Booth’s Revenge Chapter Seventy-Nine

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 Senate fails to remove Johnson from office. A depressed Baker goes bar hopping.
Bruton took Baker by the armpit and led him out of the saloon and over two blocks. Baker hardly noticed all the night prowlers, some staggering like himself, others leaning against lampposts and having a smoke and a good laugh with friends. Baker felt Bruton’s hands against his back forcing him into a public privy. Right after he relieved himself, Baker went to his kneels to vomit violently into the toilet.
“Are you all right, my dear friend?” Bruton called from the outside.
“No,” he replied before another round of regurgitation. Baker became aware that the door opened and Bruton lifted him to his feet.
“You are ill,” he commented with concern as he pointed the older man toward the door of Louis Lesieur’s establishment. “The best cure for the queasy stomach is a glass of Louis’s best cognac.
Before Baker could disagree, his companion deposited him in a chair and left for the bar. He felt the room swirling, and his eyes would not quite focus which made the disorientation worse. His head was about to droop onto the table when Bruton appeared and placed a healthy portion of cognac in a cut-glass goblet in front of him.
“To your health, Mr. Baker; or do you prefer General Baker?”
The gurgling in his stomach returned, and the saloon felt unbearably hot. “Huh?”
“Never mind.” Bruton sat and took a sip of his cognac. “I’m still curious about the outrageous revelations you plan to announce in your hearing before Congress. What could be more shocking than the brutal mortality statistics of the war itself?”
“This is shit,” he barely articulated after a swallow of the cognac. It had the same appalling under taste as the English ale from their first stop. He pushed it away
“Louis will be insulted.” His young friend pushed it back. “Don’t embarrass me in the pub of my dear friend Louis. I will never live it down.”
Baker scowled as he obediently lifted the glass and drank it as though it were a homemade elixir for the three-day bellyache. He did not care how fine a lawyer this fellow claimed to be and how wonderful a legal defense he might provide. Baker was convinced he did not want to remain his friend, and he desperately wanted to be in the arms of his Jenny in their own home. If drinking all of this bitter libation would hasten the end of this evening, then so be it. He upended it and gulped the rest.
“Now tell me your scandalous news,” Bruton insisted.
“John Wilkes Booth is not dead.” His numbed lips formed each syllable with difficulty.
“I find that hard to believe.” The young man’s tone went flat, without expression.
“I saved his life. Gave him money to disappear out West. The killing had to stop.” A spasm shook his thick torso as another wave of nausea swept over Baker.
“Yes, I think it is time to go home.” Bruton lifted Baker from his chair and guided him out the door. He hailed a hack, gave the driver an address and settled the older man as comfortably as he could in the carriage seat.
Baker looked up from his slumped position and pleaded, “Take me to a doctor.”
Bruton leaned in and whispered, “I can’t do that, Mr. Baker.”
“Because you have to die.”
“What?” Baker was confused. Bruton no longer sounded like a Bostonian but a Southerner, not the Deep South but somewhere closer. And the voice was familiar, but he could not quite place it.
“You see, I am not attorney-at-law Roman Bruton.” He padded Baker until he found the manuscript in the inside pocket. He put it in his own pocket and returned his attention to Baker. “That’s a name and a backstory I just made up. I told you once you were no gentleman.”
Baker’s brain, almost anesthetized, came to an awful realization. “You’re Booth.”
“How brilliant of you,” Booth replied in glorious derision expressed like a dream through his Maryland inflection.
Frantically Baker tried to sit aright and lean toward. “Driver! Take me home!”
“But he is taking you home.” Booth firmly pulled him back. “I gave him your address. Because you spared my life I will allow you to die in the arms of your wife.” Booth laughed in self-indulgence. “My dear Mr. Baker, I know everything about you and Mr. Stanton and the entire stinking plan.”
“But—but I saved your life! Please let me live!”
“Oh, you have ingested enough arsenic tonight that there is no way you can survive beyond morning’s light.”
“But I’ve changed! You know I have changed! I’m a good man now!”
Booth put his arm around Baker’s shoulders to grip him. “Yes, I know. But you want to reveal to the world that I am still alive, and I cannot allow that.”

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