Monthly Archives: April 2020

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Forty-Eight

Preston King’s tenure as the Executive Mansion’s chief of staff did not last long. Even he, who was a master of political intrigue, became uncomfortable in his duties of spying on the president. King’s inner conflict came to a boiling point in late July when black men in New Orleans demonstrated on the green in front of St. Louis Cathedral. The new Louisiana constitution did not include Black suffrage. When all calmed down, two hundred men, mostly Black, lay dead.
The nation blamed President Johnson for his incompetence. In a rage, Johnson stood in the hallway outside his Executive Mansion office, screaming for his chief of staff. “King! Get your ass in here right damn now!”
When King entered the office, Johnson waved a newspaper in his face.
“Did you know about this?” he demanded, pointing out the large headline about the New Orleans riot.
King gulped and looked wide-eyed at the president. Soon he took out a handkerchief to wipe his sweating brow.
“For once tell the truth, you worthless dog!”
“We decided—I decided—it would be in your best interests not to know about the situation. You see, no one side in this issue was clearly in the right, and we—I—wanted to spare you from any more unjustified criticism of your administration.”
Johnson, his face still crimson from anger, strode over to King, staring into his eyes, his nose almost touching his chief of staff’s nose. “And just who the hell is this ‘we’ you keep referring to?”
King took a step back, but Johnson stepped forward to remain in his face. “I am fortunate to have a private circle of friends from whom I take counsel.”
“Who the hell is in this circle of friends of yours?”
“Well, it’s hard to say.” King paused to clear his throat. “Sometimes this person, sometimes another.”
Johnson thrust his rough hands around King’s neck. “Give me a name or by God I’ll kill you!”
“Stanton,” he squeaked out. “Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, sir. I thought he was one of your closest advisors so—“
“That’s a lie! You know damn well I hate that bastard!” Johnson let go of King’s neck, walked back to his desk, sat and reached for some paper and a pen. “I think you have lost all value you might have had to this administration. I’m writing your letter of resignation, and you better damned well sign it.”
The pause in Johnson’s assault on his person gave King time to organize his thoughts. “Whatever you may think is best but what shall I do with my time, sir, if I am not in service to the nation I love?”
“I don’t give a rat’s ass, King.”
“Perhaps you should, sir. You don’t fully understand the impact of newspapers in this great land of ours. They tend to lend credence to any story that is told to them by a former government employee.”
Johnson stopped his writing and looked up. “What the hell do you mean?”
“I mean, sir, that I can tell the newspapers that I told you about this situation developing in New Orleans right after I became your chief of staff. I have my sources in Louisiana who keep me apprised of the racial situation there.”
“That’s a lie!”
“Can you prove it’s a lie, sir? I think not. Any more than I can prove what I may say in an interview is the truth. Newspapers are only obligated to prove that you or I actually made a statement, not that the statement in itself is true.”
“You son of a bitch.”
“I understand there’s an opening in the Port Authority of New York City for customs collector. It’s a very busy job. Making intricate import/export decisions would render me unavailable for any newspaper interviews.”
Johnson wadded up the dismissal letter and threw it at King. “Write your own damned resignation then get the hell to New York City. That slum pit deserves you.”
Within a few weeks, King settled into his job as customs collector for the Port of New York, began his official duties and indulged in the shadowy practices of bribery, which proved most profitable. He found an elegant brownstone across the East River in Brooklyn, and took an invigorating ferry ride to his office in the bustling Harbor District of Manhattan. He enjoyed the brisk spray of salt water in his face which he told his acquaintances was responsible for his clear sinus cavities which led, as everyone knows, to clear thinking.
On one chilly evening in November of 1865 King continued his practice of standing rail side while other ferry customers huddled inside the large passenger cabin heated by a coal-burning stove. He was congratulating himself on his clever rise to his current position when he almost lost his balance because someone bumped into him. King turned to see a young man, obviously still a teen-ager as he hunched over and avoided eye contact, a prevalent trait among certain young men of the era. He wore a wool cap pulled down over his eyes and a long gray scarf, which circled his neck several times.
“Don’t you know who I am?” King asked as he jutted out his chin.
The boy bowed and stepped back revealing a slight limp. “Yes sir, of course, sir. You are the highly regarded customs collector for the Port of New York, former congressman and for a brief time chief of staff for President Johnson. You are the honorable Preston King, sir.”
“If you know that much about me, you know you must not jostle me like that!”
“Oh yes, sir, of course sir.”
King narrowed his eyes. “This is not the land of your birth, I detect from your accent.”
“Ireland, sir. Ten years here in America, sir.”
“That explains the lack of respect.”
“None intended, sir.”
“Then go inside. Don’t bother me.”
“They tossed me out, sir. They said I wreaked of something most foul, sir. Of course, says I, this be Friday and bath night is not until tomorrow.”
King’s nose crinkled. “Then take a seat on the bench over there, and take your stench with you.”
“Yes, sir. Forgive me, sir.” The Irish lad limped over to the bench, which was in the shadows.
King shook his shoulders, as though trying to remove the inconvenience of the last few moments, and then returned his concentration on the waves breaking against the ship’s hull, spraying his face with salt water.
“Make way! Make way!” a whisper came from the darkness. “A reprieve from the President!”
King turned to stare at the young man on the bench. “What did you say?”
“Me, sir? Nothing, sir.”
“Then who was speaking? What was being said was in extremely poor taste.”
“I didn’t hear a thing, sir. Maybe you heard someone from inside the cabin, sir.”
“Hmph. Perhaps.”
King returned his gaze to the darkness covering the East River, and he began to anticipate the arrival of the ferry at the dock on the far side. He had hardly taken a second breath when he felt a rope around his neck tightening quickly, ruthlessly.
“We’ll see how you like having your neck in a noose.”
The voice was not that of the Irish lad but that of some other man, intent on murder.
“What? Who are you?” King rasped, trying to pull the rope from his neck.
“I’m the man who slammed the butt of my rifle into your chin last summer. I’m the man you thought died in a Virginia barn. I’m the man who’s going to kill you to avenge the death of Mary Surratt.”
“What? What? You fool! You can’t strangle me on public transportation! The other passengers will see my body! You’ll never get away with it!”
“You’re absolutely right. But I’m not going to strangle you. You’re going to drown.” The man held a sizable bag of bullets in from of King’s face. “This bag is tied to the other end of the rope which is around your neck. The newspapers will say you committed suicide.”
“What? Why? Who are you?” King asked.
“I am the avenging angel.” With that statement, the man pushed King over the railing.
He had no time to scream as his face hurtled toward the dark waters of the East River.

I’m So Old…

I’m so old I don’t know what streaming is. And I don’t want to know what streaming is.
When I was young, it was a bad thing to be red. We called it “The Red Scare”. Red meant you were communist, and nobody wanted to be called a commie. I’m so out of it now that I don’t know if there are any true blue red countries left in the world.
Oh yes. The United States of America. According to the new labeling system, red represents Republicans. Since Republicans hold the White House, Senate and many state houses, that makes the United States red. I suppose Democrats are blue because they’re sad they lost all those elections. Okay, after making my brain understand the complexities of the shifting colors of politics, I have to go to bed and sleep nine to ten hours.
It’s now mid-afternoon of the next day and I think I feel well enough to delve back into the things I don’t understand because I’m so old.
Before I could write, newspapers used the word “hack” in stories about people who cut apart their relatives. The word “whack” was also popular in those types of stories. You know, Lizzie Borden took an axe…”
When I was a teen-ager in the 1960s, my generation began to undermine the integrity of the English language by giving hack a new meaning—“unable to accomplish or tolerate.”
“I can’t hack that class in trigonometry.”
“I can’t hack another family reunion and all the old people saying I need a haircut.”
Everything was all right with the word hack until the last couple of years. I’ve been hearing on television about sharing new hacks on creating a quick and tasty meal for the family.
I first thought of the Lizzie Borden definition of hacks and nearly lost my lunch. I know we live in a dog eat dog world but this is ridiculous.
Then I consider the other meanings. If you are unable or bored with cooking dinner, just buy takeout and forget about it. The segment began and the word hack means suggestions to make something easy to do. Like Hints from Heloise. Hacks from Heloise. I still can’t the image of Lizzie Borden out of my head.
Come to think of it, I do need to hire a gardener to cut back some tree limbs. I can’t hack the hacks I heard on TV to hack my trees. I don’t own an axe anymore, just a hatchet. I think I got that right. Maybe I’m not as old as I think.
Oops, I forgot podcasts. I have no idea what a podcast is. A movie about alien pods that are going to control our thoughts or make us young again. I think I have to pay the cable company extra to find out for sure. And they’re not getting another penny out of me, those money grubbers.
Okay, it’s official. I’m old. Really old.
And it’s time for my nap.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Forty-Seven

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Lincoln’s friend Lamon interviews Mrs. Surratt and others in prison. Anna Surratt pleads for her mother’s life. Johnson grants a reprieve, but it arrives too late.
Stanton paced his office in the War Department building, glancing at his watch. It was now almost two o’clock. The executions were to take place between eleven a.m. and two p.m., and I have not heard a report yet from anyone. Once these people were dead, any possible direct link vanished between the conspiracy and me. Except for Baker, but he could not implicate me without sending himself to the gallows. Baker had many unpleasant characteristics, but stupidity was not one of them. A knock at the door startled Stanton, causing him to jump.
“Come in.”
Rep. King and Sen. Lane entered, wearing broad grins.
“The assassins are dead,” King announced.
“The nation can now be at rest,” Lane added with a satisfied sigh.
“Yes, the national nightmare is over.” My nightmare was over. “Gentlemen, please have a seat.” He settled down behind his desk.
King and Lane lounged in two wing-backed chairs opposite Stanton. The three of them shared a nervous giggle before Stanton furrowed his brow, took off his pebble glasses, pulled out a handkerchief and cleaned them with all due deliberation.
“We mustn’t take too much pleasure in this. Others might not appreciate our reaction. Of course, it’s perfectly natural to be contented with the outcome, but this is still a time of mourning for our fellow citizens. Yet I cannot help but be relieved the executions occurred without complications.”
“Oh, but there were complications.” King leaned forward. “But I took care of it.”
“I took care of it too, King,” Lane added. “It was the two of us.”
Stanton clasped his hands in front of his mouth. “Exactly what was the nature of this complication?”
“Ward Hill Lamon, of all people, stormed into the prison yard, claiming to have a letter of reprieve from President Johnson. He even had conscripted some private to clear the way to the platform. The insolent little pup actually assaulted my chin with the butt of his rifle.” King fell back against the upholstered chair. “I—um, we—stood our ground and prevented him from advancing.”
“A letter? Did he actually have a letter?”
“Here it is.” King took the envelope from an inside pocket.
“May I see it?” Stanton tried to control his emotions.
“Of course.” King handed it over.
Stanton took the letter from the envelope and read it. He knew Johnson’s handwriting well enough by now to realize this was real.
“Obviously a forgery.” Stanton lied then tore the letter, turning it and tearing again until all that remained was a handful of paper bits.
“Our sentiments exactly,” King replied with a smile.
“We didn’t think no damn thing. We knew they had to hang no matter what the president thought.” Lane crossed his arms across his thin chest. “I thought Lamon had more sense than to get involved in this. It’s none of his business. Is he still marshal of the District of Columbia?”
“Yes, well….” Stanton opened his hand over the wastebasket to allow the paper to fall. “Don’t worry about Mr. Lamon. I shall make sure he doesn’t waste his time on such inconsequential matters. I think the government should retire Mr. Lamon from his duties of district marshal and send him home to Illinois to write his memoirs which I shall make certain are never published.”
“The Surratt girl was hysterical, and he must have been caught up in the moment,” King said in a magnanimous tone. “Why they would fake a reprieve is beyond me.”
“You haven’t mentioned this to the president, have you?” Stanton’s angel bow lips turned up under great self-control.
“No, of course not.” Lane stood and brushed his pant legs, as though to dismiss the entire incident. “Why should we want to waste his time? Besides he’s probably drunk and might believe it himself.” He forced a laugh.
“Very well said, Mr. Lane.” King joined in on the laughter. After concluding his cheerfulness, he cleared his throat. “I understand the position for Port of New York customs collector is currently vacant.”
“Dammit, King, the bodies are still warm, and you’re asking for a payoff already?” Lane raised an eyebrow.
“I wouldn’t be so harsh on Mr. King.” Stanton persisted with his a tight smile. “He has done a great service for his country, and great service deserves a great reward.”
“Thank you, Mr. Secretary.” King snorted as he tossed a critical glance toward Lane.
“Of course, much more is expected of you before your reward,” Stanton added.
“What?” King replied, trying not to show his apprehension.
“I have reservations about President Johnson. After all, who had the most to gain from the assassination of Mr. Lincoln? His own Vice-President, naturally.”
“Are you sure about that?” Stanton’s statement took Lane aback. “He has a drinking problem, granted, but I can’t believe—“
“Which is grounded in your natural naiveté,” King interrupted Lane in a sanctimonious air.
“That’s why it’s important for you to assume the duties of chief of staff for the president.” Stanton continued. “You must keep an eye on the accursed politician from Tennessee.”
“And how much does that position pay?” King couldn’t hide his greed.
Lane guffawed and headed for the door. “I’ll leave you gentlemen to your grand schemes of patriotic fervor.”
“I take great offense at your insinuation, Mr. Lane.” King, his round face turning red, turned to Stanton for support. “I’m sure the Secretary is offended as well.
Stanton said nothing. This job is not complete. All could still be lost. I must get rid of Johnson too.
Lamon accompanied Anna Surratt back to the family’s boarding house and sat with her in the parlor until he sensed she was calming down. He then made his way to the Executive Mansion to break the bad news to President Johnson. When he entered the foyer this time, Massey stiffened but said nothing, only led him to the president’s office. As he opened the door, Lamon saw Johnson sitting at his desk, his head in his hands. When he looked up his eyes widened, and he stood.
“Where’s Mrs. Surratt? You didn’t leave her alone at her boarding house, did you? I was thinking about that. The crowd might become unruly—“
“Mr. President, Mrs. Surratt is dead.”
“What?” He grimaced. “Were we too late?”
“No, Rep. King and Sen. Lane—they blocked us. We never got close enough to Gen. Hartranft for him to even hear us.”
“King and Lane? What the hell were they doing there?” Johnson collapsed into his chair. “I can imagine. Stanton must have gotten to them.”
“They took the letter of reprieve from me. Stanton probably has it by now.”
“Which means it no longer exists.” Johnson slammed his fist on the desk.
“What can we do now, sir?” The hanging shook Lamon’s usual confidence. He never asked for guidance, but this particular moment left him baffled.
“Do? We can’t do a damned thing. It’s my word against his. All I have is what you told me.” He waved in Lamon’s direction. “I know you’re telling me the truth, but we don’t have anything to back it up.”
“Then Stanton wins?” Lamon could not believe those words came from his lips.
“Hell no. Stanton won’t win. It might take the rest of our lives, but we’re bringing that bastard to justice.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Forty-Six

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Lincoln’s friend Lamon interviews Mrs. Surratt and others in prison. Anna Surratt pleads for her mother’s life. Johnson grants a reprieve.
As the carriage pulled up in front of the prison, Lamon frowned as he saw the large milling crowd. He and Anna lunged through the masses. Lamon waved the reprieve over his head. “Make way! Make way! The President has granted a stay of execution!”
Placing Anna behind him, Lamon elbowed and shoved through the human barricade. Just as he thought their cause was lost, he noticed a Union soldier step forward with his rifle. The screams were deafening but he thought he heard Anna gasped.
“You—it’s you!”
The soldier put a finger to his lips. “Shush, young lady. We have no time! We must save them!”
Furrowing his brow, Lamon wondered who this young man was. He had black unruly hair, muttonchops on his fair cheeks and an absurdly large handlebar moustache. The soldier stepped in front of them and began swinging his rifle. The mob melted away in front of him.
“Make way! Reprieves for the accused! By order of the President!”
The private’s commanding voice impressed Lamon with its deep, resounding authority. He also noticed the soldier walked with a limp, which did not stop him from making extraordinary progress to the prison yard gate. Stretching himself to his full height, Lamon could see over the heads of the witnesses. On the scaffold, guards placed hoods on the prisoners’ heads.
The soldier banged on the iron gate. “Let us in! On the orders of President Johnson!”
Nodding, the guard opened the entrance. However, they only took a few steps. Two men, dressed as befitted members of Congress, linked their arms to bar Lamon and his companions from taking another step.
“Make way! We have the President’s mandate!” the soldier boomed.
“The President?” one of the men replied with a sneering tone. “I know Mr. Johnson personally, and he is a man of measured judgments.” He shook his head. “He would not take such a precipitant action.”
Lamon pushed the soldier aside to make eye contact with the men. He recognized them. One was Representative Preston King of New York and the other Senator James Lane of Kansas. He knew them both to be of the radical wing of the Republican Party and men of a self-serving nature, quick to be bold when it was to their own benefit.
“What have you been paid?” Lamon asked with frank candor.
“I beg your pardon?” Lane was indignant.
“You know what I mean.” Lamon stepped closer so he was nose to nose with the senator. “Is it an appointment?” He jerked his head to stare at King. “An ambassadorship? Customs collector?”
King’s mouth flew open but only startled moans and grunts came out.
Lamon looked over King’s head, across the crowded yard to the top of the scaffold. He saw Gen. John Hartranft reading from a folder of documents. Lamon had to deliver the reprieves to Hartranft. “The general is reading the order of execution! We have no time to argue!” His voice grew intense.
“Stand aside, gentlemen!” The soldier held his rifle at a diagonal position and pushed against the two men.
Lane pressed back. “Don’t you ever take such liberties with me again, young man!”
“Mama! Mama!” Anna tried to angle her way between the congressmen. “I’m here, Mama!”
Lamon watched Mrs. Surratt as she stood still as the soldiers placed the noose around her neck. She didn’t react to Anna’s voice. They were too far away for anyone standing on the platform to hear them. Lamon knew they had to move closer to stop the executions.
“Here, Mama! We have a reprieve!”
“Don’t tell her that!” King put his hand over Anna’s mouth. “Don’t give your mother false hope. I don’t care what you have on that piece of paper. She is going to die today!”
“You cannot make that decision yourself!” Lamon forced himself to speak in a calmer voice, realizing the forceful approach was not working. “Gen. Hartranft is in charge here. Let him read the document and make the final decision.”
“We are willing to take the responsibility.” Lane lifted his chin in defiance.
“Yes, we are,” King echoed in a voice tinged with uncertainty.
“Oh, really?” the soldier asked.
His tone captured Lamon’s attention, and he turned to stare at the private.
“And what are your names?” the soldier asked. “Who are you to be so brave in taking a woman’s life?”
“We—we don’t have to tell you anything,” King replied in a whisper.
“They’re Senator James Lane of Kansas and Representative Preston King of New York,” Lamon interceded. “Get accustomed to hearing your names repeated, gentlemen, as the brave men who refused to save the life of the first woman ever executed in the United States of America.”
Lamon looked up at the platform again. The tall one, Paine, stepped forward, and Lamon could tell he was saying something but he could not make out what it was. They had to move closer. Lamon pushed against the congressmen.
“Your time is up, gentlemen. Let us through now!” He resumed his militant approach.
“You can’t threaten us! Leave!” King pushed the soldier’s rifle down.
The private delivered a mighty uppercut to the congressman’s chin with the butt of his rifle, throwing King off balance.
“Guards!” Lane screamed in an uncharacteristically high pitch. “We’re being attacked!”
Lamon felt hands on his shoulders, pulling him back and down to the ground. Landing on top of him was Anna. He twisted his head about to see if the private, in the split second of chaos, had made it past the congressmen and across the yard to Gen. Hartranft. Lamon watched as a guard grabbed the private’s rifle. The private disappeared in the crowd, but Lamon could not tell where he had gone.
“Oh my God, no!” Anna yelled.
Lamon looked up just as guards pulled the lever, releasing the trap door beneath the feet of Mrs. Surratt, Herold, Paine and Atzerodt. As the bodies fell with a thump, Anna turned her head to cry into Lamon’s shoulder. He became aware of the envelope still in his grasp. A hand reached down to snatch it away.
“And I’ll take that, thank you,” Representative King said in a clipped tone before he and Senator Lane melted into the mob.

Songs of My Life

I’ve had a never-ending love for my wife Janet ever since I saw her face and I was a believer. She stood on a bridge over troubled waters in Fort Worth, Texas. (I don’t know if there are troubled waters Fort Worth. Go with it. Love doesn’t make sense.)
Actually, we’d already been married several years. When I looked through the viewfinder of my camera at Janet holding our baby daughter I realized how deeply I loved her and it would be for ten thousand years. The tiny girl helped bring about that epiphany.
We named her Grace, but I always called her Amazing. The first time she cried I thought how sweet a sound it was. By the time she entered kindergarten we shortened it to Mazie. After all, we were from Texas and we could not wrap our lips around any word more than two syllables.
Mazie was a remarkable child–smart, beautiful and adventurous. Janet handled the escapades better than I did. She knew how to pat my hand and say let it be. Like the time Mazie climbed out her bedroom window at midnight to walk down the street to see her boyfriend. She was only thirteen years old. Luckily the police brought her home after they picked her up with her boyfriend walking down the street holding hands. Janet waited a few weeks before telling me about that. I supposed she was trying to think of the right words to make it sound not so bad. Mazie taught my heart to fear.
Then there was the time I was cleaning the living room and found a note from the private Christian school in which we had enrolled Mazie. She and her boyfriend were given an in-school suspension for saying dirty words between classes. Those Christian school kids can be such tattle tales. Mazie explained they watched too much MTV, and it was a bad influence on them.
Eventually Mazie bored of her first boyfriend and went on to another boy who was the epitome of moral rectitude. Mazie quit cussing for him, just as Janet said she would. Shortly thereafter, she dumped the student saint because he thought he had the right to choose what career she should pursue. From then on, Mazie only cussed just a little and was very responsible about everything else she did. And Mazie my fears relieved.
The years went by fast after Mazie grew up, went to work, got married and had a baby of her own. Janet held my hand, and, ooh, our lives were filled with sunshine, lollipops and rainbows everywhere. We hardly noticed the wrinkles and gray hairs that were popping up all over us.
And then Janet went away, as I knew she would. I appreciated how precious Grace appeared. She held my hand and promised to comfort me until the day when I would join her mother. It will be as if we had only just begun. Because I had a never-ending song of love for her.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Forty-Five

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Lincoln’s friend Lamon interviews Mrs. Surratt and others in prison. Anna Surratt pleads for her mother’s life.
Ward Lamon walked with urgent purpose down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Executive Mansion, determined to tell President Johnson the entire story. Throughout the conspirators’ trial Lamon wrestled with the decision to burst into the courtroom and tell the entire ugly story, but he restrained himself, knowing the prosecutors would not believe him. Here in the last moments he took his last chance to convince Johnson to postpone the hangings.
As he mounted the steps, Lamon collided with a young woman rushing out the door. Holding her shoulders with his large rough hands, he recognized her to be Anna Surratt, the daughter of the boardinghouse owner.
“Excuse me, Miss Surratt,” he mumbled. Looking at her face, Lamon observed tears streaking her soft cheeks. “So you’ve been to see President Johnson and he turned you down.”
“How do you know my name?” Her eyes widened in recognition. “Oh, you’re the gentleman who visited my mother in prison. I told her to trust you, but she doesn’t trust any Yankees anymore. Let’s see, you said your name was Lamon, didn’t you?”
“Yes, Ward Hill Lamon. I was on my way to persuade Mr. Johnson to delay the executions.”
Anna looked away and sighed. “There’s no use in that. I told him about the man under the bridge, even told him his name, Lafayette Baker, but he said that wasn’t enough to save my mother.”
Lamon cocked his head. “Are you sure about that name, Lafayette Baker?”
“Yes, sir. Lafayette Baker. I would have told you in the prison that day but Mother forbid me from saying anymore. Do you know him?”
“I know that he’s Edwin Stanton’s henchman. When he came to your mother’s boardinghouse that night, did he say anything about Mr. Stanton?”
“No.” She paused. “He said he was from the War Department, but he didn’t mention Mr. Stanton by name.” Anna shook her head. “I don’t know how all this could make a difference.” She pointed to a horse and carriage in the driveway. “Mr. Johnson said he had that carriage ready to rush orders to stop the hangings if new evidence came to him, but my information wasn’t enough.”
“I think I have news that will change his mind.” Lamon smiled, took Anna’s hand and guided her back into the Executive Mansion.
Once inside, Johnson’s secretary Reuben Massey blocked the staircase up to Johnson’s private office. “I thought the President told you to go away.” He narrowed his eyes as he looked down on Anna.
Lamon pushed in front of the girl, placing himself so close to Massey the secretary took a step back. “She’s with me. I’ve important information the President must hear.” He paused to stare into Massey’s eyes. “You do know who I am, don’t you?”
“Of course I know who you are, Mr. Lamon.” He took another step back and brushed the front of his dark blue coat. “You may have held sway with Mr. Lincoln, but this is Mr. Johnson’s house now.”
Clinching his teeth, Lamon extended his right arm to push Massey aside. Still holding Anna’s hand, he trotted up the stairs with Massey trailing behind, making unintelligible protests. Without knocking, he burst into the office. Johnson looked up from his desk.
“Lamon! What the hell are you doing here?”
“I’m going to save you from making the worst mistake in your whole damn life!”
Massey scuffled to the President’s desk. “Sir, do you wish I call for the guards?”
“I have a name for you,” Lamon announced. “Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.”
Johnson stopped, and his mouth fell open. After a moment, he looked at Massey. “Leave us alone. Do you understand?”
“Yes sir.” Massey bowed and turned to glare at Lamon before leaving.
Johnson walked around his desk. “And what does Secretary Stanton have to do with all this?”
Lamon breathed in, taking time to compose his thoughts before launching into the full story of the kidnapping of the Lincolns, their stay in the basement, the guard from Stanton’s hometown and the insertion of two imposters upstairs, ending with the assassination and the rush to judgment in the conviction of the conspirators.
“Did your mother know about this?” Johnson asked Anna.
“No. This is the first I’ve heard about it. If I didn’t know, Mother didn’t know.”
The President looked back at Lamon. “Are you sure?”
“Positive, but I can’t prove it in a court of law,” Lamon replied, “but even if I could prove it, I wouldn’t press it in court because the nation in its current fragile condition would collapse under the shock of the horrible truth.”
A sneer crossed Johnson’s lips. “How many times have I been urged to cover up a scandal because the people—bless their hearts—couldn’t be trusted with reality? I’m a man of those people you don’t respect, dammit, and I’ve always believed they can handle anything if presented to them in a forthright manner.” After a pause, he exhaled. “But this—this is a different matter. I’ll be damned if I don’t agree with you.”
“Does that mean you’ll save my mother’s life?” Hope tinged Anna’s small voice.
The President returned to his desk, grabbed a sheet of paper and began to write. “My gut tells me this miserable mess sounds like something Stanton would do.” He lightly blew on the reprieve to hasten the drying of the ink. “I hate Stanton.” He looked up. “I should have known that man wasn’t the real Lincoln. They—Stanton, that is—kept me away from him as much as possible. Hell, I was in a drunken stupor most of the time anyway.” Johnson folded the document and put it in an envelope. “I can redeem myself now.” He extended it to Lamon. “There’s a carriage and driver waiting, just for a circumstance like this. Get to the Old Capitol Prison as quickly as possible!”
Lamon grabbed the reprieve and rushed out the door with Anna in tow. They scurried down the steps and out onto the porch. Waving the document at the driver, he yelled out, “To the prison!” as they jumped into the carriage.
Anna leaned into Lamon’s shoulder and cried. “Oh, thank you, thank you Mr. Lamon.”
“Don’t worry. It won’t be long now.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Forty-Four

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Lincoln’s friend Lamon interviews Mrs. Surratt and others in prison. Stanton vows to have Mrs. Surratt hang.
The President, settling into his desk chair, thought he had banished his niggling suspicions about the hangings when his secretary Reuben Massey tapped on the door and entered.
“Sir, a distressed young lady is here to see you—“
Before Massey could finish and before Johnson could reply, Anna Surratt burst into the room, running toward the President, her eyes red with tears.
“Mr. President, sir, please save my mother’s life!”
“What the hell is going on here, Massey?”
The secretary came up behind Anna, putting his hands on her shaking shoulders, trying to pull her away. “This is Mrs. Surratt’s daughter, sir. She’s been waiting all morning for an appointment. I told her you were busy, but she was unequivocal about seeing you.”
“Yes, she was a Southern sympathizer and is a devout Roman Catholic,” Anna blurted. “She knew something was going on in the boarding house, but as God is my witness she didn’t participate in anything to kill Mr. Lincoln!”
“What about the testimony that she took firearms to her place in the country?” Johnson mellowed his tone. His own daughters were not much older than Anna, and he could not stay indignant with her. He glanced at his secretary. “Massey, get her a chair.”
As she sat, Anna took a deep breath. “All I know is that Wilkes asked her to take the guns to our inn. She was just doing a favor for a friend of our family. He was very good friends with my brother John.”
“And where is your brother now?” Johnson cradled his chin in his right hand.
“We don’t know. All John told us was that he had to get out of town.”
“Didn’t that seem suspicious to your mother?” the president asked.
“I don’t know.” She looked down.
“And you want me to intervene on behalf of your mother even though you’ve answered all my questions with ‘I don’t know’?”
“Mother wouldn’t want me to tell you this.” Her words were soft, desperate.
“Massey, pour this young lady a glass of water.”
His secretary poured water in a glass on a side table.
“Thank you, sir.” She took a short sip before continuing. “Wilkes was more than merely my brother’s friend. My mother and I liked him very much. He was a gentleman. He was very complimentary of my mother’s cooking. Any woman would appreciate a handsome gentleman of the stage smiling at her, being tender. One night, right before the—the terrible incident—Wilkes sat in our kitchen eating a slice of Mother’s pound cake when he began speaking of a strange man he had met earlier in the evening.”
Massey stepped forward. “So you’re admitting your mother knew—“
“Don’t you have other duties?” Johnson glared at his secretary.
“Oh. Yes, sir. My apologies, sir.” He backed his way to the door and left.
“Mr. President, I swear Wilkes shared no details of what—“
“Please, Miss Surratt, continue.” He smiled. “I am not a prosecuting attorney. I assure you.”
“Wilkes and a group of his friends met a man under the Aqueduct Bridge. He didn’t tell us what they discuss, and we didn’t inquire, as it was none of our business.”
“Yes, I know. Please continue.”
“He was distressed that the man was not a gentleman in his conduct. Above all else, Wilkes prided himself on being a gentleman. If a man had not manners what good was he? Wilkes could talk for hours about how a man’s true character was revealed by his courtesy toward others.”
“Did he say what the man’s name was?” Johnson could not determine where this narration was going nor what its importance might be, but he tried to hide his impatience.
“No, he said the man didn’t identify himself. In fact, he kept his face in the shadows so Wilkes couldn’t see him. He did say the man was rather short and tapped his foot impatiently in the lapping waters of the Potomac. We dismissed the conversation as another example of Wilkes’ obsession with the art of being a gentleman until the night Mother was arrested. The man who was in charge of the soldiers was a short man who nervously tapped his foot on the floor, just like the man under the bridge.”
Johnson leaned forward. “And who was this man?”
“Col. Lafayette Baker.” A brief quiver shot through her slender body. “He threatened my mother. He said she must never tell anyone about the meeting under the bridge if she wished for any chance of survival. She didn’t tell a soul, yet she is to hang today. Please, Mr. President, for the love of mercy, save my mother.”
Johnson paused a moment to collect his thoughts. “My dear young lady, we make our decisions from two places—from here,” he said pointing to his head, “And from here.” His hand slapped across his belly. “My gut tells me everything you’ve said isn’t beyond belief. I wouldn’t put anything past Stanton and his hatchet man Baker. My brain says your story is too incredible to be true. No one would believe it. More importantly no court of law would allow my gut feelings to rule the day.”
Gently putting his arm around Anna’s shoulders, he guided her to a window and nodded to a horse and carriage waiting outside. “This morning I ordered that transportation to be placed in front of the Executive Mansion so that if any legally reliable evidence were presented to me, I could send posthaste a messenger to Old Capitol Prison to delay the executions.” He shook his head. “What you have told me does not satisfy the requirements of legal recourse. I cannot send that carriage. I am so dreadfully sorry.”
Anna collapsed into his chest, weeping and choking on her own tears. Johnson clenched his jaw when he sensed he also was on the verge of tears. The backwoodsman in him wanted to drive the carriage himself to the prison, carry Mrs. Surratt out in his arms, and take her and Anna to a train station sending them far away so no one could ever hurt them. But his political side knew any chance he had to ease the reprisals against the South would be destroyed if he flouted the law and the will of the Radical Republicans in Congress.
“All I can do is pray for you and your mother.”


Clem lived all his life in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, and he didn’t know what to make of all this talk about a Depression. He, his wife and kids got along very well, thank you, in their two-room cabin up in the holler. He planted a patch of tobacco that paid off the damn banker every year, raised a passel of pigs that made good eating every fall, and cooked up the best moonshine for miles around. His wife tended garden so they always had taters, maters and squash, not to mention corn needed for the moonshine. The kids helped their ma with the garden and took care of the chickens. A good person right with the Lord shouldn’t want more than that.
One day he was down at the country store talking around the cracker barrel when the preacher’s wife piped up that she didn’t know if she liked the idea of this brand new theater in downtown Abingdon.
“Dadburned movie pictures ain’t worth talking about.” Clem spat some tobacco juice in a corner, which was shiny and black from years of being spit in.
“Well, Clem, I ain’t talking about no movie picture show,” the preacher’s wife replied in a huff. “It’s like real-life people standing on a stage and spouting lines, prancing about, like they thought they was something fancy.”
“Oh, they’ve been doing that for years and years.” Clem spat again. “They’ve been doing that before there warn’t no motion picture shows. Don’t you know no better than that?”
“Of course, I do, Clem. But I don’t think it’s fitting for a man to stand in front of a bunch of women and children with sweat rolling off him, so close you can see it dripping off his nose. With all that pomade in his hair, glistening black.” The preacher’s wife fluttered her eyes and fanned herself. “Now what was it I was saying?”
“You was all upset by those men sweating on the stage.” Clem chuckled. “I don’t know why you’re getting so hot and bothered about it all. Nobody around here is fool enough to waste their money to go see it.”
“That’s just it, Clem,” the preacher’s wife said. “They ain’t charging no money at all. You bring in a chicken or a ham shank and you get in to see the show.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Clem spat a really big wad this time; in fact, he didn’t have any tobacco left in his mouth. He might as well go on home.
“But that’s the truth Clem,” the old storekeep Zeke interjected as he lumbered around the counter with his broom. “It’s these damnyankees from New York. They can’t get no work up there so they opened up this theater down here, and they do their playacting for food and might near everything else.”
“Is that so?” Clem took a snot rag out of his pocket and wiped his mouth. “They’re going to starve to death. Ain’t nobody with no common sense that’ll waste a perfectly good chicken on such foolishness.”
“They got a full house every night and two shows on Saturday and Sunday,” Zeke explained.
“Defaming the Lord’s day like that. Me and the ladies Bible league are planning to march with signs and scream Scripture at the sinners as they go in next Sunday,” the preacher’s wife announced.
“Maybe some menfolk should go on Friday night first so you ladies don’t make yourselves look silly,” Clem said, halfway to himself. “I got a leftover cured ham hanging in the barn.”
On Friday night, Clem showed up at the Barter Theater in downtown Abingdon with the cured ham tucked up under his arm. He didn’t think it would be right for the wife and kids be exposed to all this foohfrah until he saw it first. The theater people seemed right glad to see him and his ham and took him to a seat down front. They told him the name of the play was Hamlet. Now that might be right funny—a play about baby pigs.
When the curtain came up, Clem was disappointed. It wasn’t about no baby pigs at all. He could hardly make out what they were saying. It was English all right, but not decent English like they talked in the mountains, but that there fancy English spoke in England. The best he could make out it was about this here college boy who came home to find his daddy dead and his mama married his uncle, and he’s mad because they ate up all the food from the funeral at the wedding, and he didn’t get nothing to eat. Then this college boy sees his daddy’s ghost who tells him his uncle killed him so he could marry the mama.
By this time Clem was fidgeting in his chair something bad. He never had no use for college boys in the first place. If he wanted something to eat he should have gone out and shot a couple of squirrels and made himself a stew. Another thing this college boy did wrong was that he had this real pretty girl who wanted to marry him, but he went off and told her to become a nun. And that poor girl got so upset about being told to become a nun that she jumped in the creek and drowned herself.
Clem would have just gotten up and stormed out of that there theater, but they had set him down in the front row, and he didn’t think it was proper for him to stand up and keep everybody else from seeing the show. It didn’t make no sense at all. At the girl’s funeral, the college boy’s mama says “Sweets to the sweet.” That college boy jumped down in the grave thinking he was gonna get to eat the candy he thought his mama had thrown on the casket, but it turned out she threw in flowers instead. Clem decided the boy wouldn’t have been so moody if his mama just fed him proper.
The end of the show didn’t make any better sense. The college boy and the girl’s brother started a fight right there in front of everybody, and his mama got so upset they’re going to get blood on the good rug that she poisoned herself. When she dropped dead, the college boy decided to take it out on his uncle and ran him through with his sword. Then he dropped dead, probably because he never did get a decent meal through the whole play.
As he was walking out, Clem decided he was going to make a stink over this theater thing.
“Where’s my ham?” he bellowed out.
An older fellow came out of a little office and grabbed Clem by the elbow and took him through another door. Clem decided he got seen to real fast because this man didn’t want the other people to get the idea of asking for their stuff back too. Pretty soon Clem found himself behind the stage where they kept all the people who had put on the play.
“That was the worst dang thing I ever done see,” Clem announced. “I want my ham back.”
Those people looked awful worried, and they stepped away from this table with all the vittles that had been brought in that night. There Clem saw the college boy with a big chunk of his ham hanging out of his mouth.
“Oh forget it,” Clem said as he turned for the door. “He needs it more than I do.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Forty-Three

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Lincoln’s friend Lamon interviews Mrs. Surratt and others in prison.The doctor who attended Lincoln on his deathbed, attends the trial with a man who claims to be Lincoln’s stepbrother.
Andrew Johnson shifted in his bed, first to one side and then to the other. His thick shoulders shuddered and his eyes twitched. A general physical malaise settled throughout his body for almost a week during the closing arguments and deliberations in the assassination conspiracy trial. Rumors on the street had it that the newly installed president had drifted into old, bad habits of alcohol abuse and suffered from an extreme case of delirium tremens. His hair stuck to his forehead from perspiration while his face contorted in emotional pain. In his dreams, Johnson was back in the pigsty in Greeneville, Tenn., slowly sinking into the muck as toothless old men and sassy young ladies dressed in their Sunday finest pointed at him and laughed.
“President of the United States? Why he wouldn’t even make a good town drunk!”
“Poor as snot! What Eliza McCardle ever saw in him I’ll never know!”
Johnson flailed about to avoid being sucked under the pigsty sludge. Screaming, he sat up in bed, opened his eyes and looked about the room, panting in fear that some political enemy had heard him. Seeing his wife Eliza by his side calmed him, and Johnson fell back against the pillow. She and their daughter Martha had joined him in Washington City from their home in Tennessee at the end of May. It was comforting to have them with him at last. Forcing a wan smile, he reached out to pat Eliza’s pale cheek.
His wife suffered from tuberculosis, which sapped her energy and relegated her to a wheelchair. Johnson knew the trip from Tennessee and her subsequent activities at the Executive Mansion weakened her further, even though Martha had assumed most of the duties of running the house. Her husband David Patterson would join them soon. The Tennessee legislature had just elected him U.S. senator.
Johnson longed to have the rest of his family around him. They always sustained him in times of anxiety. His oldest son Robert was a colonel during the war, and his presence soothed Johnson more as a trusted longtime friend than as an obedient son, such as Andrew Junior, who was only thirteen.
Johnson had another married daughter Mary Stover. The two daughters had five grandchildren whose laughter and games entertained their grandfather. However, three were still in Tennessee, and Johnson had to rely on his infirmed wife and his daughter Martha’s two children for comfort.
“What day is it? Has the commission made its decision?” he asked.
“It’s Wednesday, July 5,” she replied in a soft voice, the corners of her thin mouth turned up in a patient smile. “They made their decision June 30 and sealed it. They were waiting for you to recover before sending it over to you.”
Johnson clinched his jaw. “They all think I’ve been out on a drunk. I can just hear those damned Republicans spreading lies about me.” He glanced at his wife. “You know I ain’t been drinking. It’s a three-day bellyache gone bad, that’s all.”
“Of course it is, dear. All you needed is bed rest and quiet. That’s what the doctor said. I can tell you are feeling better.” She smiled again. “You’re complaining again. Up to now you’ve been too sick to grumble about anything.”
“It’s the damned trial.” His watery eyes went to the ceiling. “It’s a huge damned mess, and I can’t do anything about it.”
“You fret too much. You’ve always been like that. You fret yourself into a three-day bellyache, and I can’t keep you from it. You just have to work it out yourself, like you always do.”
“How about you?” Johnson turned his head and furrowed his brow. “How do you feel? Breathing all right?”
Eliza chuckled and looked away. “I’m as well as I’m supposed to, considering the circumstances.”
She focused on him and straightened her fragile jaw. “Are you up to a visit from the commission? You have to read the verdicts and approve the sentences. They said the review could take several hours. Think you can handle it?”
“Oh, hell. Tell them to come on over. I want this damn thing finished.”
By afternoon, commission chairman Joseph Holt arrived with the documents and by nightfall Johnson agreed to death by hanging for Mrs. Surratt, Herold, Atzerodt and Paine. All the others, including Dr. Mudd, received prison sentences on the Dry Tortugas of the Florida Keys.
They scheduled the hangings for 1 p.m. Friday, July 7.
As Holt left, Johnson felt a sense of relief that the national nightmare was almost over, and his tortured stomach began to heal. On the other hand, doubts crept into his mind. How could a callow, vainglorious actor such as Booth organize a group of simple-minded misfits into a murderous cabal attempting to bring down the government of the United States?
Late Wednesday afternoon, Edwin Stanton strolled through the open-air market down by the iron bridge that crossed the Mall slough over to Smithsonian Museum and the veterans’ hospital. Shopping for apples and onions was about the only pleasure he took from life any more. Dining out was too much trouble, and strangers were always approaching him with little requests about family members. Usually they were matters that were beyond his authority to grant, or matters he cared not to consider. The theater was a silly waste of time, and dinner parties at the homes of congressmen went beyond of the pall of boredom.
On this particular afternoon, his purpose was more than the purchase of fruits and vegetables. Stanton waited for Preston King and James Lane. He had never cared for either man, finding them mundane and egocentric, but they presented themselves to him on the night of the assassination as eager players in the convoluted games of Washington politics.
Initially, he asked them to go to Andrew Johnson’s room in the Kirkwood Hotel the morning Lincoln died. Ostensibly, they were to help prepare the Vice-President to assume the executive duties. In actuality, Stanton wanted King and Lane were to observe Johnson’s behavior and report their findings back to him. If possible, they were to encourage him to succumb to alcohol so that his swearing-in would be a repeat of the inauguration debacle. Now Stanton had another assignment for them.
“Mr. Secretary, what a surprise to find you here!” King bellowed as he slapped Stanton on the back with a bit too much enthusiasm.
“Dammit, you’re too loud,” Lane hissed as he maneuvered himself to the other side of Stanton.
The war secretary kept his eyes on the basket of onions. “The verdict has been rendered. The President set the executions for Friday, July 7 in the yard of the Old Capitol Prison. I want you there as my witnesses.”
“Yes, sir. Glad to be of service, sir.” King noticed Stanton arch his eyebrow. He coughed and looked down. “Forgive my enthusiasm. After all, it isn’t every day you see a woman hang.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Forty-Two

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Lincoln’s friend Lamon interviews Mrs. Surratt and others in prison.The doctor who attended Lincoln on his deathbed, attends the trial.
Leale stepped back, afraid he had irritated Lincoln’s stepbrother with his question. “I beg your pardon, sir. I know my interest seems out of place, but, you see, I was the attending physician at President Lincoln’s bedside that night.” He noticed the old man’s mouth gape a bit.
“You were there for Mr. Lincoln’s last breath?”
“Yes, sir, I was, so you can understand why I have an undue curiosity about the case.”
“I would say so.” The corners of Johnston’s mouth went up in a slight smile. “Then we must make every effort to be companions during this proceeding. We have so much to learn from each other.”
“I have only two seats left!” the guard called out. After a moment, he pointed at the old man and waved him forward. “You, sir! I remember you. You’re related to the president. Please, come this way.”
Johnston took Leale by the elbow and guided him forward. “This is my friend,” he paused to lean into the doctor. “What is your name?”
“Dr. Charles Leale.”
“Yes, my good friend Dr. Charles Leale.”
The guard frowned. “That liar? I turned him away yesterday! Said he was there the night the president died! Nonsense!”
“It is not nonsense at all,” Johnston replied, his voice dropping which caused the guard to step closer.
“I beg your pardon, sir?”
“I said,” the old man repeated in an even softer voice, “it is not nonsense. Dr. Leale was there the night my stepbrother died. I am in poor health myself and need the attendance of a physician during such trying circumstances.” By the time Johnston finished, his voice was barely above a whisper.
Leale could tell by the expression on the guard’s face that he had not understood most of what the old man said. The guard stepped back, tipped his hat and bowed.
“Anything you say, sir.”
Johnston glanced at Leale. “I hope you remembered to bring my medication.”
“Hmm? Oh, yes, Mr. Johnston. Of course I did.” Leale patted his breast pocket. “We need to be on our way. You shouldn’t be exposed to the glare of the sun, sir.” Once they were inside the prison, the old man guided Leale toward the staircase. The doctor stopped. “Stairs? Do you think you will be able to climb those?”
“Of course, I can,” Johnston replied. “I’m in perfect health, except for this bum leg, but I have my cane.” He cocked his head. “Don’t act so shocked that I lied. You wanted in, didn’t you? And you lied about having my medication. Lying is part of life.” He chuckled. “Who do you think taught my half-brother how to be a politician, eh?”
Leale felt taken aback by the brazen frankness but recovered to take Johnston’s elbow to guide him up the stairs to the third floor courtroom. Even though he was only twenty-five years old, the doctor found himself breathing hard by the time they sat in the row of chairs against the far wall of the room. Johnston’s inhalation was normal. After composing himself, Leale leaned into the old man to observe, “A smaller room than I expected.”
“The room was not chosen to accommodate the public but to control the flow of information. There is much more going on here, young man, than a mere murder trial.”
During the next month and a half, Leale arrived early each day and searched for Johnston. A few things struck the doctor odd about the old man; for instance, he always politely declined any dinner invitations and changed the subject when Leale asked questions about Lincoln as a youth, sometimes using the same ploy with him as he had with the guard, gradually talking in softer and softer tones until he was incomprehensible. The doctor in due course found the president’s stepbrother to be inscrutable. Rarely speaking, Johnston nodded often, leaning in to hear witnesses as they spun stories of the day of the assassination. The drunken innkeeper at the Surrattsville tavern stumbled over testimony that Mrs. Surratt, accompanied by a boarder called Louis Weichmann, arrived in the afternoon to retrieve “those firearms” left by Booth.
“What do you think?” Leale whispered. “Do you think the woman was part of the conspiracy?”
“Absolutely not.” The reply came quickly with a touch of antagonism. Johnston cleared his throat. “Forgive me for holding the views of my generation. Ladies never involved themselves in matter so distasteful as politics, war and—how shall I phrase it—murder? And one has only to observe Mrs. Surratt to see that she is a lady in every sense of the word.”
Leale, as was his lifelong predilection, studied the old man’s face. In fact, one reason he acquiesced to his wife’s wishes to attend the theater that night was for the off-chance that he might be able to study President Lincoln’s facial contours and how emotions played across them. Before he could make much of an assessment, Leale observed that Johnston noticed the attention and turned his head away.
Johnston exposed his emotions to the utmost on the day Louis Weichmann testified against Dr. Mudd, claiming he was present one day in January when Booth, his friend John Surratt and Dr. Mudd met in a Washington hotel room. He impatiently tapped his cane on the rough wooden floor. The unexpected clatter drew Leale’s attention, and he wrinkled his brow and smiled in curiosity at the old man.
“He’s lying,” Johnston blurted. His head shuddered as he continued in a softer, calmer tone. “I have made it a habit to study certain subtle gestures that reveal the truth behind what men say. If you noticed, when he spoke he looked away, as though to avoid a confrontation over his statement. Also, notice the gentle tapping of his left foot, an undeniable sign of nervousness. Why would he be nervous if he were not lying?”
Since this was the same interest that Leale held, he discerned that Johnston, himself, glanced away in the direction of the military judges’ table as he spoke and could not control the incessant rapping of his cane.
“I also find it fascinating to study human tics and reflexes.”
“Well, take care, young Dr. Leale, it takes a lifetime of observations to draw accurate conclusions. You cannot assume a set of random behaviors to mean what you think it might mean.”
“So you think the man Weichmann knows more than he is letting on?”
“Indeed, the opposite,” Johnston replied without pause. “He knows nothing at all, but he’s afraid he will be drawn into the web of conspiracy so he is saying anything to exculpate himself, even damning good, honest, innocent people. You need only to peruse his countenance to determine he is a weak, foolish man, controlled by his own personal demons.”
“Your assessment may very well be true, sir. Through my military contacts I have learned Secretary of War Stanton himself gave strict orders that Weichmann be spared legal prosecution if he gives enough evidence to convict the others.”
Johnston broke his custom and looked directly at Leale. “Secretary Stanton? And why would he take such a personal interest in this case?”
“Why, I suppose he—isn’t it standard prosecutorial procedure to offer immunity in certain cases to ensure a conviction?” The doctor blinked several times in reaction to the old man’s eruption.
“I suppose you are right.” Johnston leaned back in his chair and returned his gaze at the row of the accused conspirators. “It’s just that,” he paused as though to collect his thoughts, “I have heard Mr. Stanton’s name in several instances that do not reflect well upon his character.”
Leale smiled. “He is not a pleasant person if that is what you mean. On the night of the assassination, Mr. Stanton tried to take over everything at the boardinghouse, even questioning my treatment of the president—“
“Sshh.” Johnston’s hand went up as he leaned forward to listen to Weichmann’s testimony.
“I never could understand the sympathy and affection which existed between Booth and Surratt,” Weichmann stated.
Weichmann’s voice, Leale thought, though clear and articulate, lacked strength and—what? Perhaps courage?
“…so dissimilar in their natures, education and the social position they held in life…never were two individuals thrown together so utterly at variance with one another,” the witness continued.
The cane tapping stopped. Leale watched the old man’s knuckles whitened as his fingers clutched the top of his walking stick. At the end of the day, he mumbled his farewell and quickly left Johnston still seated, leaning forward, staring into void.
By the next morning, Leale noticed his companion’s conviviality had returned and his reaction to the testimony of the conspirators was muted. Johnston chuckled as David Herold’s attorney described him as an eleven-year-old boy in a twenty-two year old man’s body. George Atzerodt was called a complete coward, incapable of performing any violent criminal act, and Lewis Paine was painted as a brave hero deranged by the ravages of war.
As the trial dragged on, promising little entertainment with the defense of the stable boy and two childhood friends of Booth, Johnston decided, with a sigh, that his failing patience could not endure another moment of ennui. The panel of judges had just adjourned for the day.
“I promised mother to witness the trial,” he whispered to Leale, “but what would it avail her if I died of boredom before I could return home and report the more interesting aspects to her? I understand the verdict will be announced through the newspapers and not at a public hearing. Perhaps I shall be home with mother when she reads the news. I think she would like that. She’s always looked to me for comfort.” Johnston rose and extended his hand. “It has been a pleasure meeting you, Dr. Leale. Do take care.”
The doctor’s smile faded as he looked at the clasp of their hands. The old man’s grip was extraordinarily firm for a man of his years. He also became aware of a sort of greasy grittiness to Johnston’s hand. As he pulled his own hand away, Leale noticed a smear of what appeared to be make-up in his palm.
He looked up to comment on this enigmatic situation, but the old man had disappeared, immersed in the ambling crowd.