Booth’s Revenge Chapter Seventy

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. The trial to remove Johnson begins.
Lamon and his friends lingered over supper at Whitman’s favorite tavern, intent on keeping the mood light and convivial. Even Gabby looked up from his plate a few times to laugh and smile. As the waiters cleared away the last course, Lamon cleared his throat, pulled a newspaper from his coat pocket, and spread it out for the others to see.
“Here in the paper,” he said pointing to a small article at the bottom of the page, “is the evidence to support our theory Senator Ross is the one hold-out for a conviction vote. Every other senator has made some kind of statement during the trial about their position, but Edmund Ross has remained mute.” He looked at his compatriots around the table. “The vote is tomorrow. We have to talk to him tonight.” The serious look on Gabby’s face encouraged Lamon to believe the little man was ready to be brave. Gabby’s resolve seemed to have stiffened as he became an integral part of the group.
“But I don’t think he,” Gabby paused to point at Baker, “should go with us. I don’t care that he says he’s a changed man. He still scares me. And he might scare this Senator Ross.
“Or he’ll make the senator mad,” Gabby continued. “Some men don’t like being ordered around. This Mr. Ross might vote for conviction just to prove Mr. Baker can’t tell him what to do.
“You know, you do get awful mad real fast.” Gabby looked into Baker’s eyes.
Lamon observed Baker while putting his hand to his chin to help him think better. “What do you think, Lafe?”
He shrugged. “I don’t give a crap.” Motioning to Gabby and Corbett, he added, “As long as these two can convince him, all the better. Suits me fine to keep my name out of all this mess.”
“Yes, General Baker,” Whitman said with a knowing smile. “You and I can sit here while the others go about their business. You can have another ale, and I’ll recite some of my poems to you.”
Lamon, Gabby and Corbett left the tavern and walked down the street to the omnibus stop where a large clanking carriage soon pulled up. Baker had used his connections with the Marshal’s Office to find Ross’s lodgings at a small but respectable boarding house on a side street. Lamon knocked at the door, and presently an elderly man answered. He puffed on his pipe and looked over the rim of his glasses at them.
“Yeah, what do you want?”
“I’m Ward Hill Lamon, former Marshal—“
“You know it’s damn late out, don’t you?” the man interrupted.
“We’d like to speak to Sen. Ross if he’s available.” Lamon smiled as congenially as he could, bowing slightly. But as he figured he only had this one chance, the rarely used courtesy ploy had better work.
“If you’re more of those damn politicians, you need to leave the poor man alone!”
A voice boomed from the top of the stairs. “Who is it, Mr. Culbertson?”
Before the man could reply, Lamon took a step inside the door to the bottom of the staircase. “It’s Ward Hill Lamon, Sen. Ross. I think we’ve met before. You’ve been to receptions at the Executive Mansion when Mr. Lincoln was alive. We were very good friends, Mr. Lincoln and I.”
A tall man with a large bushy beard covering the tip of his chin came down the stairs. He had thick rounded shoulders, and Lamon noticed printer’s ink permanently stained his fingers. Ross took a moment. Lamon assumed it was to assess the men at the door. He broke into a broad smile and extended his hand.
“Of course I remember you, Mr. Lamon. As I recall from those days, you were never far from Mr. Lincoln’s side at social events. Less so, in the last two years, I think, but the war was raging, and I don’t think the President was in the mood for such things. Please, come in.”
The old man, sucking hard on the stem of his pipe, turned and pointed to the parlor on the left. “You can use this room, but I must insist you keep this meeting short. Mr. Ross has an important day tomorrow, and he doesn’t need to waste his evening with a bunch of lollygaggers.”
“Mr. Culbertson, I assure you we will not lollygag one moment longer than required,” Ross replied with good humor.
“Well, I’ll be sitting in the kitchen with my rifle, so all you have to do is call out,” the old man said as he walked into the hall.
Ross motioned to the sofa and easy chairs in the simply furnished room. “Please have a seat, gentlemen. Mr. Lamon, introduce me to your friends.”
Lamon guided Gabby toward the senator. “This is Mr. Gabriel Zook of Brooklyn. He used to work at the Executive Mansion.”
“My uncle Sammy was killed at Gettysburg. He was a general. For the Union, of course. He hated slavery.” Gabby said by way of introduction, while extending a limp hand.
“As so we all, Mr. Zook.” Ross gave him a firm handshake before turning his attention to the third man in the group. “And this gentleman?”
Corbett stepped forward and saluted even though he was not in uniform. “Private Boston Corbett, once a proud member of the Union Army but now a soldier for Jesus Christ.”
A smile of recognition crossed Ross’s face. “So you are the man who killed Mr. Lincoln’s assassin. An honor, sir.”
“But I didn’t kill John Wilkes Booth.” Corbett lifted his chin in righteous confession.
“Please, sir,” Lamon said, motioning to Ross. “Please have a seat. What we are about to tell you is quite a remarkable story and may very well change your vote tomorrow in the Senate chamber.”
They all settled down, and Ross furrowed his brow, his eyes moving from one person to the next. “As you know, I am a long-time newspaperman, and as such I have heard every conceivable story there is to be told; but, gentlemen, frankly yours may be the most unbelievable of all.” He addressed Corbett again. “If you did not kill Mr. Booth that night, sir, who did you kill?”
“As God is my witness, I didn’t kill anybody that night. Nothing is as it seems, Senator.”
Lamon leaned forward. “This is a very complicated story, and I think we should not concentrate on the end of it but rather the beginning. Did you not say, Senator Ross, that President Lincoln’s manner was different in the last two years in office than in the beginning?”
“I assumed it was a natural shyness, a diffidence which arose from the exceeding tension involved with the war….” Ross’s voice faded out as his conviction evaporated.
“It was not Abraham Lincoln you met,” Lamon explained. “It was a man who looked like Lincoln. The real Abraham Lincoln and his wife were held captive in the Executive Mansion basement. Placed there by Secretary of War Stanton who controlled the government through this impersonator.”
Ross’s face turned grim and he stood. “Gentlemen, I believe my landlord Mr. Culbertson was correct in his initial judgment of you. You are all a bunch of lollygaggers, or worse. And I am particularly disappointed in you, Mr. Lamon. I thought you were a man of finer character than this.”
Gabby stood, reached out and took Ross’s hand. “Mr. Senator, sir, I am a simple-minded man. You can surely tell that by looking at me. I—I get confused about things, especially since I got sent home from West Point—“
“Mr. Lamon! This is intolerable!”
“Mr. Senator, sir, please look in my eyes.” Gabby paused until Ross relented and looked at him. “Sir, I don’t know enough to tell a lie, never have. This is the truth. I was in the basement setting out rattraps when Mr. Stanton and a private came down the steps with President and Mrs. Lincoln. I had to stay in the same room in the basement with them for more than two years.” His lips quivered. “I guess you could say I’m crazy. I suppose I am. But crazy people don’t know any better than to tell the truth, sir.”
Ross continued to stare into Gabby’s eyes until he relented and sat back down. Gabby went to his seat on the sofa next to Corbett and dissolved into tears. Corbett put his arm around his shoulders.
“There, there, God will make it all right,” he whispered. “Trust me.”
“And I suppose I have to trust you to tell me what happened.” Ross cocked his head and directed his attention to Lamon. After patiently listening to the three men’s stories, he scratched his head. “How many people know this?”
“Not many,” Lamon replied. “Not many would believe it, but it is indeed true. We cannot bring Edwin Stanton before a court on charges but we can make sure he’s driven from public office. He must never have the opportunity to stage a clandestine coup again.”
“So it all comes down to my vote,” Ross announced. “I can set America aright with just one ‘No’ vote.” He paused to shake his head. “However, I still don’t know if I can trust any of you to be telling the truth.”

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