightmare, wouldn’t it?” To enhance his perceived humor of the situation, Phillip slapped the bedcovers.

Unfortunately he happened to hit the boney bottom of Lord Boniface who showed remarkably restraint and did not move or moan.

“Yes, Sire,” the guard repeated with a dull air.

Realizing his laughter sounded terribly inauthentic, Phillip let it trail off in the cool night breeze. “You may leave now.”

The words had hardly left his skinny old lips before the guard began bowing and backing up at the same time. “Yes, Sire.” And he was out the door.

Phillip viciously kicked at Boniface’s form under the sheets. “Get up, get up, you fool!”

He rolled out of the bed onto the floor, whimpered slightly and stood and bowed in the same motion.

“What are you doing here?” Phillip was beginning to be annoyed by the stupidity of the English noblemen he had seduced into betraying their country.

(Author’s note: Historical records also do not reveal how Lord Boniface entered Spain at this particular time undetected. Birth announcements discovered in an isolated chapel in Andorra showed that a son born to an Englishman by the name of Boniface and a Basque peasant woman about twenty-five years before the invasion of the Armada. It could be possible that Boniface begged his Basque bastard to provide a boat for covert trips to the Alhambra. All of this is mere speculation because these characters are indeed fictional and difficult to find in history books.)

“There’s a spy in your court, your Majesty.”

Phillip harrumphed as he rolled out of bed and put on his lounging robe, which, by the way, was a gaudy gold trimmed in ermine dyed bright red. “Oh, that’s old news.” He looked at Boniface. Do you know who it is?”

“No, Sire.”

“That’s nothing new, either.” Phillip wrinkled his brow in thought. “By the way, what have I offered you to betray your country?”

“Wales, Sire,” Boniface replied as he bowed.

“Hmm, that’s sounds familiar, but I can’t quite place where. Oh well, you settled cheap if you asked me. Anyway, on to the business at hand. We must find this spy!”

“How will we discover his identity?”

The king stepped closer to the lord. “I have reason to believe Senor Vacacabeza’s ward knows. I have been unable to persuade her to tell; however, perhaps you will have more luck.”

“That would require revealing to her that I have actually pledged my loyalty to Spain. Would that be wise?”

Phillip entwined his fingers and smiled with pure evil intent. “She’ll never leave these shores again. It makes no difference what she knows.”

Cancer Chronicles Thirty-Six

I went to a grief counselor.  She said I should realize that mourning is a long process.

Sometimes I will get up of a morning and feel like doing stuff—important things like talking to our financial adviser or go to the Social Security office.

Other mornings I won’t feel like doing anything except sit around.  It’s okay to do nothing.  I kind of like having permission to let my brain be numb.  Which it is and will be for the foreseeable future.

Self-imposed must-do lists can cause a lot of stress, which I believe, is a component of grief.  Extreme fatigue hangs like a saturated sheet draped over a body.  However, doing absolutely nothing can be stressful too.  I want to resume my writing.  I feel I have connected with many nice people on the internet talking about my wife’s experience with cancer.  I want to let them know how handling the same grief process which many of them have been through.

I also want to return to storytelling at local museums, farms and basically anywhere people want to hear a yarn.  It made Janet happy to see me all caught up in weaving a tale.

So which kind of stress is worse?  Forcing myself to do the things I sincerely believe will make me happy even though it’s hard to be happy right now?  Or allowing myself to sit and do or think nothing which is so easy right now?

I’ll decide tomorrow.  And the day after that.  And the day after that….

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Two

Lafayette Baker pulled on the reigns of the carriage, bringing it to a halt on the dark banks of the Potomac River.  He picked a spot about three miles downstream from the District of Columbia.  No one rode passed her this time of night.  Very secluded.  With a bored sigh, he jumped down from the driver’s seat and went around to the passenger seat.

First he picked up the plump body of the woman he had just shot between the eyes.  Secretary of War Stanton had selected her from the Old Capitol Prison to impersonate Mary Todd Lincoln.  Now the war was over she was no longer needed and was actually an encumbrance.  Baker walked with a stealthy pace to the edge of the water, threw the body in, watched as the tide caught it and carried it toward the middle of the wide river where it eventually sank.

Next he grabbed the other corpse under the arms.  He was a large man, and Baker would have to drag him.  Stanton had saved this man from the gallows at Old Capitol Prison because he looked like President Lincoln.  For two and a half years he pretended to be the president, said and did everything Stanton had ordered.  For his obedience he too had been shot between the eyes.  Baker rolled the body into the water and kicked it hard to make sure it entered the current.  Soon, it disappeared into the depths.

Baker had no sympathy for them.  They had sold their souls for a chance to live and deserved to die.  They were cowards.  Life had defeated the man and woman years ago, and they just got around to leaving now.

Drizzle began falling from the clouded sky as Baker got back in the carriage and drove it back to the Executive Mansion, but it did not bother him.  The personal guard of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Baker had become inured to inconvenience, pain and guilt.  When Stanton had ordered him to intimidate, kidnap and murder, he obeyed because that was what he was supposed to do without question, as long as he was paid.

Baker was on his way back to kill another person who knew too much about Stanton and his plot to live.  That knowledge was a death sentence.  This is what his life had become, Baker sighed to himself.  He pulled the mud-bespeckled horse-drawn carriage into the trail that led to the basement door of the Executive Mansion.  The young man he was going to shoot in the head did not know he was coming.

After tying the reins to a hitching post, he went to the door, one hand resting on his revolver holster.  Before he could touch the handle, the door opened and an odd-looking little old man bumped into him.  The man wore a tall stovepipe hat and an oversized black overcoat, which dragged on the ground.  He had scared blue eyes, gray stubble on his trembling chin, and his hands shook uncontrollably.

“Who the hell are you?” Baker bellowed, causing the old man to hunch over.

“I’m the president, aren’t I?”

Stanton had told him that a demented janitor was in the Executive Mansion basement.  Baker remembered the night he arrived to remove the body of a Negro servant.  From one of the rooms he heard a voice calling out, “Stop hurting people!”  That must have been this fool standing in front of him now.

“Get out of here,” Baker snapped, impatient to finish the job without further distractions.

“Yes, sir,” the old man replied meekly and then scurried out the door into the rainy night.

Baker told himself he would be glad when Stanton’s mad scheme was over.  He did not think much of it when Stanton informed him of his new duties two and a half years earlier in September of 1862.  It was madness, and Baker found himself in the thick of it.

Stanton had been extremely disappointed in the ability of Abraham Lincoln to conduct a war.  Union troops suffered a series of devastating defeats during the summer, and Stanton could not allow the pattern of events to continue.  He knew he could do a better job than that bumbling idiot of a president, Lincoln.

Stanton’s plan was an elaborate one.  He would find a man and woman in the Old Capitol prison who resembled the Lincolns.  Under threat, they would agree to impersonate the presidential couple.  Then Stanton would abduct the real Lincolns, marching them downstairs to the White House basement where they would stay for the duration under the watchful eye of an armed guard, as he replaced them upstairs with the convict look-alikes.   The duplicate Lincoln would carry out Stanton’s strategies and win the war by the end of the year.  At that time, Stanton would release Lincoln who would thank him for saving the Union.

The plan did not work out that way.  The years passed with no resolution to the war.  Now it was over, and President Lincoln had to die.  Everyone thought Mrs. Lincoln was crazy anyway so no one would believe her ravings about her two and a half-year captivity in the basement.  The imposters were at the bottom of the Potomac River, and now the private who had guarded for the Lincolns during their captivity was about to die.

Private Adam Christy had never impressed Baker anyway.  The private was a thin red-haired boy who could not control himself.  In 1864, Christy had become desperately drunk and tried to rape the Negro cook in the basement.  The colored butler tried to intervene and save the girl, but in his drunken rage, Christy killed him.  Baker came in the middle of the night to clean up the private’s mess.  Christy represented weakness, and Baker hated weakness.

Earlier in the week, Stanton ordered Christy to find someone to kill the president.  At first, the private refused, saying he had already done enough to ruin the life of a man who had done him no wrong, but when Stanton threatened him with prosecution in the butler’s death, he relented.  When he arrived under the Aqueduct Bridge at midnight with an odd collection of assassins—an actor, a drunk and two simpletons–Christy confirmed Baker’s suspicions of his incompetence.

“Is this it?” Baker remembered asking Christy about the group.  He looked at the dark-haired, good-looking one, and recognized him as John Wilkes Booth, the popular actor.  He seemed to be the leader.  “Now.  Tell me something that convinces me you’re smarter than you look.”

“Sir,” Booth had said, pulling himself up to his full stature, “you are no gentleman, and not welcome to our noble endeavor.”

“This noble endeavor is murder,” Baker had replied.  “True gentlemen don’t kill, so get that idea right out of your head.”  After puffing on his cigar he had added, “So what are your plans?”

Booth had said he planned to shoot the president at Ford’s Theater.  The drunk, who could barely speak English, would kill Johnson at the Kirkwood Hotel, and the simpletons would stab Seward to death at his house.  Baker remembered Christy just stood there, staring across the darkness of the Potomac.

“And who will kill Stanton?” Booth had asked.

“I’ll kill Stanton,” Baker had lied.

Just then a bang rang out from down the basement hall, rousing Baker from his reminiscences.  He looked down the corridor and saw light from a kerosene lamp glimmering from an open door.  Good, Baker thought, Christy shot himself and saved him the trouble.  When he walked into the room, Baker smirked, his suspicions confirmed.  Christy lay there on his back, his head in a pool of spreading blood.  Baker could tell by the position of the gun near his hand on the floor that the private had stuck the revolver in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Sighing deeply Baker walked over to the body wanting to get it out of the Executive Mansion and dispose of it in the Potomac as he had the others.  It had been a long day and he wanted to lie in bed, drink a pint of whiskey and fall asleep.  However, when he bent over the body, Baker stopped short as he looked into Christy’s blank eyes.  They were so sad, so young, so filled with pain.  Tears stained Christy’s freckled cheeks.  Suddenly Baker realized whom Christy looked like.  He saw himself as a young man.

Memories flooded back of his childhood in western New York as a short, thin boy with carrot-red hair.  The bullies teased him, pushed him down and kicked him.  When he ran home crying, he received no sympathy from his stern father.

“You got to learn to stand up for yourself,” his father lectured him.  “Get tough or die.”

That was the way life was.  As he grew up, Baker became a mechanic, and his body thickened with muscle and his fists were calloused from all the fights he had won over bigger boys.  His once-red hair darkened into auburn and he grew a beard to hide the appearance of youthful innocence.

From his hometown, he drifted out west and became a vigilante in San Francisco where, in the name of justice, he learned to kill men guilty of a wide range of crimes such as gambling, ballot-box stuffing, treason, robbery and murder.  Eventually, he had killed so many men he couldn’t remember when killing felt wrong.  It came to feel like business.

Baker met a lovely, naïve girl by the name of Jenny and married her.  She was his connection to the world of sane and civilized people.  By 1861, he and his wife returned to New York relatively wealthy.

At the outbreak of the Civil War General Winfield Scott hired him as a spy.  He was promptly captured in Richmond but quickly succeeded in escaping which led to his being hired by the State Department as a detective.  Eventually he joined the War Department where he gained a reputation as a vicious interrogator.  His reputation brought him to the attention of the Secretary of War himself, Edwin Stanton.  Baker did not want to expose Jenny to the dirty world of Washington politics so he bought her a new home in Philadelphia.  There she would be closer than New York but far enough away never to learn of his business practices..

Baker’s transformation from an innocent, defenseless red-haired youth to government-paid assassin was complete.  Baker thought he had lost that tender side of his character forever until he stared into the dead eyes of Adam Christy.  Then all his fear and frailty came rushing back.  The same self-loathing that was evident on Christy’s face was deep inside Baker.  He saw in the dead eyes the realization that Christy had failed his first test of character in his short life, and now everything was over.  Yes, Baker conceded, they were alike. Except for one fact.  When Baker first failed a test of character, he considered it a victory of determination over weakness.

Now it was too late to change, he thought.  Baker knew that he was as dead on the inside as Christy was, lying there in his own blood.  He was an utterly empty machine proficient in the arts of torture and murder.  And what for, Baker asked himself.  For the money?  He remembered earlier in the evening he had confronted Stanton about why he had gone to such extraordinary lengths to put Lincoln in the basement and then plan his assassination.  Baker accused him of doing it for the power.

“And what is it for you?” he remembered Stanton asking in spite.

“I’m a simple man,” Baker had told him.  “I’m not a lawyer.  I’m not smart enough to want more than to be comfortable.  And it takes money for that.”

“So it’s just for the money?” Stanton said.

“You’re a fool, Mr. Stanton.  You think power will make you happy.”

“Neither does money.”

“That’s right,” Baker remembered telling Stanton, “but it makes being miserable much more fun.”

Now, standing over Christy’s body, Baker realized he was wrong.  But if it was not for the money, then what was it for, his life of violence?  Perhaps it was in revenge for all the suffering he endured as a child.  More than likely, he would never know. His heart was so hardened at this point it made no difference.  A knot developed in the pit of his stomach.  He could no longer make himself touch, let alone pick up, Christy’s body.  Baker also sensed his throat constricting, his face turning red and his eyes filling with tears.  For the first time since he ran down the dusty streets of his little western New York town, Baker began to cry.

Moreover, Baker did not merely allow tears to flow down his rough ruddy cheeks, he bawled loudly.  He sobbed; he gasped for breath, feeling the back of his head burn red-hot.  All the emotion he had suppressed throughout the years came out.  The heat from the room became unbearable; Baker thought he would pass out if he did not get out of the building and inhale fresh, cool night air.

He only made it as far as the hallway before falling to his knees.  At first, his stomach roiled and then his diaphragm contracted violently.  He gagged and his eyes bulged.  Before he knew it, he was vomiting on the floor, his head sagging down.  His heaving continued so much that pungent, liquor-laced acid flowed from his nose.  Between regurgitations, Baker moaned loudly, thinking he wanted to die.  From down the hall he heard a door open.

“Cleotis, I told you to stay out of it.”  Baker recognized the Negro woman’s voice.  It belonged to the cook whom Christy had tried to rape.  “That’s white folks business.”

“There’s a sick man out here, Phebe,” the butler said in a low, firm tone.  “That’s everybody’s business.”

Baker’s body twitched again, and he readied himself for another purge, but nothing came up this time. It did not lessen the pain.  He became aware of a large, strong hand on his shoulder.

“Mister, are you all right?”

“No,” Baker rasped.  “Go away.”

“Let me help you clean up.”

“I said go away.”  He struggled to his knees, wiping his sputum-covered mouth and nostrils with his coat sleeve.  “I’ll clean this up.”  He heard the butler take a few steps away.

“The soldier boy’s on the floor in there all covered with blood.”

“The boy’s dead?”  Phebe’s voice was startled and concerned.  After a pause, the cynical tone returned.  “None of our business.”

Baker tried to stand but his knees buckled again.  Cleotis went back to him and lifted him by the armpits.

“Mister, I don’t know who you are but you need help,” the butler said gently but firmly. There ain’t no two ways about it.”

“No, no,” Baker replied weakly.

“Come on in the kitchen and take a seat.”  Cleotis dragged him down the hall and through the door to the kitchen, placing him in a chair.  “Sit here awhile and you’ll feel better.”  He turned to a table and picked up a dishtowel.  “Phebe, get me a bucket of water,” he called out.

“I don’t wanna.”

“Woman, I’ve about had all that I’m gonna take,” he called out, still calm but louder.  “Now get the bucket now.”  Cleotis returned his attention to Baker and wiped his face.  “Let me clean you up a bit, sir.”

“Why are you being nice to me?”

Cleotis continued to wipe.  “I’m a butler, sir.  That’s what I do.”

In a moment, Phebe entered the kitchen with a bucket of water.  Baker looked up and noticed that she was pregnant.

“Is that your wife?” he mumbled, succumbing to Cleotis’ care.

“In the eyes of the Lord, sir,” the butler replied.  “Sometimes that’s the best us colored folks can do.”

After feeling the fresh water on his face, Baker began to think more rationally.  He realized he did need help cleaning up the evidence.

“I didn’t shoot the boy.”

“I know, sir,” Cleotis said, finishing up.  “There now.  You look a heap better.”  He turned to Phebe.  “Get the mop and start cleaning up that sickness out there in the hall.”

“Yes, Cleotis,” she said with a sigh while grabbing the mop from behind the door.

“We don’t want to know no more than that,” the butler told Baker.  “It ain’t healthy.  If you get the body out of here then we can clean everything up and by tomorrow morning, everything will be back to normal.  There never was a soldier boy in the basement of the White House, and that’s a fact.”





Bessie’s Boys Chapter Fifteen

King Phillip sat at the head of the council table in his private quarters rapping his boney fingers on the mahogany wood. The last person he expected the see in the banquet hall at the Alhambra was Lord Steppingstone, one of his key operatives in the court of Queen Elizabeth of England. He had given firm orders to his English connection never to come to Spain. The consequences of his secret liaison with his queen’s sworn enemy would jeopardize the outcome of the invasion by the Armada. He looked up when he heard the door creak open.

Steppingstone slithered in; his shoulders were hunched over in complete abeyance, and he slowly approached the king.

“What are you doing here?” Phillip demanded as he stood, slamming his hand on the table. He winched when he realized the impact sent shock waves from his fingers all the way up to his shoulder.

(Author’s note: Historical records do now show that Lord Steppingstone crossed the English Channel in the time frame immediately before the invasion of the Spanish Armada. However, some genealogists point out Steppingstone had a second cousin on his mother’s side who left English under mysterious circumstances in the early years of Elizabeth’s reign. He changed his English given name of Frederick to Fredo when he established a shop in Northern Portugal where he unsuccessfully tried to sell bagpipes to the local musical arts community. Fredo then turned to fishing as his vocation. It is possible Steppingstone entered Spain by way of his second cousin’s fishing boat.)

“Elizabeth suspects a spy in the court, and has sent someone to Spain to discover the spy’s identity.” Steppingstone kept his eyes down.

“See!” The king shook his aching fingers at his English agent. “I told you Elizabeth couldn’t be trusted!”

Steppingstone bowed deeply. “Yes, Sire. I agree.”

“You would, you toad,” Phillip replied with a sneer. “What have I promised you for betraying your own country?”

“Only Wales, your Majesty.” He bowed again.

The Spanish ruler snorted. “You sold out cheap, if you ask me.”

“I have simple needs, Sire.”

Steppingstone bowed again, which was getting on Phillip’s last nerve. The king overcame an urge to slap him, only because he needed further information from the toad. “Who is this spy Elizabeth has sent to my court to discover the identity of my spy?”

“I don’t know.”

He was in mid-bow when the King erupted, “Stop all that bowing, you idiot!”

“Yes, Sire.”

“Do you think it could be Maria de Horenhausen?”

“I doubt it.”

Phillip scratched his wispy beard. “I don’t know. She actually had something nice to say about that Englishwoman.”

“Being polite is not necessarily a sign of treason, your Majesty.”

Raising an eyebrow, he replied, “It can be in Spain.”


At that very moment Maria, with Clarence under her dress, entered the Alhambra kitchen. It was a dark, dank space, lit only by the flames in the huge fireplace. The cooks and the servers were too busy sneezing on the food and wiping their noses on their rancid sleeves to notice the beautiful senorita lingering around the table with stacks of breads and rolls.

In her English accent, she whispered, “We’re here.”

“Good. I’m famished,” came from under the folds of her elegant gown.

“Hurry.” She furrowed her beautiful brow. “It will look suspicious if I’m caught lingering in the kitchen.”

“I’ll grab a loaf of bread and be right back,” he assured her as he scampered from beneath her hems, crawling like a frightened cockroach around the table.

“Not a long loaf!” she admonished him with very proper English concerns for her personal comfort. She jumped when she felt a heavy tap on her shoulder. When she turned, Maria saw four grim-looking guards carrying nasty long spears glare at her.

“Miss de Horenhausen, his Majesty King Phillip commands your presence immediately.” Though the commander of the small corps spoke perfect Castilian, he did have a stern German air about him.

“But I—“

“Now, Mis de Horenhausen,” he snapped.

Maria bowed deeply and compliantly replied in her best Spanish, “Si.

She stepped into the middle of her escorts and they marched out of the kitchen just as Clarence crawled back around the table. He stopped to watch them disappear in the darkness.

“Oh drat,” Clarence muttered as he nibbled on the loaf. He frowned at it. “Stale.”


The full moon streamed broad beams through the tall windows of the Great Hall, filling the cavernous cheek bones of King Phillip as he languidly lounged on his throne as two guards escorted Maria through the massive wooden doors. After positioning her before the King, the guards bowed and exited, their books clicking on the marble floor. Silence engulfed the huge room, creating a sense of eerie anxiety.

“Come closer!” Phillip commanded, his thin thrill voice ringing through the rafters.

Si, your Majesty.” Maria curtsied but only took one or two steps.


With a determined sigh, she walked so near to the king she saw how sallow his complexion and her impulse was to step back but her better judgment advised against it. “As you wish,” she replied in perfection Spanish compliance.

“I have a few questions for you.” A silky intimidation clouded his tone.

“I shall try to be helpful.”

Phillip clasped his hands in front of his thin lips. “I’ve just received some disturbing news.”

“Really?” Maria felt her heart begin to throb.

“There’s a spy in my court.” He paused to allow the implications of this information to sink into her mind. “And this spy is from England.”

“Really?” Inquisition phobia limited her vocabulary.

The king leaned forward. “Are you that spy?”

Nein, mein herr!” Maria was so scared she slipped into her German accent without losing a goose step.


Her female instincts told her to begin a delaying tactic while her brain frantically tried to think of a defense. She fluttered her dark brown eyes.

“Oh, Your Majesty!” Her perfect Spanish dialect snapped back. “You’re making me nervous!”

He shook a boney finger at her. “I’ll make you more than nervous if I don’t get some answers!”

Crossing herself, Maria declared, “I swear I’m not a spy!”

“And why don’t I believe you?”

“Because you don’t trust anyone?” Her Spanish voice became very small and shy.

“No!” he barked. “Because you think that Englishwoman is gracious!”

“Gracious me. I was just being polite.” Maria’s right hand went to her bosom.

“Then who do you think the spy is?” His follow-up question was so quick and on-topic that any law professor would give him high marks for harassment.

“What makes you think I’d know something like that?” Her eyes began to flutter again. “I’m the ward of an ambassador.”

Phillip narrowed his beady little eyes. “You didn’t answer my question.”

Her heart thumped like a bunny’s foot. “Would you trust the ward of the English ambassador with such important information?”

“Of course not!” He waved his hand to dismiss the thought.


(Author’s note: This part of the conversation confused Phillip very much because he didn’t know if she was saying yes in Spanish or the word see, meaning to understand, in English spoken with a Spanish accent. Eventually he decided to jump ahead to the next point he wanted to make in his interrogation.)

“But I don’t trust anyone!”

Maria smiled slightly, appreciating the fact she had befuddled her inquisitor. “So you’ve said.”

“You still haven’t given me a yes or no answer to my question.” Clearly not accustomed to not being in firm control of the conversation, the King stood and stretched to the full extent of his puny height.

“And which question was that, Sire?” she tried to extend her advantage.

“You know very well what question! Do you know who the spy is?”

“Do you mean know in the Biblical sense?” Maria was getting way too filled with herself.

“I’m getting tired of your evasions. You have until tomorrow morning to reflect on your answer.”

Si, Sire.”

“You may leave now.”

Gracias.” Maria began to back up.

“And as you’re reflecting, think of one word, Senorita.”

She stopped. “And what word is that?”


Maria forgot protocol, turned and ran for the door, muttering in proper English, “Egad.”

Cancer Chronicles Thirty-Five

When I first began chronicling my wife’s struggles with cancer I discussed with her my public discussion of her private life.  She agreed sharing this time of our lives might help other people.  We also felt she needed a degree of privacy so I always referred to her as my wife.  Those who live near us knew her name so it made no difference to them.  Now that she has gone away it makes no difference to withhold her name.

My wife’s name is Janet Eugenia Hawkins Cowling.

When she was born in the Appalachian Mountains of southwestern Virginia in 1948, she was diagnosed with polio in the throat.  Janet spent months in a Richmond hospital.  She was a small child with a voice like no other person I even heard.

But when she spoke, her words were witty, sharp and showed she cared not a whit what anyone else thought.

Janet was a small woman, only five foot two but she spent a thirty-year plus career as a probation officer—going into the homes of axe murderers, rapists, serial killers, drug addicts, hot check writers and every felon in between.  Just to make sure they were behaving.  No matter how seedy the neighborhood or what hour of night or day.  If she happened to see a breach of the law she did not confront the transgressor but reported him to the sheriff’s office which sent a deputy out to arrest the offender.

After all, Janet explained, she wasn’t stupid.

She was fair but firm.  When she sent people back to prison they had to admit it was their own fault.  And those she guided through the labyrinth of the law to unrestricted freedom, she was their angel.

On her own time she loved to ready anything and everything—as long as it was factual.  Janet didn’t care much for fiction, which, strangely enough, was what I write.  She told about what she read—ancient religions and civilizations, English kings and sunken ships.  I’m so much smarter just for listening to her.

So this is my wife.  This is my Janet.  And why I miss her so much.

Booth’s Revenge Introduction

A little known American myth* alleges Secretary of War Edwin Stanton became so disillusioned with the way President Abraham Lincoln was handling the Civil War in the fall of 1862, following a summer of disastrous Union defeats, he decided to kidnap Lincoln and his wife and hold them under guard in the White House basement.  Diverse historians pieced the story together from reports of interviews with surviving participants of the bizarre ordeal.

Stanton found a deserter in the Old Capitol Prison to impersonate Lincoln and an imprisoned Confederate spy to impersonate Lincoln’s wife.  After intensive research, historians identified the man as Duff Read of Michigan who was sentenced to hang and the woman as Alethia Haliday of Bladensburg, Md., who was convicted of trying to sneak an escape plan into prison to notorious spy Rose Greenhow.  After the war, Smithsonian Institution officials requested Old Capitol Prison to turn over its records for historical preservation.  Mysteriously they discovered pages missing during September of 1862.  Careful study revealed that Duff and Miss Haliday were admitted to the prison in early 1862 but no records noted when they were removed.  When the Smithsonian delegation confronted Prison Superintendent William Woods about the missing records, he refused to comment.  After museum researchers went to the hometowns of the missing prisoners, they found evidence the couple indeed bore striking resemblances to the Lincolns and that no one ever saw either one after the war.

Stanton chose Private Adam Christy to guard over the Lincolns and tend to their daily needs.  Christy, by coincidence, came from Stanton’s hometown of Steubenville, Ohio.  Rumors began to circulate throughout Steubenville after the end of the war that Christy did not die at the Second Battle of Manassas as reported in official War Department documents.  Christy’s father swore to the day he died that Secretary Stanton had assigned his son to duties at the White House.

At the turn of the twentieth century, relatives of poet Walt Whitman found among his papers a curious story about a half-witted janitor in the White House named Gabby Zook.  According to the story, Zook stumbled into the basement to discover the kidnapping.  The story also claimed that Stanton forced Zook to join the Lincolns for the next two and a half years.  Literary circles dismissed the story at the time as poetic expression of the feeling of confinement all Americans underwent during the war.

The questionable Whitman papers also alleged Stanton often went to the basement for advice from Lincoln because his own policies were not working as expected.  Zook told Whitman of an incident in which the guard Christy became so distressed by his role in the conspiracy that in a rage he killed an unnamed White House butler.  Zook insisted Stanton and one of his henchmen disposed of the body.  Some historians speculate the henchman was Secret Service officer Lafayette Baker.

By the end of the war, the secretary faced the dilemma of what to do with two Lincolns.    No one knows exactly what happened to the Lincoln impersonators.  According to the Whitman account, Zook believed Stanton blackmailed Christy with the butler’s murder, forcing Christy to find assassins to kill the real Lincoln at Ford’s Theater, Secretary of War William Seward and Vice-President Andrew Johnson .  Conventional history identified the presidential assassin to be John Wilkes Booth.

Zook confided in Whitman that Lincoln in the final days of the war had succumbed to extreme melancholia.  He did not interact with his wife and Zook in the basement room nor did he eat.  On the last day, Zook described Lincoln’s emotional state as one heading to the gallows, unable to control his own destiny.

Grandchildren of President Andrew Johnson told friends in Greeneville, Tennessee, that Johnson revealed on his deathbed that he discovered the kidnapping plot and the eventual assassination of Lincoln at the hands of Stanton.  That discovery led Johnson to fire Stanton in 1867, provoking Congress to impeach Johnson.  The Senate failed by one vote to remove Johnson from office.

To this day, no one knows what happened to the other participants in the plot.

*This report is absolutely true because I made up the myth myself in 1988.




Chapter One

Lifting his small brass derringer, its sheen catching light from the flickering oil lamps in Ford’s Theater, John Wilkes Booth smiled confidently as he looked down the narrow sight groove at the coarse, unruly black hair of Abraham Lincoln, convinced his actions would avenge the devastation wrought upon his country.

In addition, Booth considered the South to be his motherland even though he was born in Maryland and traveled the northern states as well as southern states performing to packed theaters.  On October 16. 1859, John Brown and his band attacked Harper’s Ferry on Oct. 16, 1859.  Federal troops immediately captured him and took him to Charlestown, Md., for trial that took place in November.  The judge sentenced Brown to hang on December 2.  Two weeks before the execution, Booth heard rumors while he was performing at Marshall Theater in Richmond that abolitionists planned to rescue Brown.  Booth bought a Union uniform from some solder friends, joined the Richmond Grays and Company F, and got on the train to keep the abolitionists from freeing Brown.  The raid never occurred, but Booth and his comrades in arms stood guard at the gallows during the execution.  Brown’s demeanor impressed Booth that he wrote in a letter to his sister Asia Brown “was a brave old man.”  After war was declared he decided against going South to wear a real uniform in a real army because he feared his face would be scarred in battle.  Conflicts of conscience last only a few years at most, but a marred face would ruin his career on stage forever, and Booth could not risk that.

In the last year of the war, when he realized the cause was in jeopardy, Booth began to concoct a way he could save his adopted nation.  He decided to kidnap Abraham Lincoln and hold him for ransom, demanding the release of thousands of rebel troops held in northern prisons.    Booth gathered a group of old friends and new followers.  They waited for Lincoln on the road to the Soldiers Home north of the Capital.  After a few hours, they realized the president was not going to show up.

Before Booth could devise another scheme, the Chief Justice swore Lincoln into a second term as President on March 4 in the Senate chamber.  Lincoln then walked out to the platform built on the Capitol steps to deliver his inaugural address.  Booth and his comrades stood on the steps only a few feet from the President when he stated citizenship was coming for former slaves.

“That’s nigger suffrage,” Booth muttered that night as he shared a whiskey at the bar next to Ford’s Theater with his friends.  “He has signed his own death warrant.”

His indignation only grew only the next few weeks as the Confederate forces continued to suffer one setback after another until the Gray army evacuated Richmond on April 3, and the Blue army marched in the next day.  Booth toured several cities in the North, including Boston and New York, visiting his brother Edwin and several friends, dropping obscure hints that they might never see him again.  On April 9, he returned to Washington City and gathered around him his old conspirators, the ones who took part in his failed attempts to kidnap the President.

His chance to avenge the South and stop the encroachment of colored people into proper society accidentally fell into place only one week before this night.  Booth was visiting Mary Surratt at the boarding house.  Her son John had been with Booth the night they planned to kidnap Lincoln.  Surratt had not shown proper outraged by Lincoln’s inaugural address, Booth thought.  Besides, he had seen this behavior before in his childhood friends Michael O’Laughlen and Samuel Arnold.  They seemed interested in the kidnapping plot at first but lost interest when they considered the risks of actually killing the president.   Mrs. Surratt, on the other hand, had the proper outrage and gumption to follow through on any plot to help the Old South.  That was why he visited her boarding house that day.  It was a viper’s nest of discontented southern sympathizers.

Once inside Mrs. Surratt’s boarding house, he saw a young man in a Union uniform standing in the parlor.  Booth noticed by how much they looked alike, almost the same age, the same lithe physique but different hair color.  This young man had bright red hair.  Moreover, his face was severely pocked.  Booth decided the private was not as handsome as he was.  Booth started an innocent conversation with the soldier.

The young man’s name was Adam Christy and said he worked at the Executive Mansion but demurred to elaborate on his duties.  The exchange was provocative but subtle.  Booth sensed great distress in Christy.  He was innately kind, Booth could tell, but he had a great hidden dark passion.  Booth felt Christy could help him get close to President Lincoln.

He was right.  The next day Christy returned to Mrs. Surratt’s boardinghouse and told Booth he knew someone who could help him kill the president. Bring your cohorts to the Aqueduct Bridge at midnight, Christy said, and you will learn how to avenge your dead Confederacy.

At midnight, Booth arrived with his men.  As he suspected, John Surratt had no stomach for assassination and fled to Canada.  Those remaining loyal were John Atzerodt, Lewis Payne and David Herold.  Booth felt reassured when he saw Christy, with whom he was beginning to feel like a big brother.  His brow furrowed as he noticed how nervous Christy was.  Booth finally decided the private was scared of the man who was waiting for them, a short, bull of a man, puffing on a cigar and patting his foot impatiently in the ripples of the Potomac River hitting the shore.

Shadows hid the man’s face.  He instantly took control of the conversation, telling them to forget the Confederacy.  The Confederacy was dead.  Get revenge, the man said.  He ridiculed Atzerodt’s German accent and the trace of alcohol on his breath.  He scoffed at the lack of intelligence in Payne and Herold.

“You, sir, are no gentleman,” Booth said haughtily.

The short man snorted in derision, dismissing Booth’s Southern sensibilities.  He began assigning assassination subjects.  Atzerodt would kill Vice President Andrew Johnson at his Kirkwood Hotel room.  Payne and Herold would kill Secretary of State William Seward at his home.  Seward was near death anyway after a recent carriage accident had left him bedridden.  Finally, Booth would kill President Lincoln at Ford’s Theater during a performance of Our American Cousin.  All this would take place on Good Friday.

“And what are you going to do?” Booth demanded.

“I’m going to kill Secretary of War Edwin Stanton,” the man replied.

“And why do you want to kill him?”

“I have my reasons to hate him.”

Booth sensed something wrong as they stood under Aqueduct Bridge at midnight.  Adam Christy seemed too nervous.  The mysterious man was too gruff and too secretive.  During all his years on stage, Booth had developed his instincts, and his instincts told him to walk away.  His intense hatred of Lincoln and the president’s advocacy of Negro suffrage made Booth ignore his gut feelings and agree to the assassination plot.

On Good Friday afternoon he went to his boardinghouse where he gathered what little he would need for his escape.  He carefully loaded his derringer, sheathed his knife and hid it in his pocket, and placed an old appointment book in his saddlebags.  Booth pulled out his wallet and lingered as he gazed at the photographs of young ladies, including several actresses and his fiancée Lucy Howe, the daughter of a northern abolitionist senator.  Sighing, he realized he might never see any of them again, but his loyalty to the South overrode all other emotions.

He walked to the livery stable where he threw his saddlebags over his mount and rode to the alleyway behind Ford’s Theater.  He gave the attendant a few coins to hold the horse until he came out.  Looking at his pocket watch, he saw that the play had just begun.  He had an hour to waste until the proper moment.  Booth sauntered to the bar next to the theater where he ordered a glass of whiskey and sat nursing it.

When a man sat on the stool next to him and ordered ale, Booth glanced at him and sized him up.  “A terrible last couple of weeks, wouldn’t you say?” he mumbled.


“Horrible events the last couple of weeks,” Booth repeated.

The man grunted.

“Unless you’re a Yankee.”

“I wouldn’t say that.”

“Neither would I.”  He raised his glass in a toast man.  When the man clinked his glass, Booth smiled.  “What did you think of that speech?”

“What speech?”

“You know, by that man in the Executive Mansion.”

“Oh.  Not much.”

“Nigger voting rights.  Can’t stand that.”

“Me neither.”

“Why, if I pushed a nigger out of my way on the sidewalk and if he pushed back I couldn’t shoot him.”

The man grunted.  “That man in the Executive Mansion is my boss.”

“What?”  Booth sat up.

“He’s my boss.  I’m his guard.  Like he needs one.  A lot of people talk about killin’ him but nobody ever tries.  So I just sit back and drink.”

Booth smiled slightly.  “That’s good to know.”  He looked at the clock over the bar.  “I’ve got to go.”

As he stood, the man said, “You look familiar.”

“I’m John Wilkes Booth, the actor.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard of you.”

“Tomorrow I shall be the most famous man in the world.”

Booth entered the theater at the back of the house and noticed that all seats were filled.  He walked up the stairs and circled the upper floor toward the president box.  Sure enough, the chair outside the door was empty.  He knew the guard was busy drinking ale at the bar.  First, he bent over to peek through the hole he had dug out earlier in the day.  Only four people were in the room, the president, his wife and the couple on a sofa against the far wall.

Carefully he opened the door and stepped inside.  Booth held his breath, hoping no one heard him.  The young couple chuckled softly.  Mrs. Lincoln leaned over to whisper something in her husband.  How he loathed the man, Booth thought.

Booth breathed in deeply as he stood in the shadows of the presidential box overlooking the stage.  When he thought of Negroes’ having the right to vote his heart raced and his temple throbbed with rage.  He had to compose himself, be in cool control of his emotions to complete his task.  He looked down on the stage to see Laura Keene and Harry Hawk began their conversation in the comedy Our American Cousin.

He knew the play by heart.  He knew when the audience the audience would giggle, he knew when it would sigh, and he knew when it would erupt in laughter and applause.  One of those moments was coming soon, and, when it did, Booth was ready to pull the trigger and put a bullet into Abraham Lincoln’s skull.

Laughter from the audience sharpened Booth’s senses.  He knew the big punch line was coming soon.  He looked around the box and noticed a young Army officer and a rather homely girl sat on a sofa against the far wall. Booth smirked at him.  He knew the soldier would be no threat after he fired the shot.  He patted his coat pocket, which held his knife.  If the soldier tried to stop him, Booth would viciously slash him.  Nothing was going to spoil his dramatic exit, a leap to the stage and dash to the back door.

Breathing in deeply Booth smelled the scent of the oil lamps, sweat and, he sniffed again, yes, yes, he could detect the greasepaint worn by the actors on the stage below him.  He heard the audience reaction that stirred him emotionally.  He craved the attention he received while he performed in the theater.  That was his biggest regret that night.  He would no longer be able to be an actor, at least for a while.  Booth was sure the South would greet him with open arms for killing its great enemy.  There in the great capitals of the soon-to-be revived Confederacy he would once again tread the boards.

He took aim and waited for the fateful line by Harry Hawk to Laura Keene, which would cause the audience to erupt in laughter.

“I guess I told you, you sockdologizing old mantrap!” Harry Hawk shouted as Laura Keene exited the stage.

Booth pulled the trigger, and the bullet entered behind Lincoln’s left ear.  The president slumped over.  Mrs. Lincoln looked over at her husband and then looked up at Booth with curiosity.  He watched her eyes widen as she realized what had happened.  She screamed hysterically.

The officer lunged from the sofa, grabbing for the gun.  Booth took a couple of steps backwards quickly which threw the man off balance.  In that split second, Booth pulled the knife from his pocket.  The officer pulled back his free arm to try to strike Booth across the face, but as his arm came down it hit the blade of the knife.

“Aahh!” The officer stopped and began to bend over in pain.

Booth brought the butt of the gun down with full force on the back of the man’s head.  The officer fell against Booth’s chest and slid down.  The homely girl whimpered and ran to the man, crumbling by his side.  Booth strode passed them and between the president and his wife, who was still screaming uncontrollably, with her hands to her chubby cheeks.

“The president has been shot!” Mrs. Lincoln screamed.

Booth stepped to the top of the railing of the box over the stage with all due confidence.  He had made similar leaps many times as his entrance in a play.  This leap would be even more spectacular.  Just as he began to jump, Booth felt a tug on his foot.  The officer had grabbed at his trouser leg.  Booth’s head jerked back to see the man in a crawl.  I thought I had taken care of him, Booth thought as he furrowed his brow.  The man’s eyes were wide with hatred, shock and desperation.  My God, Booth gasped, this man is crazy.   The distraction caused him to fall to the boards.  Even though Booth felt a painful crack in his leg, he exhilarated in the moment.

Sic semper tyrannus!”

As he turned to limp off the stage, Booth heard the shouts from the audience.  Again he smelled the gas lamps, the sweat and the greasepaint.  God, he thought to himself, he was going to miss all this.  For, since he began acting, the noise of the theater sounded like life.





Cancer Chronicles Thirty-Four

Half of me has gone away.

And the void has been filled with a physical, aching pain.

Shortly after the New Year, my son and I took my wife back to the emergency room, and this time the CT scan caught traces of brain cancer.  At that point the doctors were still hopeful a couple of radiation treatments would eradicate it.  She went to the oncology center to have a mask made which would protect the rest of her head during the treatments.  The pain pills didn’t seem to work.  Out of respect for her, I will not recount her descent, but it was terrible.  Eventually we called an ambulance to take her back to the hospital.  More tests showed that in that short period of time the cancer had grown rapidly.  There was no other recourse than transferring her to Hospice.

She died three days later.  From the last happy day of wrapping Christmas presents to her last breath was only three weeks from a cancer which was not even considered a threat.  My daughter and her family fortunately were able to arrive to make their good-byes.

The memorial service went well.  People from our church, her former work associates, our son’s fellow workers and personal friends attended.  All were shocked at the quickness of it.  We all sang our favorite song, “Never Ending Love For You.”

I had not realized this before, but mourning is an actually physical pain.  Perhaps no one else in my life who had died meant as much to me as my wife of forty-four years.  I have no appetite.  I ache all over.  From time to time I feel a burning sensation all over my body.  Some days I am able to file some bills or clean up a little bit; other days I awake, sit before a television screen and stare.  I force myself to make promises to attend events when friends call.  I hope I can keep those promises.

My children made me go to each of my doctors to assure us I’m hanging in there.  I go see a counselor picked out by my son next week.

This is the first thing I’ve written in a month.  I have to find a new copy editor.  My last one has gone away.