Booth’s Revenge Chapter Fifty

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Anna Surratt pleads for her mother’s life. Johnson grants a reprieve, but it arrives too late. Stanton plots Johnson’s impeachment.
Raucous laughter emanated from the Executive Mansion’s basement kitchen in February of 1866. Lafayette Baker told President Johnson some of his tales of breaking up undercover rings during the war years. In particular, Baker embellished the details of how he tracked down and arrested Belle Starr, the notorious female spy. He claimed her charms held nothing for him for he was a good family man.
“So you have children?” Johnson asked, a small smile on his lips.
“Oh. No, sir,” Baker replied, a bit taken off guard. “My wife Jennie and I were never blessed with children. But I consider myself a family man because I am married and as such I—Jennie and I—we are our own family.”
“And where does she live?” Johnson’s tone lowered and his gaze was dogged.
“In Philadelphia. I was a mechanic there, before the war.” Baker heard footsteps and looked behind the president to see the butler and his wife, the cook, pass by the kitchen door and glance in. He realized they knew what he actually was and what he was capable of. Yet he still had to carry on. “She’s been my saint through all these years of separation.”
Baker didn’t know why but Johnson preferred to have relaxed conversations in the kitchen where the walls were rough hewn and the corners covered in cobwebs. Since the first of 1866, his kitchen friend had been Baker who in the months following the assassination had been more accessible to late night talks. Baker’s official job title had always been chief of the Secret Service, an agency dedicated to rooting out counterfeiters. Unofficially he handled unpleasant tasks assigned by Secretary of War Stanton. His latest job was to ingratiate himself to the new President so he could observe Johnson’s imperfections. The ultimate goal was to gather such irrefutable evidence that Congress would have no choice but to impeach and remove the President from office as soon as possible. The ruse only intensified Baker’s hatred for Stanton.
“Do you know why I like you, Lafe?” Johnson asked.
“No, sir. Why?” He clinched his jaw and hoped he would find the correct response to the president’s answer.
“Because you’re a real man. You know what it’s like to grow up snot poor. You got up and out of it. Made something out of yourself. Went out West. Did the tough work nobody else had the belly for.”
Baker’s eyes went down. “Some of it I’m none too proud of.”
“Oh, hell, pride never did nothing for nobody. I’ll be damned if I’m proud of anything I did in my life. But I’m proud to have you the head of the Secret Service.”
Baker looked up and smiled. “I’ll drink to that.” Pulling a flask from his inside jacket pocket, he extended it to the president. “Let’s share a toast to getting things done. It’s the best whiskey from your home state of Tennessee.” He could not continue to look at Johnson. One of the supreme tasks given him by Stanton was to lure the President back into his old drunken habits, a sure way to make impeachment efforts successful.
“Eliza is in the house now, along with our daughter and her husband and their children. They would skin me alive if they smelled liquor on my breath.” His face went grim when he stood. “In fact, she’ll be expecting me upstairs in a while.” He extended his hand to Baker. “Come again when you have the time. You don’t know how much these talks help me to relax.”
After Johnson left the kitchen, he walked up the stairs, his heavy boots crunching on the straw mats on the steps. Baker took a moment to compose himself before going outside through the kitchen door, turning his coat collar up to protect himself from the bitter winter winds. Going back to his room at the National Hotel, he took off his boots, sprawled across the bed, opened the flask and took a couple of gulps.
He tried to think back to a time when he decided money was more important than morality, honesty and loyalty. Baker knew. It was after he rose in the ranks of the military, each new position gave him more power. It seemed so easy. Discover the crimes of a public official. Tell the man he had two choices–submit to the humiliation of a trial or pay Baker to hide his sins.
Then, in 1862, Stanton approached him with his hare-brained scheme to kidnap Lincoln and hold him captive in the Executive Mansion basement. Baker saw this ultimate act of immorality easy to commit. He masterminded the abduction of Abraham Lincoln and manipulated simple-minded rebels to carry out the president’s assassination. He personally murdered the man and woman who pretended to be the Lincolns and drove the innocent young soldier who guarded president and the first lady to commit suicide. Those atrocious sins disgusted Baker and awoke what was left of his soul. Now Stanton coerced him into a new round of deception and murder, and Baker’s newly resurrected humanity said, “No.” Baker had to find a way to escape the grasp of Stanton. He was sick and tired of deception.
Washington City entered a new chapter of turmoil as Baker planned his personal emancipation. President Johnson began to set his own course for reconstruction, which followed neither the wishes of the late Mr. Lincoln nor the dictates of the Radical Republicans in Congress. It led into treacherous, uncharted waters. Baker saw rough sailing ahead.
In February, the President vetoed the extension and expansion of powers of the Freedman’s Bureau, which not only provided welfare relief for freed slaves but also to white refugees, now homeless after the ravages of war. Johnson wrote in his opinion that the bill was unconstitutional and, now a year after the war had ended, not needed.
Stanton summoned Baker to his office and berated him on his lack of action. Each time the war secretary slammed his fist on the desk, Baker cringed.
“What’s wrong with you? Why haven’t you forced him back into the liquor bottle? What’s going on in his mind? What other shocking steps will he take? Which bill will he dare veto next?”
“He won’t take another drink of liquor as long as his wife is in residence at the Executive Mansion.”
“That should be easily solved. The woman is an invalid. No one would be surprised by her sudden death.”
Baker glared at Stanton, but only a whisper came out of his mouth. “I’m not killing another woman for you. It’s got to stop. All this has got to stop.”
Stanton sat back in his chair. “Of all the men in Washington City, you are the last one I would suspect of turning coward.” He sighed. “Get into his office. Make notes of the documents on his desk. That should not disturb your new delicate sensibilities.”

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