I’m taking the rest of the week off to celebrate Thanksgiving. That will give you time to wonder about the hijinks Booth, Stanton and the gang will be up to and what intrigue David, Wallis and mercenary will be into. I am grateful for all the readers who have kept up with my stories over the years. If you’re thankful for my concise to-the-point writing please consider putting something in my storytelling fund basket. It’ll help pay for my Thanksgiving turkey.
I just hate holiday dinners with the family. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July, any excuse for all the old faces to gather to chew on food and each other.
My children, of course, are fine. They know to eat what’s on their plates. We don’t threaten them with anything terrible if they don’t eat their vegetables. You don’t want vegetables? Fine. That means you’re full so you won’t have dessert. All of a sudden those green beans don’t look so bad.
What I hate are the backseat chefs, or whatever you call them. It never fails. My wife is making gravy with evaporated milk when her mother wanders up.
“You’re using a whole can of evaporated milk to make gravy? When we were growing up we were so poor we could only use half a can of evaporated milk and finished it off with water.”
“You had evaporated milk in a can?” my aunt counters. “We were so poor when we were young we only used water in our gravy.”
“You had gravy?” my mother-in-law’s aunt from a second marriage interjects. “My family was so poor we didn’t even have a stove. We stuck the chicken on a dead tree branch and held it over the fireplace. All the drippings sizzled on the logs.”
“You had logs?” Uncle Billy sits up at the table and waves his arms toward the women. Frankly, I don’t remember what side of the family he’s on. He just appeared one Sunday with someone, and they called him Uncle Billy. “We were so poor we had to burn dried cow patties. The smell was awful, but the chicken tasted mighty good. Better than that stuff wrapped up in plastic you get from the grocery store today.”
“You had cows?” Grandpa Grady grabs Billy’s arm and yanks it down. I don’t think Grandpa Grady likes Billy very much. “We didn’t even have cows. Only rich people had cows back in the good old days. We just had goats. And you try to start a fire with goat pellets!”
“I remember one year when we didn’t have any animals at all on the farm.” Grady’s sister Bertha meanders into the kitchen and sticks her nose in the saucepan where the gravy is simmering. She sniffs. “I hope that ain’t giblet gravy. I hate giblet gravy. That stuff gives me gas. You want to have a hard time cooking a family dinner? Try digging parsnips and carrots out of the ground and boil them in the bath water left over from Saturday night.”
“One Sunday we just ate dirt.” Billy brings along this woman who calls herself Ticey. I don’t know if Ticey is Billy’s wife, sister, cousin or girlfriend. No one dares ask. “We were from Oklahoma. That’s all we had. Dirt has a lot of good stuff, iron, minerals. And you thanked the Good Lord you had dirt to eat. Once in a while it rained so we got a treat. Mud pies.”
Just when you think it can’t get any worse, great grandma Donner comes in from the bathroom hitching up her drawers.
“That’s nothing. You should hear the story about Uncle Jim and his family going through this mountain pass one winter.”
Previously: Mercenary Leon meets MI6 spies David, the Prince of Wales, and socialite Wallis Spencer. David abdicates the throne to marry Wallis. He becomes Bahamas governor. Leon dies and his son Sidney turns mercenary. David hires him as his valet. Sidney begins affair with another mercenary Aline. He murders Aline, because she shot his father, and kills her boss Harry because he bungled the orders.
Less than a week had passed since the murders of Harry Oakes and his assistant Aline, and David found himself lost in thought sitting in his office at the Governor’s Palace. The richest man in the Bahamas had been killed in a most horrible fashion, and David couldn’t comprehend the cause.
Harry was a bumbling fool, and bumbling fools rarely drew the attention of MI6. His murder was the same. Whether Harry were dead or not didn’t matter much in a world being torn asunder by war. As far as anyone knew, Harry had few or no connections with Nazis. Oh, he might play golf with another industrialist who was a member of the Nazi Party just because his business’s future depended on it. But they weren’t vigorous supporters of Hitler.
Then there was the organization, the mysterious international crime syndicate whose ruthless tactics matched what happened to Harry, and David saw some possible motivation. The organization would be the group to kill Harry to get hold of his money. His business partner Harold Christie was cheating Harry out of profits on the airfield projects. But if Harry found out, would not that be reason for Harry to kill Harold, not the other way around?
David shook his head, as though a thick moss of cobwebs clung to each crevice of his brain. What actually engrossed his thoughts was the image of Aline’s body. He felt drawn to the morgue to view her. Hours in the ocean marred her corpse but he still saw her as a vibrant beautiful woman who made his middle-aged life seem young again.
He couldn’t forget her burn marks from being struck by lightning. David also couldn’t dismiss the dark bruise marks on her wrists made by powerful hands. The local authorities dismissed Aline’s death as a suicide but why were the bruise marks there?
David hated himself for dwelling on her death. It wasn’t as if the young woman was destined to become the love of his life. He had been romantically involved with women since he was a teen-ager, and most of them were more meaningful on a spiritual level than Aline. Her candle on the altar of lust burned too bright to last too long. She was his last roar of manhood, and it was over before it had reached its peak.
Once again he felt guilt. His romantic inclinations toward Wallis were never fully developed. He knew all of her physical secrets and knew no sexual contact could ever happen. Yet, as the years passed he found himself feeling protective of her feelings. He knew she put up a brave façade of viewing life as one wonderful farce. And when candlelight hit Wallis’s face just right, she did look beautiful to him.
A knock at the door make him jump.
The door man bowed and announced, “Count Alfred de Merigny is here to see you, Your Highness.”
David frowned. If there were one person who might have a solid reason to murder Harry Oakes, it would be Alfred de Merigny who married Harry’s daughter Nancy. Harry couldn’t be in the same room with his son-in-law but only a few moments without exchanging hot words.
Having a conversation with a possible murder suspect in his private office was, of course, the worst possible scenario. David’s mind scrambled. Where should he have this visit?
First he left his office and walked to the vestibule where he noticed Merigny slipped an envelope under a vase of freshly cut tropical flowers sitting on a large round table in the middle of the room. Upon seeing the duke, Merigny walked to him and gave an elegant bow.
“My condolences on the passing of your father-in-law,” David said in a loud voice so that any nearby servant could hear him.
“I appreciate your concern, Your Royal Highness,” Merigny replied in an equally loud voice.
“You are quite welcome,” he said. Merigny’s comprehension of the delicate situation impressed David.
Merigny stepped forward to whisper, “I have a private matter to discuss with you.”
“I’ve learned the best place to hold a private conversation is in front of the public. Won’t you join me on the front steps? The heat of the day will force us to keep our discussion brief.”
Merigny bowed again. “But of course, sir.” He opened the door for David.
After they were on the porch, Merigny spoke in a conversational manner, which proved to David the man was not unintelligent in the ways of public conversation.
“I have been told the authorities are on the verge of charging me with the murder of Harry Oakes.”
David’s mouth fell a bit. “I thought Harold Christie was the prime suspect, since he was the only other person in the house at the time.”
“They claim to have found my fingerprint on a Chinese screen in Harry’s bedroom.”
“I think it was lifted off a glass of water they offered me during their initial interrogation.”
“And what do you want me to do about it?”
“I would greatly appreciate it if you, in your capacity as governor, ordered outside detectives, say, from Miami. My father-in-law was well liked by local authorities. I am not.”
David didn’t change his facial expression. “I shall see what I can do about it.”
Merigny was about to bow and walk away when David stopped him.
“Out of curiosity, could you please tell me what you were doing the night Harry Oakes died?”
Merigny’s long narrow face took on the appearance of a child telling his father why he was late coming home from school. “I was hosting a party at my own home. I haven’t been in Harry’s house for two years. We argue so much we thought it better that way. When the storm broke out, I offered to drive my guests home. I have witnesses to prove my whereabouts at the time of the murder.” He paused to smile. “All my friends are quite reputable. Their testimony will hold up in court.”
David didn’t return his smile. “How convenient for you.”
Bowing, Merigny lightly descended the steps. David watched as he disappeared in the crowd.
His alibi is very convenient indeed. It is as though he knew he would have to have one. He may have actually been framed by the authorities with the lifted fingerprint, but that does not preclude his hiring someone to kill Harry for him. Perhaps someone from the organization?
As for his request for outside detectives, David could find no fault in it. Rumors on the street were rampant that Harry gave generous gifts to Nassau officers from time to time. David could easily explain why he intervened to provide detectives who had not been paid off by the victim.
Upon entering the palace, David paused a moment when he noticed the vase on the big round table in the middle of the vestibule.
The envelope was gone.
Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Stanton’s henchman Lafayette Baker takes Christy’s body to an embalmer. Booth and Herold join across the river in Maryland.Booth remembers Dr. Mudd lives nearby. Johnson takes the oath of office.
The conductor nudged Ward Lamon who slumped deeper into his train car bench. “Washington City, sir. This is your stop.”
Lamon jumped and looked up, his eyes and mind in a blur. “What? Oh. Yes. Thank you.”
His memories of the last twenty-four hours were vague. The man and woman who had been living in the Executive Mansion admitted to him they were imposters, but they would not say anything beyond that. The man lied to him and said Lincoln was being held at Fort McHenry in Baltimore. Lamon thought he lied so the woman could be transported away from Washington. But the woman refused to go, in a fit of loyalty to Tad Lincoln.
Then late last night—or was it early this morning—Lamon heard the news the President was dead. Was it the real President who was assassinated or was it the imposter? Where were the Lincolns while the imposters were in the White House? Where were the Lincolns now? Why was he misdirected to Baltimore? It was all so confusing.
A dull headache kept him from thinking clearly. He had seen too much, heard too much, drunk too much.
From the train station, Lamon hailed a carriage to his hotel. Crowds filled the streets, milling about seemingly without purpose. He watched men hang black bunting from windows and doorways. No one spoke. Only the rolling wheels crunching on cobblestones and the occasional neighing of horses broke the silence. Lamon’s intention was to wash up, change clothes and go immediately to the Executive Mansion; instead, once he was inside his room, Lamon collapsed on the bed. When he awoke, he looked at his pocket watch. It was 3:00 in the afternoon.
By the time he reached the Executive Mansion and walked up the steps, Lamon’s mind cleared. He knew the questions to ask, but he did not know who to ask. Thomas Pendel met him at the door.
“It’s so good to see you, sir.” Pendel shook his hand. “Mrs. Lincoln needs you.”
“So it’s true, Thomas? The President is dead? The real President is dead?”
Pendel hesitated. “I don’t know what you mean, Mr. Lamon. There is only one Mr. Lincoln.” He began walking up the stairs.
“Are you telling me you didn’t realize the man and woman in the White House for the past two and a half years were imposters?” Lamon stepped quickly to catch up with Pendel.
“Mrs. Lincoln is in her parlor.” On the second floor he turned down the hall toward the Lincolns’ private rooms. “She’s inconsolable.”
Lamon grabbed Pendel by his elbow. “Are you that frightened?”
“I am an old man, sir.” He firmly removed Lamon’s hand. “I fear very little. But I know, above all else, a man cannot rage against a storm.” Pendel opened a door. “Mrs. Lincoln, Mr. Lamon is here to see you.”
She rushed toward him and took Lamon by the hand to lead him to the settee as Pendel stepped back and closed the door. She sat and patted the cushion next to her. Lamon observed her moist cheeks and loose hairs around her face.
“Please have a seat, Mr. Lamon. I know you must be as devastated as I am. I will never forget the nights you slept outside Mr. Lincoln’s bedroom door.” She leaned into him to whisper, “It was that devil Stanton, you know.”
“Yes, I do know. I believe you.”
“Thank, God, someone believes me.” Her hands went to her face. “Mr. Johnson was here this morning.” She shook her head. “I told him we were held in the basement all that time. He doesn’t believe me. I can tell.” Mrs. Lincoln looked him straight in the eyes. “I was beginning to doubt my own sanity.”
“Do you know when the imposters left?”
“Sometime last night, probably after we went to the theater.”
“I blame myself, Mrs. Lincoln,” Lamon blurted. “The imposter told me the President was being held at Fort McHenry. I left immediately for Baltimore. I felt so foolish when I realized he wasn’t there.”
She leaned back and looked at him as though she were seeing him for the first time and did not like what she saw.
“That’s right. You weren’t here. Why weren’t you here?”
“Mr. Stanton said you and the President were being held in a safe place because of assassination threats. He said it was for your own good.”
“And you believed that devil? I thought you would know better than that.”
“I should have.”
“You should have torn the White House down stone by stone until you found us.”
“But I didn’t know for sure you were even still in the mansion.” Lamon was at a loss for words. He could not believe she doubted him. “I was told you were in Baltimore!” he interjected, defending his inexplicable absence to the grieving widow.
“Are you are in league with that devil at this very moment? Did he send you here to spy on me?”
Lamon paused to consider her face. Mrs. Lincoln’s full cheeks flushed and her little mouth alternately pinched shut and blew out heated breath. She glared at him and then looked around the room, as though searching for another person lurking in the shadows. Her hands shook and her feet shuffled. She was insane, he decided. She knew the truth, and it had driven her insane. Lamon stood and bowed.
“I apologize for my shortcomings, Mrs. Lincoln,” he mumbled and turned toward the door.
“How dare you think you could fool me? I am not a fool! You go tell that devil I am not a fool!”
What was Lamon to do? The one person who could substantiate his suspicions was stark raving mad. By association, he possibly could be considered mad also. What was it Pendel said? He knew better than to rage against a storm. But that was all Lamon knew to do—rage on and on until the storm subsided and justice was done.
At the bottom of the stairs, he remembered she said they had been in the basement. That’s where the manservant and the cook lived. They should know what happened. Lamon took the backstairs down. He saw the manservant walk into a room with a bucket and a mop. Lamon followed him and saw a billiards table and boxes stacked around the walls.
“What are you mopping?” Lamon asked.
“Nothing, sir. Just mopping.”
Lamon extended his hand. “I’m Ward Lamon. But, of course, you know that. I’m the president’s personal bodyguard. And your name?”
“The floor looks clean, Cleotis.”
“I know, sir. I just feel like mopping.”
“Leave my husband alone,” a woman’s firm voice called out from the doorway. “You white folks have taken everything away. So just leave us alone.”
Lamon walked to her, looked at her swollen belly and smiled. “When is the baby due?”
“None of your business.”
“Phebe, I think we all got to learn to be polite to each other,” Cleotis said. “Is that too much to ask, to be polite?”
Lamon walked back to him. “Didn’t there used to be another butler here? What was his name?”
“Mr. Pendel is the only butler I know of, sir.”
“He’s the head butler. You’re a butler too. I seem to remember a younger man than you, oh say, in 1862.”
“I’ve been here the whole time, Mr. Lamon, sir.”
“Whole what time?” His instincts as a lawyer were coming to the surface.
“The whole time Mr. Lincoln has been President, sir.”
“Can you prove it?”
“Can you prove he hasn’t?” Phebe stepped in between Lamon and Cleotis. “People who ask questions don’t live long, least ways not around here.”
“Woman, I warned you. You’re saying too much.” Cleotis sounded more anxious than angry, Lamon thought.
“Saying too much about what?” he persisted.
“Nothing, sir.” Cleotis bent over to pick up the bucket. “Excuse me, sir, I’ve got to get some clean water.”
Phebe pursed her lips as she looked at Lamon. “Yes sir, people can get mighty dead asking too many questions.”
Deciding not to pursue the interrogation, Lamon went back upstairs, the straw mats crunching beneath his feet. As he entered the main hall, he saw Stanton coming down the stairs. Lamon presumed he had been to the autopsy room to oversee any discoveries made by the surgeons. Their eyes met briefly. Stanton stopped and then hurried to the front door. Lamon followed down the steps to the revolving gate between the Executive Mansion and the Department of War building.
“Mr. Secretary!” he called out. “I haven’t seen you in a long time. Please pause a moment so we can speak.”
Stanton frowned. “Well, make it quick. Can’t you see I am in a hurry? We have a conspiracy to solve!”
“Do you have any information to lead you to the assassins?” Lamon asked, trying to sound friendly.
“Yes,” Stanton replied. “We think it was some actor and his rabble-rousing friends.”
“Is it the same man whom you suspected two and a half years ago? You remember, when you placed the president and his wife in a secret location?”
“What?” Stanton’s eyebrows went up.
“You told me in 1862 that Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln had been removed from the Executive Mansion to a secret location to protect them from an assassination attempt. You had found two people who looked like the Lincolns to take their place. Why did you let them return unless you thought the danger had passed and obviously it had not?”
“The intelligence we had at hand suggested otherwise. The nation needed its leader back where he belonged,” Stanton explained, his lips pinching together when he was finished.
“Why would you allow him to go to the theater when you knew danger existed?” Lamon pursued his questioning.
“I told you we thought it was safe.”
“But it wasn’t safe. The president is dead.”
“I won’t subject myself to such an interrogation,” Stanton said in a huff.
“By the way, what happened to the man and woman who impersonated the Lincolns?”
“They went home.”
“And where was that?”
“I don’t remember.” Flustered, Stanton paused to compose himself. He then wagged a fat finger at the earnest questioner. “Listen here. You had better keep that story to yourself. People will think you are crazy if you insist on repeating it. Like people think Mrs. Lincoln is crazy.”
Bobby couldn’t believe his luck. His father was actually taking him to the drive-in movies to see Ben-Hur. All his classmates saw it in the walk-in theaters and raved about the sea battle and the chariot race. It showed this one guy scraping the skin off his leg trying to get his chains off. And a lot of guys fall off their chariots and get run over by the horses. This was great stuff.
Bobby didn’t go to many movies since he turned twelve the price went up. The drive-in, on the other hand, were only a dollar a carload. They used to go to the drive-in all the time when Bobby’s brothers lived at home. Five people and only one dollar. His mother didn’t feel like going anywhere anymore. When Ben-Hur came to the local drive-in, Bobby tried to talk his father into taking him. It would be 50 cents per person, dangerously close to what the walk-in theater charged.
“For God’s sake, Grady! Take the damn boy to see the boy to see the damn movie! I’m tired of listening to all his whining!”
So there they sat in their car in the darkness and waited for the screen to go black and the music to come up. By the time Ben-Hur’s boyhood Roman friend came home and tried to talk him into giving him the names of Jewish dissidents, Bobby’s father dropped off asleep, his head flung back against the seat and his mouth wide open. The snoring was deafening. When the soldiers broke through the front door to take Ben-Hur away for throwing a rock at a general, Bobby’s dad fell into the steering wheel, setting off the horn. A group of men charged the car.
“We spent a whole dollar to see this movie! We want to hear it too! Wake him up!
“Mommy said never to wake daddy up,” Bobby whimpered. “She said he would get mad.”
“Well, I don’t give damn if he gets mad or not!” one big man yelled as he jerked open the car door.
Bobby’s father fell out face first into the gravel. The car horn stopped, and the snoring was muffled. The men went back to their cars. Bobby had a tough time concentrating on the rest of the movie. He even missed the part when the guy scraped the skin off his ankle on the boat, because Bobby kept looking at this father lying on the ground. The snoring stopped but if Bobby looked closely he could still see his body go up and down as he breathed. Mom would definitely be upset if he came home with daddy dead. He was supposed to mow the lawn the next morning. Bobby couldn’t keep up with the chariot race. He thought Ben-Hur had the white horses and the Roman the black, but he didn’t know for sure.
By the time Jesus rose from the grave and Ben-Hur decided he didn’t hate anybody anymore, Bobby’s father coughed and snorted, sitting up abruptly on the gravel and then crawling back into his car.
“Ain’t this damn movie over yet?”
“Yes, Daddy. It’s over.”
“It’s about time. I couldn’t make heads or tails out of it.”
Previously: Mercenary Leon meets MI6 spies David, the Prince of Wales and socialite Wallis Spencer. David becomes king then abdicates to marry Wallis. He becomes Bahamas governor. Leon dies and his son Sidney becomes a mercenary. David hires him as his valet. Sidney begins affair with another mercenary Aline. He learns Aline killed his father because her boss Harry bungled the orders.
Sidney waited a moment before entering Harry’s room. From his hiding place he could hear both men, Harry and Harold, stumble around taking their clothes off and brushing their teeth. Soon loud snoring came from both rooms. Pooka’s voice echoed in his head. When his father was away on one of his missions, the Obeah priestess would share with him secret rituals of the old tribal religion. If you wanted to doom a man’s soul to hell, kill him with an object which he held dear. That would be Harry’s miner’s pick. To make sure he suffered for his sins, Pooka added, mutilate the most offensive parts of his body. Sidney already decided which parts of Harry’s body were most offensive.
The snoring settled into a low purr, as though the two men had descended into the deepest levels of sleep. Sidney slipped from the folds of the curtain, carefully slithered through the door and prowled like a panther to Harry’s bedside where he pulled back the sheer netting.
Harry sprawled over the bed on his back, naked and without even a sheet over him. Not wasting a second, Sidney placed one hand over the old man’s mouth and twisted his head to expose its back. With his other hand Sidney plunged the miner’s pick down several times until brain matter fell to the pillow.
Putting away the spike, Sidney pulled out a cigarette lighter from his pocket and reached for the insecticide pump spray can on the bed stand. First he sprayed Harry’s eyes—the eyes that only saw gold—then he sprayed his open mouth, deep down into his throat—so he couldn’t tell lies anymore. Last, Sidney sprayed a large amount of insecticide on the dead man’s crotch—so he could never defile another woman. Once he was sure the insecticide had soaked in, Sidney flicked the lighter and lit the eyes, mouth and crotch, each flaming up but not enough to reach the netting.. Sidney ripped open Harry’s pillow and grabbed handfuls of duck down to toss over his body. The overhead fan kept them floating above the pillaged body, a sign Obeah had been there.
The entire operation took only a couple of minutes, and Sidney was out of the room, through the window and sprinting back to the center of Nassau and Aline’s apartment. When he arrived, he noticed the dead flowers were waiting for him.
Sidney knocked on the door. He heard her voice.
Entering, he removed his cap and put it in his bag which he placed on the floor. He tried to smile at Aline to set her at ease, but he couldn’t.
“Is it done?” she asked.
“Good.” Naked, she stood and went to him. “Your payment should arrive in a few days.” Aline put her arms around his waist. “You can pick it up here.” She tried to kiss him but he pulled back.
“Have you ever made love in the waves along the beach?”
She frowned. “What an odd thing to say. We could be caught.”
Sidney picked up her robe from a nearby chair and put it on her. “It’s after midnight. No one will see us.”
“It’s about to storm. We could be struck by lightning.”
He lifted his bag with one hand while tugging her toward the door with the other. “That’s why we should go now.”
“No.” She pulled back. “What’s wrong with my bed? You’ve never complained about it before.”
Tightening his grip, Sidney pulled her outside. “It’s boring. I want us to do something we’ve never done before.”
They were halfway down the street with Aline struggling against Sidney’s strong grip. “If you don’t stop right now I’ll scream,” she hissed.
“What? And have the police find us?” He kept walking toward the nearby west beach of Nassau. “What a fine story we could tell. For a change let’s tell the truth. We’re both cold-blooded murderers and deserve to die. But not before revealing everything we know about this organization who owns us.”
“No one will believe you.” Aline was on the verge of tears.
“I don’t care.” He walked faster, causing her to trip over her feet, fall and struggle back up. “One thing I’ve learned about the organization that my father didn’t teach me. Once you agree to work for it, you are officially dead already. Nothing else matters.”
“My God, you’ve gone insane,” she whispered. “Merigny will understand. He’s a new generation for the organization. He will take care of you. I know he will.”
They climbed a dune and descended onto the west beach. He dropped his bag and kept walking to the surf.
“Not here.” Desperation choked Aline’s voice. “No one swims here. The riptide is too strong.”
“Don’t believe everything people tell you.” He yanked her closer to him. “One time someone told me they tried to keep my father from being murdered. Turned out that person was the one who killed him.”
“Who told you that?”
“I’d never say anything like that.”
“You talk in your sleep.”
They reached the ocean’s edge, but Sidney continued his march. “We are here. It should be electrifying, thrilling, something we’ve never done before.” Throwing her around in front of him, he kept pushing further into the ocean.
“Stop! I feel the under tow already!”
“Good.” He took several more steps until he saw her feet fling straight out from under her.
“Please! Don’t! I love you!”
“You told me you didn’t love me.”
“Oh my God! Don’t let me go!”
He looked up in the sky as it began to rumble. “It’s going to rain soon. Thunder too. And lightning.”
“No! No!” Aline tried to grab further up his arms to pull herself out, but she slipped back on the soaked sweater. She lunged to wrap her arms around his neck, but he pushed her away.
Sidney let go of her hands. Aline screamed which allowed the salty water to flood into her mouth. Her eyes bulged and turned red. She let out a huge cough, spewing spit mixed with foamy seawater just as she disappeared under the waves. With luck, Sidney thought, her body would never be found. Some shark might eat her. Maybe she would wash ashore and become another alleged mob victim. At any rate, she would no longer be his problem. He turned and ploughed through the choppy water, retrieved his bag and walked back to the Governor’s Palace. Rain pelted his back. Sidney saw a flash around him and heard a clash. He knew he was getting home just in time.
In the morning Sidney bathed, groomed and put on his valet’s uniform. He was ready for a new day. Hearing a knock at the door, he opened it to find a maid.
“The police just came to speak to the governor and his wife,” the woman whispered. “They both want you in the breakfast room.”
I know what they want to tell me. Harry is dead. They know I’m familiar with Obeah. They think I can explain all the symbolism. I will, with pleasure.
When Sidney arrived in the breakfast room, he saw the Duke was grim and the Duchess distraught.
“Sidney,” the Duke said, “We have some dreadful news. Harry Oakes was murdered last night.”
“And that lovely girl Aline—you know, his assistant,” the Duchess said through her sniffles, “washed ashore several miles down the beach. She’s dead too.”
“You remember her, don’t you Sidney?” the Duke asked.
“Vaguely,” he lied.
The police captain cleared his throat. “Mr. Oakes’s friend and business partner Mr. Harold Christie found the body when he awoke when the thunderstorm passed over. He called us immediately. Mr. Oakes’ head had been bashed in, then his eyes, mouth and another part of his body were burned. Curiously, Mr. Christie found feathers floating over the body, evidently kept in the air by the ceiling fan over the bed.” He paused a moment as the Duchess openly wept again. “Since Mr. Christie was the only other person in the house, we naturally are focusing on him.”
The Duke looked at Sidney. “I recall that you told me once you are familiar with the Obeah religion because you grew up on Eleuthera. Some of these things sound ritualistic. What do you think?”
“Yes, I am very familiar with their customs,” he replied. “My father discouraged my interest in it because he was of the Christian faith, as am I. The burning of parts of the body cleanses it from their sins. His eyes were burned out because of things he saw. His mouth and tongue were burned because of things he said. The floating feathers revealed Obeah was there.”
“Do you think Mr. Christie would know about these rituals?”
“It’s hard to say. If he were close to an employee who practiced Obeah he could have talked about the religion.”
“Even here, in metropolitan Nassau?” the captain asked.
“Obeah is everywhere in the Bahamas. The natives are everywhere.” Sidney clinched his jaw.
“Since Mr. Christie was the only other person in the house at the time of the murder, we must concentrate on him,” the captain continued. “Your Highness, do you know of any motive Mr. Christie would have for killing Mr. Oakes?”
“Nothing but hearsay,” he replied, “nothing that would stand up in court.”
“That’s true, but hearsay can lead to credible evidence.”
The Duke cleared his throat. “I’ve heard rumors that Mr. Christie was pocketing money from the airfield project. If Mr. Oakes found out—“
“What about that lovely girl, his assistant, doesn’t anyone care about who killed her?” the Duchess interrupted the Duke.
“One investigation at a time, my dear lady,” the captain replied with an air of condescension
“You’re so incompetent you can handle just one case at a time?” The Duchess’ eyes filled with tears and her lips quivered.
“Sidney, will you please escort Wallis to her bedroom?” the Duke asked. “I’m afraid all this is too much for her.”
“Madame.” Sidney’s voice was gentle.
As they walked down the hall, he felt her tiny body tremble. Without thinking, he put his arm around her, and she leaned in to him.
She shook her head and announced in a voice Sidney could hardly hear, “I’ll never love another woman again.”
He thought it best to pretend he didn’t hear her.
I agree. I will never love another woman again either. At least not on the level of souls melding together. If I am to maintain my sanity, I must remember my father’s command—You must fill the bellies of your family. The Duke and Duchess are my family. Jimbo and Gertie are my family
Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Stanton’s henchman Lafayette Baker takes Christy’s body to an embalmer. Booth and Herold join across the river in Maryland.Booth remembers Dr. Mudd lives nearby. Stanton takes over at the Peterson house. Johnson decides to rise to this solemn occasion.
Salmon Chase knocked at the door right at 10:00 and informed Johnson that members of the Cabinet would be arriving soon. Within minutes Secretary of the Treasury Hugh McCulloch, Attorney General James Speed and several members of Congress were in his room seated and waiting. There was little conversation as most of the thoughts were of the President who had died just three hours earlier.
Johnson noticed that Stanton had not taken time from his duties to attend the ceremony. It was just as well, he decided, although it might be amusing to see Stanton’s reaction when he realized the new president was not drunk.
Chase rose from his seat, motioning for Johnson to approach. Chase then administered the oath, and shook Johnson’s hand ceremoniously.
“May God support, guide, and bless you in your arduous duties,” the Chief Justice said in a loud solemn voice.
Johnson supposed Chase wanted the others to hear him clearly, so they could accurately quote him later. He wanted the press to report he was calm, grave and looking in remarkably good health.
“I can’t promise much,” Johnson said to the witnesses. “I will follow the example set by Mr. Lincoln, God bless him.” After a round of polite applause, he added, “Oh, and tell the other Cabinet members we should have a meeting as soon as possible.”
“At the White House?” McCulloch asked.
“No, no. Leave Mrs. Lincoln to her grief.”
“I can arrange a room at the Treasury,” McCulloch offered.
Johnson followed the men out of the hotel and hailed a carriage to the Treasury building which was close to the White House.
Passing the Executive Mansion, Johnson decided impulsively to stop to pay his respects to Mrs. Lincoln. It was the right thing to do, he reasoned. Probably. Maybe. If only his wife were here to guide him in these awkward social customs, he would feel much better.
At the door, a guard ushered him in and escorted him to the First Family’s private quarters on the second floor.
Soldiers milled around the second floor hall, seeming to be unsure of themselves. Were they waiting for orders? Didn’t they know their responsibilities on this solemn occasion? Were they posted to defend the Republic against more assassins? Were they purely ceremonial functionaries? Johnson’s mind raced with the possibilities.
The escort officer conducted him to Lincoln’s office, and motioned for him to enter.
Johnson noticed the crowd outside a door at the other end of the hall.
“What’s going on down there?”
“That’s where the doctors are doing the autopsy, sir,” the guard replied in a low voice.
“The autopsy? You mean Mr. Lincoln’s body is here?”
“My God, how is Mrs. Lincoln holding up, knowing her husband is in the next room like that?”
“It’s not for me to say, sir.”
Before he could reply to the escort, Johnson heard a dress rustling inside the darkened room.
“Mr. Johnson,” Mrs. Lincoln whispered, peeking into the hall. “Please come in.”
He walked into the office, and Mrs. Lincoln shut the door behind him. She went to him and extended her tiny, gloved hand. Johnson smiled as he observed her face. She seemed calmer than the previous evening at the boardinghouse.
“I hope I am not intruding, ma’am.”
“No, I’m glad to see a friendly face,” she replied. “My husband always liked you. He had confidence in you.”
“I appreciate that, ma’am.”
Mrs. Lincoln looked around the room. “Don’t trust anyone, Mr. Johnson. Especially not that devil, Edwin Stanton.”
“Don’t worry about that, ma’am. I know how devious Mr. Stanton can be.”
She leaned into him. “No, you don’t. You cannot conceive of what that man is capable. He held us captive, Mr. Johnson, in the White House basement for two and a half years. And on the very night we were released he had my husband murdered.”
“The White House basement?”
“Yes, that devil caged us. He found a man and woman in prison who looked like us and put them in the White House. Could you not tell the difference?”
Johnson had only met Lincoln a few times in his life. They had a nice long conversation before Lincoln appointed him the military governor of Tennessee in March of 1862. The times they met after that Lincoln seemed distant and distracted, but Johnson dismissed the change to the pressures of war.
“Have you told anyone else about this—this allegation?”
“It’s not an allegation. It’s the truth. I dare not say anything or else they will think me mad. But you believe me, don’t you? You will be my defender, won’t you, Mr. Johnson?”
“Mary, where are you, dear?”
Johnson turned to see Thomas Pendel, the White House butler. Pendel was wearing Lincoln’s clothing.
“You must return to your bedroom, my dear. This way, down our private hall. Don’t you remember? Too many people in the house right now. We must have our privacy. We decided to seclude ourselves today, remember?”
Mrs. Lincoln rushed to Pendel, hugging him.
“Of course, darling. You always know best.” She took Pendel’s face in her hands and kissed him on the lips. “I had this terrible dream. We were in the basement, and then at the theater, and then someone shot you. But it was a terrible dream, wasn’t it, Mr. Lincoln?”
“You mustn’t rattle on so, Mary. Mr. Johnson wouldn’t understand.”
She turned and curtsied. “Excuse me, sir. I must do as my dear husband says. I need my rest.”
After she left the room, Pendel walked up to Johnson.
“You must understand, sir. Mrs. Lincoln is in a delicate condition at this moment. I thought if I wore Mr. Lincoln’s clothing, it would give her comfort. The doctors did not want her interrupting the autopsy, you see, and so I thought if I could create the illusion of normalcy….” His voice trailed off as he looked back at the door. “Even Master Tad needed comforting. I stayed by his bedside all last night.”
“So, do you believe her story?” Johnson asked. “About the abduction? Could they have possibly been in the basement for two and a half years?”
“The Lincolns are good people,” Pendel replied. “They have been through enough grief.”
“But do you believe they were in the basement for two and a half years?”
Without answering, Pendel turned abruptly, calling back over his shoulder as he exited, “Mrs. Lincoln needs me now.”
Perplexed, Johnson decided to leave for the Treasury. He had delayed the Cabinet meeting too long. He returned to his carriage and thought about Pendel’s reaction. The butler avoided answering the question directly. Why? Was he afraid for his safety and that of the Lincoln family? Did he not know about the abduction? Or maybe he did know, but could not bring himself to talk about it. Johnson shook his head to clear such swirling thoughts as he entered the room at the Treasury for the Cabinet meeting.
Sitting at the end of the table was Stanton, who showed no intention of moving. Johnson took his seat at the other end. As he looked around the room, he wondered if it had actually just been twenty-four hours ago, that he had been with this exact group of men. Only at that time Abraham Lincoln was alive and in charge of the meeting. General Ulysses Grant had been in attendance but not today. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Interior John Usher, Treasury Secretary Hugh McColloch, Postmaster General William Dennison, Attorney General James Speed and Interior Secretary James Harlan were all back, staring at him. Johnson supposed they wondered if he were drunk as he had been at the Inaugural.
“I recommend that Chief Clerk of the State Department be appointed temporary Secretary of State since neither Mr. Seward nor his son are capable of the duties at the time,” Stanton said, shuffling through his papers.
Johnson had forgotten. Frederick Seward had been at the previous meeting, substituting for his father. Now he was suffering from stab wounds from the attack from the night before.
“Yes, I think that would be most appropriate,” Johnson said just above a whisper.
“What is most important at this time,” Stanton continued in an imperious tone and showing no desire to relinquish the floor, “is that we have no intention of being intimidated by the forceful yet clumsy attempts of the former Confederate government to alter our plans of Reconstruction.”
“That is not your responsibility to make any statement of the kind,” Welles replied. “Isn’t that so, Mr. Speed? As the leading Constitutional scholar around this table, don’t you agree that any statements must come from the President?”
The Attorney General cleared his throat. “Of course, Mr. Welles. Mr. Johnson is now head of state. We all—at least many of us—attended the swearing in of President Johnson in his hotel room no more than an hour ago.”
“I don’t know if Mr. Johnson is informed enough to make any statements at this time,” Stanton said, removing his glasses and ceremoniously wiping them with a handkerchief.
“Whether he is informed adequately or not is not the point,” Welles stressed. “He is the President.”
“Yes, I am.” Johnson finally found his voice. “And I have no intention of changing the policy of Mr. Lincoln. He said many times we should treat the Confederate States gently, and I see no reason to change that approach.”
“Of course, being from a Confederate state, you would be expected to say that,” Stanton said.
“That is quite enough, sir!” Welles replied in a huff.
“Thank you, Mr. Welles,” Johnson interrupted in his best diplomatic tone. “I am quite capable of defending myself. I am beginning to feel this is an inopportune time to conduct this meeting. Emotions are riding high. I believe the best action at this time is for us all to concentrate on our specific constitutionally defined jobs.”
“Well said, Mr. President,” Speed agreed.
After he adjourned the meeting, Johnson gently took Welles by the elbow to pull him into a far corner of the room away from the other Cabinet members who were mumbling among themselves near the door. They watched as Stanton quickly gathered together papers in his leather case and strode out of the room. The cluster of Cabinet members standing by the door parted to let him exit in silence.
“He seems distracted.” Johnson chose his words with care.
“Hell, he’s the same son of a bitch he’s always been,” Welles replied.
Johnson wondered if this were a good time to mention Mrs. Lincoln’s allegations about lookalikes in the White House. Had Welles noticed any difference in the behavior of the president during the last two and a half years? Perhaps he should not broach such a fantastic subject right now. After all, only yesterday Welles had observed Johnson’s own irrational, drunken behavior.
Welles put his arm around Johnson’s shoulder and turned him away from the other men.
“Take my advice,” he whispered. “Fire Stanton while you can.”
Why are you late?
My mother said that almost every time I walked in the door. Sometimes I was down the street at a friend’s house. His family had the first television on the block. Mickey Mouse Club came on at 4 p.m., and was an hour long. The first half was singing, dancing and acting silly. It was all right. I was too young to appreciate fully Annette Funicello at that time. When I was older she became Annette Full of Jello and much more fascinating. The second half was a serial. My favorite was Spin and Marty, two boys at a summer camp. Spin was a city street kid, and Marty was a naïve rich kid. At first they didn’t like each other, but by the third season they were buddies. As soon as the final song–“MIC, see you real soon, KEY, Why? Because we love you”—finished I was supposed to be out the door and headed home. In the winter the sky was getting dark at that time of time. Everyone knew if you were caught outside after dark, something terrible was going to happen.
The only situation worse was to be out of the house in the dark and dark clouds rumbled with thunder and lightning. My brother was bringing me home from the movies one time. He always resented having to pick me up places. It cut into his cruising time up and down the main drag of downtown. On the average I’d have to wait about thirty minutes on the street outside the theater. When I decided to start walking home, he became even madder I wasn’t where I was supposed to be.
“Why are you late? Didn’t you see the clouds in the sky? Didn’t you realize it was about to rain?” my mother said with a particularly angry exasperation.
Yes, I knew it was about to rain. I knew she was going to be hysterical, but there wasn’t much I could do about it since my brother continued to scour Main Street for a girl desperate enough to go out with him. Of course, I would never get away with saying that so I instead went into my sniveling little coward role and whined, “I’m sorry.” I suspected she gave up her tirade because she didn’t want to listen to me whimper. On the other hand, my brother jutted his chin up and out as he walked right past Mother without acknowledging her.
As a child I seriously debated with myself whether I wished to bother to try to date when I was a teen-ager. The appeal of the young ladies hardly seemed worth the inquisition. If my brother came in after ten o’clock, she would greet him at the front door with her hands on her hips. She knew the movie downtown never let out after nine o’clock. You could drive a young lady home anywhere in town and still be home by ten.
“Why are you late?”
He tried to ignore as was his custom, but she blocked his path. Squinting she pushed her nose into his face.
“Let me smell your breath.”
“Aww, Mom.” He took a quick step to the left and escaped into the next room.
“Are you having sex with that girl? You better not get her pregnant!”
That imperative statement contained two major ironies. One, my brother did start coming in staggering from too many beers, and when he did Mother just stood there giggling, finding the way he lost his balance and fell on the sofa to be quaintly enchanting.
However, Father was not amused at all. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? You’re scaring the hell out of your little brother!”
The other irony was that by the time he finally got a woman pregnant I was married and had impregnated my wife, and I was six years younger than he was.
The fear of being on the receiving end of the withering question “Why are you late?” tended to make any situation worse. One year for Halloween my mother took me downtown to a five and dime so I could buy a mask for the school festival. She sat out in the car while I was supposed to rush in to pick out the mask. I stood in front of the table and froze. Not only did it infuriate Mother for me to be late, she also blew up if I spent too much money on foolish things such as Halloween masks. I saw ones I liked but they were too expensive. Dithering for too long a moment, I finally decided on the cheapest thing I could find. By the time I paid for it and ran out to the car, it was too late—Mother’s face was crimson.
“Why are you late? How hard was it to pick out a simple mask? Now I have a splitting headache!”
Well, that took the thrill out of Halloween, and it was the last one before entering junior high school. Once you’re in junior high you’re too big to wear silly Halloween masks.
I soon found out the reason Mother had such a short fuse. She had cancer and died before I entered high school. All dread of the scoldings went out the window. After a while I kind of missed them. It wasn’t any fun staying out after midnight on a date because Father went to bed at 9 o’clock every night and didn’t know when I came in or even that I had gone out in the first place. In fact, I was usually home by ten o’clock anyway. After all, the movie was over by 9:30. We could make the drag a couple of times to see who else was out that night, drop by the local drive-in for a quick soda and still be home in time to make Mother happy, if Mother had been there.
I am now older than my mother was when she died. I’m still home by ten o’clock. I never had to stand by the front door demanding why my children were late coming home. My son hardly ever went to movies unless it was Star Wars, and my daughter always dated guys who had earlier curfews than she did.
With luck I have a few more years. Boring people like me usually live a long time. It’s too strenuous to do anything exciting. But I do know that when my life is up and I finally am reunited with my loved ones in heaven, my mother will be standing at the Pearly Gates with her hands on her hips and a scowl on her lips.
“Why are you late?”
Previously: Mercenary Leon meets MI6 spies David, the Prince of Wales and socialite Wallis Spencer. David becomes king then abdicates to marry Wallis. He becomes Bahamas governor. Leon dies and his son Sidney becomes a mercenary. David hires him as his valet. Sidney begins affair with another mercenary Aline. He learns Aline killed his father.
Spring of 1943 passed without much disturbance in the Bahamas. Since modest pay raises had been given the construction workers, no more riots had occurred. The Windsors traveled to the United States as often as possible. Of course, they always had a good reason—one time they attended a session of Congress where Winston Churchill spoke. They were delighted to receive more applause than the prime minister. The Duchess continued her charitable work with the servicemen, and the Duke tried to negotiate with the American government to allow impoverished natives to go work in the states. Sidney continued his assignations with Aline.
Of course, he loathed her and in his mind contrived ways to murder her. But he was a man in his late teen-age years. He often thought of how much his life had changed since he was sixteen and had to deal with the death of his parents, killing three men to save his own life and joining a mysterious illegal organization. He may have been only nineteen but his hormones were at their full capacity, and Aline was so available, so willing. He used to sleep with her awhile after intercourse, but now as soon as they had finished Sidney slipped from the bed and went back to his quarters in the Governor’s Palace. He had not noticed nor did he care if she had observed the change.
One steamy night in early July as Sidney put his clothes on, Aline spoke in a business-like tone as she lit a cigarette.
“The organization has decided it is time for you to carry out a new assignment.”
Sidney concentrated on buttoning his shirt. “What is it?”
“They have decided Harry no longer has any use,” she said, “in fact, he has become a dangerous liability.”
“Who told you? Merigny?”
Aline narrowed her eyes. “You’re not to know such things.”
He sat on the bed to lace up his shoes. “I wasn’t supposed to know about Harry, but you told me anyway. You told me Merigny was being groomed to take his place.”
“Did I?” She rubbed out her cigarette in the ash tray even though she had only spoked half of it. “I’m slipping. I’ve told you too much.”
Sidney stood and smiled. “That’s because you love me.”
Aline sat up in bed. “I do not.” She paused as though trying to think of a good argument. “I think you are pretty to look at. And you’re young and virile. A good release for all my tensions. But I don’t love you.”
“Anything you say.” He shook his head. “I don’t care either way. So. Do you have any plans regarding Harry?”
“In three days Harry is flying to Washington and won’t say why he’s going or who he’s going to see,” Aline explained. “He can’t get on that plane. The night before he leaves he’s having a few people over to his house for dinner, Harold Christie, Charles Hubbard and Mrs. Effie Heanage. The couple use Harry as a cover for their affair. They should leave the party early. Then would be a good time to act. The organization wants you to leave several clues, each bizarre and leading to different people so the authorities will be totally confused.”
“It’s not difficult to confuse Bahamian officials.” Sidney turned for the door.
“Don’t I get a good-night kiss?”
“No,” he replied. “I don’t see how one kiss could relieve tension all by itself.”
“Will I see you tomorrow?”
Sidney was out the door without answering.
The next morning he asked the Duke and Duchess at breakfast if he could have most of the day off.
“I haven’t been home to Eleuthera lately and I wanted to see if Jimbo and Gertie need anything.”
“Of course, you may.” The Duchess smiled. “You must really bring them to meet us someday. Don’t you agree, David?”
The Duke had his head in the newspaper. Sidney knew he hadn’t heard a word.
“It’s all right if Sidney visits his home on Eleuthera today, isn’t it?”
“Of course, it is.”
Sidney went to his room to change into his native clothes and rushed down to the pier, hoping Jinglepockets hadn’t left for the day. He hadn’t.
“I haven’t seen you for a while,” the old man said.
“No, how are you going?”
“I am well. Do you have any troubles you don’t want to talk about?”
“Then I’ll close my mouth.”
At the dock on Eleuthera Sidney handed him a couple of coins and told him to wait. With that Sidney walked straight down the path to his house, ignoring the neighbors’ greetings along the way. He arrived at the wooden gate and twisted the knob. It was locked. Good. Jimbo remembered his orders always to keep the gate locked. In the courtyard Jimbo was tending the garden. When he saw Sidney he smiled.
“Jinglepockets and me, we go fishing this afternoon,” Jimbo said.
“Are you learning the business?”
“Yes, Sidney. I learn real good.”
Sidney walked inside the house where Gertie ran to him and gave him a big hug. “Mr. Sidney, good to see you. Can you stay for lunch?”
“No, Gertie. I just came for a few things. In fact, if anyone asks you, I wasn’t here today.”
She nodded her head. “No, Mr. Sidney. No see you today, Mr. Sidney.”
Sidney wished she wouldn’t call him that, but Gertie was a stubborn woman and insisted on showing her respect. He just smiled and went upstairs to his room. Opening his closet he pulled out his father’s black pants, shirt and cap. He found his father’s old cigarette lighter and pocketed it. Every rich Nassau home had not only netting over the beds but also a spray can of insecticide on the bedside table. He pulled a large box filled with various weapons of murder, ranging from revolvers, knives, poisons and an item he had lifted from Harry’s house when he accompanied the Duke there one time, a miner’s pick. The pick was a souvenir from Harry’s mining days in Canada. He placed the items in a duffle bag, locked his door and trotted downstairs. Gertie waved from the kitchen door and Jimbo hugged him as he went out the gate.
When he returned to the dock he waved at Jinglepockets who began to set sail. Not a word was said between them during the trip, but the old man winked at him when Sidney disembarked.
He took back streets to the palace. Passing Aline’s apartment he noticed she had a white carnation in the flower pot. Sidney knew the Duchess would be occupied with Aline for the next hour or two. After Sidney went to his room, he hid the duffel bag in his closet and changed back into his valet uniform. Sidney presented himself to the Duke who read a document at his desk.
“My trip didn’t take as long as I thought,” he said.
“Huh?” The Duke looked up. “Oh, that’s good. I’m sorry for being so distracted. I want your opinion on something. You always seem to see things clearly.”
“Anything I can do to help.” Sidney bowed.
“The prime minister has asked me to go to Bermuda to govern there.” He paused. “I don’t like the idea. I think my family is trying to hide us in an even smaller place than the Bahamas.” He looked at his valet. “No offense meant.”
“It’s the truth. The Bahamas are a very small place. Opportunities are limited for my people.”
“We’ve grown quite fond of you. If we go to Bermuda, we’d like you to go with us. What do you think about that?”
“Whatever your Highness wishes.”
“No, I want to know what you think. This is your home. Even though your family is deceased, your memories of them are still here. And you are quite young. Considering all that, what do you say?”
Sidney had to admit to himself, the Duke made sense. Eventually the organization would want him to follow them wherever they go, but for right now, he preferred home.
“I think staying here would be best, at least until I am older, your Majesty.”
“Good. I think so too.”
On the night of Harry’s dinner party, clouds filled the sky, threatening to release a thunderstorm. Sidney guess the storm would arrive around midnight. He darted through the streets from shadow to shadow in his black clothing, holding his bag of weapons close to his body. By the time Sidney arrived, Harry stood on his front porch waving good-bye to Charles Hubbard and Mrs. Effie Heanage as they entered their car. Sidney knew dinner was over.
He had a cursory knowledge of the layout of the house from the time he was hired to be a servant at the welcome party for the Windsors three years ago. Sidney remembered the location of the smoking lounge where Harry and Harold adjourned to after dinner. Because the July night was steamy hot, all the windows were open. Sidney slipped through one in the dark hallway leading to the lounge. The door was open to allow a breeze to circulate. From the shadows of the heavy curtains he watched the men play Chinese checkers, all the while guzzling glasses of whisky. Sidney noticed the two men were already in their cups, knocking checker tiles all over the place. No true game could actually be played.
The servants, one by one, entered to announce they had finished their duties and were leaving. Harry barely had control of his head so he couldn’t give a proper nod, but he was able to slur an order for them to turn off all the lights. After the last one had left, the two men stood, leaving the checker board a mess and walked down the dark hall to their adjoining bedrooms. Sidney noticed Harold was as unsteady in his gait as Harry. Harold gave his friend a clumsy hug and entered his room. Harry entered the next door down. Sidney knew he must be careful and silent. Harold might hear something.
The hour of murder had arrived.
Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Stanton’s henchman Lafayette Baker takes Christy’s body to an embalmer. Booth and Herold join across the river in Maryland.Booth remembers Dr. Mudd lives nearby. Stanton takes over at the Peterson house.
Andrew Johnson, who lay in his bed at the Kirkwood Hotel, was having a nightmare. A group of dirty, long-haired bearded men grinned, revealing mouths with scattered brown teeth. Off to the side were the girls from Greeneville who laughed at him.
“You think you’re smart enough to be president? You can’t even read or write!”
“You’re just a smelly old boy in ragged clothes, and that’s all you’ll ever be.”
“You’re a drunk!”
“You’re poor as snot!”
His nostrils flared with the stench of cow shit and hog piss. Johnson looked around and found his body mired in a mud bog slowly sinking. He tried to scream but nothing came out. Mud crept in around the corners of his mouth. All he heard was laughter.
Johnson’s body shook violently until he awoke shouting, “No!” Looking around he realized he was in the Kirkwood Hotel in Washington City. His body was drenched in sweat. He sighed, realizing it had been a nightmare. He was not still in the pig sty in Tennessee but was the Vice-President of the United States. How long would he suffer from those dreams? How can a man with such horrible visions in his sleep become President of the United States? Perhaps when his wife Eliza joined him in the White House, she would give him confidence.
Struggling, he went to the washstand to splash water on his face. He observed himself in the mirror and remembered how Stanton reacted when he arrived at the boarding house to see President Lincoln. Stanton looked as though he had seen a ghost. His gut told him that Stanton had expected him to be dead.
The words “They said” swirled in Johnson’s mind, remembering what the assassin muttered at his door earlier in the evening. Was Stanton the one who masterminded the shooting of Lincoln and the stabbing of Seward? Johnson could not prove anything, but he was sure Stanton was capable of everything. A knock at the door stirred him from his thoughts.
“We have most solemn news, Mr. Johnson,” Preston King called out.
“Please let us in,” James Lane added.
After Johnson opened the door, King put his hand on his shoulder. “President Lincoln died at 7:22 this morning.”
“You look like a mess,” Lane blurted. “Of course, it’s understandable, considering the situation.”
“I only look this bad on nights the President has been shot and killed.” Johnson shut the door.
King laughed and slapped Johnson on the back. “You always have a joke for any occasion, Mr. Vice-President—I mean, Mr. President—I mean…”
“Stop being a jackass, King,” Lane interjected. He took a note from his pocket and handed it to Johnson. “This is from the Cabinet. Mr. Chase will be here at 10 a.m. to swear you in as president.”
“Do you have another suit of clothing, sir?” King said, going to the armoire in the corner. “We want you to look your best when the Chief Justice arrives.”
“Yes,” Johnson replied, running his hands through his hair. “I should change clothes.” What should one wear on such a tragic occasion, Johnson wondered, considering the wrinkled possibilities stored in the armoire.
“Smile!” Lane ordered suddenly.
Frowning while he considered telling the Kansas senator that was a damned fool thing to say, Johnson reluctantly turned the corners of his mouth up.
“No, I mean show me your teeth,” Lane corrected himself.
Johnson was not any more pleased with this order as the previous one. No one had talked to him like this since he was a child. He swallowed his pride and pulled back his lips to expose his teeth.
“Hmph, you better brush them,” Lane insisted.
“Oh, yes, this is much better,” King said, pulling a black suit from the armoire. “I believe this is the one you wore to the inauguration, isn’t it?”
“You’re not planning on dressing me, are you?” Johnson’s patience wore thin. “I don’t get naked in front of nobody.”
“Of course, not, Mr. Vice-President,” King replied with a guffaw. “What were we thinking? We only have your best interests at heart, I assure you.”
“We’ll leave,” Lane said, “but don’t forget to brush those teeth.”
‘Gentlemen, I am completely in control of myself. This is indeed a stressful time, but I think I am up to the challenge.”
“Of course, you are, Mr. Vice-President.”
“Oh,” Lane mumbled, pulling a small bottle of whiskey out of his pocket, “this is for you, to settle your nerves. Mr. Stanton thought….”
“We thought you might need it,” King interrupted, patting Lane on the shoulder.
Johnson’s eyes widened. “Mr. Stanton? Did he send you over here?”
“The Cabinet as a whole made the decision, sir,” King replied, taking the bottle from Lane and extending it to Johnson. “Here, this will do you good.”
He did not take the bottle. “But you talked directly to Mr. Stanton. All this was his idea, wasn’t it?”
“If you want to get technical, yes, it was Mr. Stanton,” Lane conceded, “but I’m sure he was speaking for the entire Cabinet. We all are concerned for your wellbeing, Mr. Johnson.”
“Please take it, sir.” King pushed the bottle closer to him.
“I appreciate your concern,” Johnson replied, accepting the whiskey from King. He pulled out his pocket watch. “Mr. Chase will be here soon, gentlemen, and I must prepare myself.” He pushed them toward the door.
“Yes sir, we want you to present yourself in the best way possible,” King said.
Opening the door, Johnson extended his hand to the exit. King and Lane bowed and walked into the hall. “Please report back to Mr. Stanton that I am doing well. Will you do that for me?”
Both men blinked, and their smiles faded a moment.
“Of course, sir.”
Anything you say, sir.”
After closing the door, Johnson cursed under his breath. “Damn Stanton. He’s out to get me. He’d love to see me repeat my drunken stupor of Inauguration Day. But it isn’t going to happen. Not to me. Not twice.”
As he angrily considered how Stanton was setting him up, a sudden thought that the whiskey might be poisoned flickered across his mind. “Stanton is insidious,” he mumbled to himself as he strode straight the window, opened it and threw the offending bottle of booze onto the street. “Damn fools. I thought King and Lane were smarter than that.”
Johnson quickly changed his clothing and followed Lane’s advice, brushing his teeth vigorously.