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.”

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