Booth’s Revenge Chapter Sixty-Four

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Johnson grants a reprieve for Mrs. Surratt, but it arrives too late. Lamon and Baker join forces to bring down Stanton. Gabby feels strong enough to tell his story.
Anyone passing by on this particular Philadelphia street on Valentine’s Day in 1868 would have seen an elderly Roman Catholic priest standing on the steps of the elegant home of comic actor John Sleeper Clarke. If that person continued to look in that direction, he would have observed the actor’s wife Asia open the door and smile in an obligatory way. Nothing unusual about the situation because it was common knowledge that Mrs. Clarke, the sister of John Wilkes Booth, had been raised in the Catholic faith, even though she now attended her husband’s Episcopal church. The passerby would have continued on his way.
“May I help you, Father?” Asia inquired.
“A very close friend of mine told me you were in need of spiritual counseling.” The voice seemed to be a bit strained, a high pitch with a forced vibrato.
She smiled and shook her head. “I have no needs that my own Episcopal minister cannot resolve. Nevertheless, thank you for dropping by and forgive me for not inviting you in. My family is in the middle of packing. We move to London, England, in about a month.”
The priest spoke again, this time in a softer, deeper, more natural tone. “Asia.”
Her eyes widened, and his lips quivered. “Wilkes?” She studied the man’s face, now discerning heavy grayish stage makeup. “Oh my God, Wilkes, is that really you?”
He smiled, raising a finger to his lips.
“Please come in, quickly.” She grabbed his elbow and dragged him into the foyer. First she turned to her parlor, which was cluttered with open storage boxes. “No, not here. John is due back from running errands for me. He would surely recognize you immediately, and that would not do.” She turned to go down a dark hallway, which disappeared behind the large oaken staircase. “We have a pantry room in the back. If John comes in the front door, you’ll be able to escape without being seen.” She opened the pantry door and pushed him in. She lit a kerosene lantern, entered and closed the door.
Her brother chuckled. “So it is confirmed. I always thought John resented me. He never got over the fact he gave me my first job on the stage and I quickly overshadowed his star.”
“That’s nonsense,” she replied in a clipped tone. “He hates you because he was arrested in those first days after the assassination. He thought he would have the same fate as Dr. Mudd and the others, merely for being the assassin’s brother-in-law.”
Booth sobered a moment. “Do you hate me too, Asia?”
She choked back tears as she threw her arms around his shoulders. “Of course not. I’ve always loved you above all my brothers and sisters. The two worst moments of my life were when they said you killed the President and when they said they killed you.”
She pulled back so she could see his chiseled features in the flickering light. Her fingers touched his cheek. “You are as handsome as ever.” The tender moment did not last as Asia’s eyes clouded with curiosity and more than a bit of irritation. “What are you doing here? If anyone recognized you on the street and reported it to the authorities, my husband would surely be taken into custody again and this time they might hang him.”
“I don’t know why I came here,” he confessed, “except that I did want to see you once more and inquire about Mother.”
“How do you expect her to be? Mortified that her favorite son killed the president and mournful because she thinks he’s dead.”
He shook his head. “She cannot think otherwise. Mother can never know I still live. No one must know.” Booth smiled. “Now I doubt whether I should have told you.”
“How did you escape the barn? They were so positive when they identified your body.”
“If I told you the truth you would not believe me. Just have faith in me. There were many important men behind the assassination of Lincoln, a conspiracy that continues today with the efforts to impeach and remove Andrew Johnson.”
Her eyes filled with hope. “Then you didn’t kill the president?”
“No, I did it. I planned it. I wanted him dead. Only later did I learned other, darker forces were at work. You see, I truly loved the Confederacy. These men only love themselves, and they will pay for their sins.”
“Wilkes, you’re scaring me. What does all this mean?”
“I will only say this. Have you been keeping up with the news from Washington City about the attempts by President Johnson to fire Secretary of War Stanton?”
“Why, of course. Everyone has.”
“All I will say is that I find it highly ironic that Mr. Stanton has now locked himself into his office to keep from being officially removed.”
“But I thought General Grant was Secretary of War,” Asia interrupted her brother. “Why is Stanton back in office?”
“I think it is part of their strategy. If they can keep the public guessing about who the Secretary of War is and who isn’t, they can keep the public from learning the deeper, darker secrets.”
“Who are they?” she asked. “And what secrets?”
Booth shook his head and smiled. “I can’t take time to explain everything. Just let me say that I expect an impeachment vote by the House any day now to get rid of Johnson.”
“So you’re telling me that Mr. Stanton somehow was involved in the assassination of Mr. Lincoln?”
“I cannot say. I will not say.”
A noise at the front door drew their attention.
“It’s John. You must go now.”
Booth kissed her cheek. “Never forget that I love you, but I can never see you again.”

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