Booth’s Revenge Chapter Fifty-Four

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. Whitman tells Gabby all the news from Washington. Someone murders Senator Lane.
By summer of 1866, the political climate was stultifyingly hot. Johnson and Congress continued to battle over the shape of the post-war government. Sharp, ugly words intensified the dark mood in Washington City. Louis Weichmann, whose testimony was a linchpin in the conspiracy case against Mrs. Surratt, return to his clerk’s job in the War Department. A day didn’t go by without a stranger accusing him of being responsible for her death. Faceless members of the crowd pushed and shoved him along busy streets. Weichmann received letters containing death threats. He developed tics and jerks, which brought more attention to him.
Walking to his boardinghouse one day, he saw standing on his building stoop a woman who waved at him. Weichmann waved back.
“No! No! Run!” she screamed pointing to the other side of the street.
He turned to see a man wearing a large hat shading his face. The stranger aimed a revolver at him. Just as he crossed the threshold of the boardinghouse, Weichmann heard a bang. He saw a bullet hole in the door, only inches from his head.
“They almost got you that time, Mr. Weichmann,” the neighbor lady said.
“This is driving me mad,” he whispered.
“Get out, get out while you can.” Her voice was firm. “Go to your family. Family has to take you in during times like this.”
The next day Weichmann tapped at Stanton’s office door but didn’t wait for an invitation to enter.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Stanton looked up with a scowl. “Well, come in and shut the door before anybody sees you.”
He did as he was told and sat. His shoulder began to twitch.
“You’ve got to get me another job, out of town. Someone shot at me last evening.”
“I can’t do anything right now. All the job openings I have are still in this building.” Stanton paused, then gestured at the young man’s face, his left eye winked out of control. “Don’t be so nervous. That’s been your problem all along. You’re too nervous.”
“If I’m shot at again, I’m going to the newspapers. I’ll tell them you personally put a noose around my neck and threatened to hang me if I didn’t say Mrs. Surratt told me things about the plot I knew she never had a part in. Get me a job in Philadelphia. My father and mother live there. I could live with them.” He thought a moment then shook his head. “No, everyone knows I’m from Philadelphia. They’ll just follow me up there.” He put his head in his hands. “God, I’m so scared I can’t think straight.”
“Do you have any place to go for just a month or so until I can find a good job for you?” Stanton spoke in soft, conspiratorial tones. “Customs office. They always have clerk openings up and down the coast. Even out West.” He leaned over the desk. “And the customs office pays a good wage. Maybe the money will make you braver.” A cynical smile creased his thin lips.
Weichmann looked up. “My brother is a priest. He recently took a post in Anderson, Indiana, a small town in the middle of cornfields. No one would suspect me living there.”
Stanton leaned back. “Then go visit the good Father Weichmann for a while. It’ll be good for your soul.”
During his first week in Anderson, Weichmann indeed felt the heavy burden vanish. It took countless visits to the confession booth where his brother leant a sympathetic ear. His nerves settled down, and sleep came easier at long last. Most townspeople didn’t even make the connection between their beloved padre Weichmann and the witness Weichmann in the conspiracy trial. Then, on Sunday night of the second week, all that changed.
As he lay in bed in the spare room of the parsonage, Weichmann heard a voice from outside the open window.
“Run for your life!”
His eyes opened wide, and he looked around. It was a moonless night so he had trouble defining shadows in the inky blackness. A slight breeze blew through the lacey curtains. He rose from his bed and went to the window, pausing a moment before sticking his head out. Just as he observed the yard’s gloom, a rock struck a pane. Shards of glass pricked the back of his head.
“Run!” the disembodied voice repeated.
All reason escaped his mind as he rolled out of the window onto the ground, not remembering he wore only ill-fitting long johns. Another rock hit the small of his back.
Looking around him, his shoulder spasmed. Weichmann considered which way to scurry. To the left was downtown Anderson, deserted by that hour of night. Straight ahead of him was the town’s livery stable, probably locked up. To the right were the countryside and a farmer’s full field of cornstalks. Another stone flew at him. This time it hit his butt, causing him to wince in pain.
“I said run!” The voice became angrier.
His lips quivering in fear, Weichmann ran toward the cornfield, hoping to find some measure of protection among the stalks. No matter how fast he ran, the voice seemed to stay close, now laughing in insanity. Taking an abrupt left into the cornfield, Weichmann hoped he had eluded his pursuer and slowed down to catch his breath. As soon as he did, he felt a body throwing itself against his back, knocking him to the ground.
A hand grabbed locks of his curly hair and slammed his face into the loosened soil of the field. Weichmann tasted blood on his lips. All he could comprehend was that he was about to be murdered.
“You deserve to die,” the voice hissed into his ear. Many people deserve to die for what they did to Mrs. Surratt.”
Weichmann felt spittle on his cheek as the man spoke. The voice was familiar. If his wits had not left him, he could identify it. Its tone had a certain melodious quality to it. Shuddering as the name came to him, Weichmann could not believe that a dead man was back from the grave and lying on top of him muttering threats into his ear.
“I should kill you tonight, you craven, lily-livered coward. How should I accomplish the good deed? Perhaps I should twist your head until your neck snaps. Or push your face down into the ground, forcing you to inhale dirt until you choke to death. I have a knife. I could slit your throat. No, I think I shall save that execution for a person far more evil than yourself. I know. I could impale you on a spiked wooden pole, and let the good citizens of Anderson find you in the morning in the cornfield, hanging there like a human scarecrow.”
Weichmann began to cry. “Please, please, don’t kill me. They made me lie about Mrs. Surratt. They were going to hang me right then and there if I didn’t agree to lie.”
“Who were they?” the voice demanded.
“Stanton. Secretary Stanton.”
“I’m not surprised.” The man eased up, allowing Weichmann to breathe. “I don’t think I’ll kill you now after all. Watch the newspapers for mysterious deaths of some famous people. Do you know who James Lane and Preston King are?” He slapped the back of Weichmann’s head. “Answer me!”
“Uh, uh, they’re congressmen, aren’t they?” he mumbled.
“Something like that. They’re nothing at all now. They’re dead. As Lafayette Baker will be dead.”
“Him? He scares me. He’s mean.”
“Well, you won’t have to be scared of him very much longer. He’s going to die soon.” He paused to lean down to Weichmann’s ear again. “And Edwin Stanton.”
“Good.” His voice was small and scared. “I hate him too.”
“Don’t think you have nothing to worry about. Your execution has been merely postponed. One day, perhaps when you are an old man and no one really cares whether you live or die, I will appear to put you out of your misery. Or maybe not.” He slapped Weichmann in the head again. “Can you count to one hundred?” He paused, but there was no response. “Can you count to a hundred?”
“Yes. Yes, sir.”
“Do it. Then you may go back to your bed. Pleasant dreams.”
Weichmann didn’t want to take any chances so he counted slowly—very slowly—to two hundred. When he finished, he stood to look around the cornfield. He crept back to the narrow lane leading into Anderson. No one was there.

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