Tag Archives: Booth

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Sixty-One

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. Lamon and Baker join forces to bring down Stanton.Johnson reluctantly joins in.
Boston Corbett stood before a congregation of Methodist Episcopalians in a rural church set among a stand of cottonwood trees outside of Camden, New Jersey. He in fine voice and form, ready to give his testimony of a life lived as a “Glory to God” man.
“Brothers and sisters, I stand before you tonight not as a proud man, but a man who walked the streets of hell before seeing the light and moving into the sweet arms of Jesus.”
Corbett paused because he knew a chorus of “Amen!” and “Preach on, Brother!” was about to shake the rafters. And he was right.
“God had blessed me with a righteous wife, valued more than pearls and rubies, and, in His own wisdom which we do not understand, he took her away from me as she gave birth to our precious daughter who only spent a moment on this Earth before going home to be with Jesus and all the saints and archangels.”
“Poor baby girl!” erupted among the womenfolk worshipers.
“Faced with such sorrow, I believed the false promise of Satan himself that I could find comfort in the demon liquors. My life sank. My soul shrank. And I drank and drank. All for naught. All in obedience to the devil himself.”
“No, no, no.” This was more of a mere whisper wafting through the pews.
“But God did not allow it!” Corbett bellowed. The crowd cowered in apprehension. “God grabbed me by my collar and said, “Boy, you will not waste this life I gave you! You will not dismay your wife and child who are by My side at this very moment! You will repent and spread the Gospel throughout this land. Yes, this land is on the verge of war, but you must let the people know that I will prevail!”
The folks sprang from their seats, shouting hallelujah and clapping. Their usual pastor, a man of small stature and graying hair, motioned for them to sit and be quiet.
“And from that moment on, I became a soldier in the army of the Lord. Preaching on every street corner, singing in every choir and glorifying God in every church. When my country sent me to war to end the evil that was slavery, I continued to fight for Jehovah too. Even when I was captured at Culpepper Court House in Virginia and was sent to that horrible plot of land called Andersonville Prison in Georgia, I continued to shout, I continued to pray, I continued to praise until the devil’s legions themselves could not take it any longer, and they traded me back north to home.”
Another round of hallelujahs and amens interrupted his preaching.
“After I returned the Army of Righteousness, I continued my crusade for my Heavenly Father. Then came that moment which has brought me to the attention of all you God-fearing American saints. That evil practitioner of the devil’s art of theater killed our Father Abraham.”
Corbett was thrown off his timing as he heard a man turn to the fellow next to him and say, “I don’t know if I don’t enjoy going to a good show, every now and again.”
“We trapped him at that barn in Virginia. I was ordered not to shoot and kill him but I obeyed a Higher Authority. I did shoot! And I killed him!”
More amens and hallelujahs.
Staring at the congregation for a long moment, Corbett lowered his voice and continued, “But evil did not die that night. Evil never dies! Evil will lurk in our hearts forever! Be ever vigilant against evil!”
The general mood of the people was to jump up and applaud, but the hand of the good, gray-haired pastor kept them in their seats.
“For, you see, God came to me that night. He told me John Wilkes Booth must not die at that time. He came to me in the form of a powerfully built short man with red hair and divine inspiration in his eyes.”
A murmur rose among the people. Women fluttered their fans wildly in the August heat, and the men shifted uneasily in the pews.
“He offered a substitute sacrifice for the nation, the corpse of a young man who looked like Booth but who was not Booth. Perhaps he was Jesus Christ come down to atone for our sins once again—“
Almost in unison, a moan rolled through the room as each man, woman and child stood and without further hesitation left the church, hurriedly returning to their homes.
Corbett had seen this before. For some reason, the sheep of this Earth were not ready for the kindly shepherd to herd them on the path of righteousness. He would not be discouraged though.
“Brother Corbett,” the elderly minister said to him in uncertain tones, “I don’t understand the meaning of your parable there at the end, and neither, evidently, did my parishioners. The saddest aspect of this, it seems, is that we had not taken the offering yet so I have nothing to pay you for your—for the most part—excellent testimony.”
Corbett smiled and patted him on the back. “Don’t worry, brother, the Lord will pay me much more richly than you ever could.”
As he had learned in previous encounters with retreating admirers, it was best that he leave town that night and find lodgings a few miles down the road. The cool night air felt good against his warm face as he rode his handsome little horse, the very mount that took him to the Virginia farm three years ago. A small inn appeared on the road side as he expected. Rapping at the door and rousing the keeper from his sleep, Corbett asked for lodging for the night, and the owner yawned, scratched his head and showed him to a small room in the back. The next morning at breakfast, he read the Camden newspaper.
On the front page was a story from Washington City. President Andrew Johnson fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, calling him a “fountain of mischief.” The president requested Stanton’s resignation and, when the letter was not forthcoming, dismissed him a week later. The story quoted Johnson as saying he conformed to the letter of the law as laid out in the new Tenure of Office Act. The newspaper also reported that the president had selected Gen. Ulysses S. Grant as Stanton’s replacement. The article ended with the statement that Stanton relented, leaving his job under protest.
As he sipped his coffee, Corbett looked out the inn’s dining room window to see dogs seek shade beneath a stand of oak trees. Something was awry, he told himself. God was on the verge of calling him again to save the soul of the United States of America. In his saddlebag, he had several letters from churches in faraway Kansas, beseeching him to share his testimony. Corbett shook his head. He must delay his trip out west because the Lord would be calling him to Washington City soon.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Sixty

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. Lamon goes home to his family in Illinois. Baker arrives on his doorstep offering his help to bring down Stanton. They go to Washington to tell Johnson.
Lamon told Cleotis and Phebe to go upstairs right now to tell President Johnson their entire story. When the president’s secretary Massey came up the stairs, he turned to go into his private bedroom across the hall from the presidential offices. Lamon had to convince Johnson that Baker could be trusted, which was no mean feat. Lamon tapped on the office door and then opened it, leading the group in.
At first, Johnson beamed from his desk when he saw Lamon. “Why, Mr. Lamon, I thought you had gone home to Illinois.” When he caught sight of Baker, he stood and wagged a finger at him. “What the hell is he doing here? I fired his ass for spying on me!” When he looked beyond Baker to see Phebe with her little boy in tow, he added, “Oh, I’m sorry for the language, Missy Phebe, but this is a very bad man.”
“You’re not telling me nothing I don’t already know.” She picked up her son and wedged him on her hip. “But my old man Cleotis, though, says Mr. Baker here has found Jesus and that you should listen to him.”
Johnson wrinkled his brow and looked at Lamon. “What’s this all about?”
“Remember the story I told you the day of the executions? Well, Baker can confirm every bit of it and more.”
As the president sat at his desk, he motioned to Lamon and Baker. “Gentlemen, have a seat.” As they sat, Johnson viewed Cleotis and Phebe with askance. “Now what can these two add to the conversation?”
“They can corroborate the story. They were here in the basement during the whole thing,” Lamon said.
“Not the whole thing, sir,” Cleotis interrupted. “There was another butler before me when all this mess started.”
“His name was Neal,” Phebe added. “That soldier boy done killed him that night, and this man—“ she paused to point at Baker “—took the body out. Told me if I said anything I’d end up dead too. Cleotis showed up the next morning, and nothing’s been the same ever since. The soldier boy killed himself the night they said the president died. And that man took his body away.” Her large black eyes focused on Johnson. “You better watch out, Mr. President. You could be the next person they kill.”
“Don’t worry about that, Mr. President,” Baker interjected. “Mr. Stanton knows he pushed too far in killing Mr. Lincoln. He doesn’t want to risk killing you, but he does want you removed from office and sent back to Tennessee so no one ever finds out.”
Johnson leaned back in his chair and exhaled in exasperation. “And what can I do about it? What do we know now that you didn’t tell me two years when the conspirators were hanged?”
Baker waved his hand. “We have them now, ready to testify about what happened.”
“Testify before who?” Johnson nodded toward Cleotis and Phebe. “Are you sure they would own up in court of law?”
“We are brave people, Mr. President,” Cleotis whispered. “We will do what’s right.”
“And him.” Johnson sneered at Baker. “Everybody knows what a jackass he is. Nobody likes him. They won’t believe him.”
“You don’t have to get everyone to believe me.” Baker leaned forward in earnest. “I only have to convince a handful in Congress to allow you to fire Mr. Stanton. Then he can be the one to go home and rot. We can’t punish him, but we can keep him from doing any more harm.”
Johnson paused before asking, “So you expect me to believe that you got religion, and you’re now willing to put your life on the line to get Stanton out of office?”
Baker opened his mouth but nothing came out.
“You have to believe him. I know I believe him,” Lamon stressed. “We can’t let Stanton feel he can try to overthrow the government again.”
Johnson put his hand to his head. “Dammit, you’re right. I’ll get rid of him. And I hope Jesus will save all of us.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Fifty-Nine

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. Lamon goes home to his family in Illinois. Baker arrives on his doorstep offering his help to bring down Stanton.
For the next several days, Baker moved into a boarding house down the street. The two men took long walks along the tree-lined streets of Danville. When townsfolk stopped to talk with them, they asked Lamon to introduce his friend. He described Baker as a friendly acquaintance from his years in Washington City. Sometimes he added that Baker was the man who started the federal Secret Service. The neighbors smiled, nodded with respect and left the men to their intense conversations. At times, they stepped into wooded areas so Baker could break down in tears. As time passed, the bouts of crying actually moved Lamon to put his large arm around the shorter man to comfort him.
Everything was as Lamon expected. The entire operation was an expression of Stanton’s vaunted ego. Now Stanton was intent on avoiding exposure as a traitor. If caught he would be hanged in the same prison yard as Mrs. Surratt. After a while, Baker became the voice of reason as Lamon vowed to break into Stanton’s War Department office and shoot him between the eyes with his revolver.
“To hell with conventional justice,” Lamon fumed. “The bastard deserves to die.”
“Then you’ll take the same path to hell that I took.” Baker’s voice was soft but firm. “I don’t recommend it. The personal hell you create is much worse than the hell Stanton created. No, we must make sure he is separated from the power that he abused without letting the nation know its republic disappeared during the war.”
“We must present valid, compelling evidence to President Johnson to endure the firestorm which will most certainly be unleashed if he tried to fire Stanton,” Lamon said. “I’ve already shared my suspicions with him, and he issued a postponement to Mrs. Surratt’s execution, though Stanton’s henchmen blocked it.. No, we need more than your word.”
“My word isn’t worth a damn with the president,” Baker spat. “But I know two people right in the Executive Mansion whom he might believe.”
They spent the entire summer writing and rewriting their statement to Johnson, which included names to verify their allegations. The two people in the Executive Mansion were butler Cleotis and his wife, the cook Phebe. Lamon then added Gabby Zook’s name to the list because he lived a captive’s life in the basement along with the Lincolns.
Baker shook his head. “The last time I saw Zook was the night Lincoln was assassinated. He was wandering down the street in the rain. I don’t know where to find him now.”
“I do,” Lamon replied. “He’s living with the family of Walt Whitman in Brooklyn.”
“I don’t know if I approve of that.” Baker wrinkled his brow. “Have you read any of that man’s poetry? He’s a crackpot. Linking him to this will discredit our efforts.”
“We’ll have a hard enough time convincing Johnson that Gabby is a viable witness, but we still have to try.”
“I’ve someone too who could confirm our allegations, but he’s mad also.” Baker paused before he said the name. “Boston Corbett.”
“The man who shot Booth?”
“He didn’t kill Booth. The body that came out of the burning barn was Adam Christy. I convinced Corbett to lie for the good of the nation. Booth escaped.”
Lamon shook his head in disbelief. “You allowed the man who killed Abraham Lincoln go free?”
“I—I wanted the killing to stop,” Baker tried to explain. “No more killing, not even John Wilkes Booth.”
Lamon came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the street. “Go back to the boarding house. I have to deal with this slowly, at my own speed. I’ll contact you in a few days.” He paused. “This is another reason why the details of this plot can never be revealed to the public. Hell, I don’t even know how I’m going to come to grips with it.”
A week passed before Lamon knocked on Baker’s door at the boarding house. They resumed their walks around town. Neither man said anything about the case. Finally, Lamon asked, “Where did you tell Booth to go? Out of the country?”
“I told him to take the horse I had provided him and ride away in the middle of the night. The military posse concentrated on the burning barn. They didn’t notice a lone horseman riding away in the darkness. My cousin knew the man pulled out of the flames and placed on the farmhouse porch was not Booth, but he pretended it was the assassin, leaning over and hearing last words which were never spoken.”
“Where’s Booth now?”
“I have no idea.” Baker sighed and shook his head. “Hopefully he went out west, disguised himself and blended in with all the other men who ran away from the war to start a new life.”
By the time August presented its oppressive, stultifying heat to the Illinois countryside, Lamon and Baker had their statement ready for President Johnson to read. Their first stop when they reached the Executive Mansion in Washington City was the basement where Cleotis and his wife Phebe lived and worked. When they entered the musty kitchen through the service entrance on the ground floor, the two men noticed Phebe stiffen and swoop up into her arms a toddler playing on the floor. Cleotis, on the other hand, smiled with a butler’s professional grace. If he had recognized them, he showed no signs of apprehension.
“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” he said. “What can we do for you today?”
“Do you remember who we are?” Baker asked, with all undertones of intimidation erased from his voice.
“Of course, we do,” Phebe replied. Each word dripped with resentment. “We’re not stupid, you know.”
“Good.” Lamon smiled. “We were counting on your intelligence.” He stepped forward. “You must know you’re both living on borrowed time. You know if you don’t help us remove Stanton from power, it’ll only be a matter of time before he sends someone else to this basement in the middle of the night to kill you.”
Phebe pointed at Baker. “If anyone’s coming to kill us, it’s that man right there.”
“I don’t think so, dear.” Cleotis walked to Phebe and put his arm around her. “The way that man cried that night, he’s never going to hurt anyone again.” His big black eyes were soft and sympathetic. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he’s found Jesus.”
She grunted and pulled away from her husband. “Not even Jesus would want to save his dark soul from the devil.”
“This is a waste of time, Lamon,” Baker whispered. “I can’t ever expect them to trust me, not after what I’ve done.”
“You must believe that working with us will save your little family from being murdered,” Lamon pressed his case. “If you can’t trust us, then trust in Jesus for sending us here today.”
“Go away.” Her voice was a forbidding growl, like a tigress protecting her young.
Cleotis studied Baker’s face and then Lamon’s. “I trust you, gentlemen. What is it you want us to do?”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Fifty-Seven

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. Lamon goes home to his family in Illinois.
After a few moments of recollecting their common dear friend Abraham Lincoln, Lamon and Herndon both paused to lean forward in their chairs, their eyes turning serious with ominous intent.
“Well, Billy, what can I do for you?”
“It’s more like what I can do for you.” Herndon’s pinched lips almost formed a smile but not quite. His voice lowered to a whisper. “I’m planning to write a biography of our dear departed friend that will shock the world.”
Lamon’s mouth fell open. Could Herndon, during his many visits to Washington City, have determined that the man in the Executive Mansion was not Abraham Lincoln? Could Herndon have been more astute than Lamon first imagined? “So you knew?”
“Of course, I knew.” Herndon raised his chin with pride. “Abe never loved Mary. He knew her family’s money and political connections would thrust him into contention for the presidency. And he paid dearly for his ambition. She made his life miserable with her insane outbursts and her wild spending habits.”
Leaning back, Lamon sighed with relief. This was the Billy Herndon he knew and tolerated. He acknowledged that sometimes times Mary Lincoln was vain, hysterical and unreasonable, but at heart she was a good person, and Lincoln loved her very much. “What an interesting premise. I’m sure your book will be very successful. Women across America will want to read it.”
Herndon emitted what Lamon considered a harrumph. “I expect it to be more than a romance story, Hill. This is where you come in.”
Lamon only allowed his inner circle of intimate friends, which included Lincoln, to address him by his middle name of Hill, but he decided not to be make an issue of it. Herndon might well have possession of information to prove Lamon’s own theories. He still wanted to present all the facts to President Johnson so that Edwin Stanton and Lafayette Baker would be punished for their attempts to subvert the Constitution and the future of the United States. “How intriguing. And how could I help you out?”
“The war, dammit.” Herndon shifted in his seat. “You were privy to much of his decision-making about the war. You must have heard a certain amount of information that has not been disclosed to the public.”
“What would you say if I told you there was a conspiracy involving our friend that went beyond a mere actor and his band of fools?”
“I knew it.” Herndon’s voice fulminated with self-righteous indignation. “That devil Jefferson Davis was behind it all, wasn’t he?”
“You might be on the right track,” Lamon lied. “Did you visit the President much in the last two years of the war?”
“Yes, a few times. Not as often as I wanted. The war made travel risky business.”
“How did he seem to you? Was he unusually nervous, distracted?”
Herndon shrugged. “Hell, he was always socially awkward. I don’t think anyone, including you, actually knew what was going in his skull. He was my best friend, but he always thought of himself above all others, if you know what I mean. He was always pushing, pushing, a quality to be admired in a president overseeing a war. But on a personal level, he made everyone feel like a true friend until that person was no longer useful to him and then they were strangers.”
Lamon suppressed a desire to throw the fat little weasel out of his office. One day even Herndon might supply a missing link in the chain of conspiracy that surrounded Lincoln’s captivity in the Executive Mansion basement. “Nothing would please me more than to participate in your project, but right at this moment I want to reconnect with my wife and child. I was gone so much during the war that I’m afraid I’m guilty of neglecting them.”
Herndon stood and extended his hand. “If any recollection bobs to the top of your memory, please let me know. What may seem insignificant to you may be of great importance to me.”
“I’m sure.” Lamon shook his hand and escorted him to the door.
When he arrived home that evening, he told Sally about Herndon’s strange visit. She was setting the table in the dining area of their parlor. On the other end of the room was a sofa, two padded winged-back chairs facing the fireplace.
She removed the dishtowel tucked in her apron to wipe smudges from a sturdy thick crystal vase.
“I, for one, never liked that man.” She carefully put the vase down. “Please make yourself comfortable on the sofa, dear, and I’ll have supper ready soon. As for Mr. Herndon’s book, I would never read his gossip.”
Dorothy ran through the front screen door holding a small bouquet of flowers from their garden. “See what I picked, papa? Aren’t they pretty?”
“Almost as pretty as you, my child.” He pulled her close and hugged her. Leaning over he smelled the bouquet. “And they smell so sweet.”
“They shall be the centerpiece of our table tonight,” Sally announced. “Now scurry to the kitchen, Dorothy, to make sure nothing is burning on the stove. I’ll take the flowers and vase.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Fifty-Six

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. Lamon meets Walt Whitman.
His conversation with Walt Whitman gave Lamon a measure of hope to sustain him into the New Year when Johnson vetoed the black suffrage act. How could Lamon help this man and through him bring the assassination conspirators to justice? Johnson, on the one hand, was a man of strong personal integrity who defied his own state to remain loyal to the union. On the other, however, he was an unrepentant racist, intent on restricting the freedoms of the people he fought to liberate. Lamon always considered himself a simple, straightforward man. Lincoln was complicated yet understandable; Johnson was complicated and frustrating. Lamon’s instinct was to go over to the Executive Mansion and lecture the President about compromising on some issues to win the important battle.
Johnson followed his veto of the black suffrage bill with another veto, this time the infamous Tenure of Office bill. Within days, Missouri Rep. Benjamin Logan called for Johnson’s impeachment. By March Congress clarified the bill by adding if President Lincoln had appointed the secretary, then Johnson could not remove the appointee without approval from the Senate. Johnson could fire anyone he had personally hired. The changes did not impress the president, and he vetoed it again. The House immediately overrode it.
In the middle of all this insanity, Lamon read in the newspapers about another sideshow. Lafayette Baker, the short, red-haired mean man that intimidated Gabby Zook, published his biography in which he claimed to have established the Secret Service all by himself. “Braggadoccio and nonsense,” Lamon thought. “It takes a man of unbounded ego to make such a preposterous claim.”
Baker also wrote in extensive detail about his role in the search, capture and death of John Wilkes Booth. The most controversial detail of his book, however, was the claim that he received a diary retrieved from the dying Booth detailing the assassin’s days from the time he shot the president to his own death. Baker alleged someone had torn eighteen pages from the diary.
This information prompted a congressional hearing on April 2, 1867. Lamon followed the proceedings in the newspapers. He bought several, pulling together facts found in one account but not another. News articles quoted Benjamin Butler at length during a hearing at which Baker testified.
“That diary, as now produced, had eighteen pages cut out, the pages prior to the time when Abraham Lincoln was massacred, although the margins show they had all been written over. Now, what I want to know, was that diary whole? Who spoliated that book?”
The newspaper accounts reported that Baker swore no pages were missing from the diary when he turned it over to Edwin Stanton.
“Do you mean to say at the time you gave the book to the Secretary of War there were no leaves gone?” Butler asked.
“I do,” Baker responded.
“Did you examine it pretty carefully?”
“I examined the book quite thoroughly, and I am very sure that if any leaves had been gone I should have noticed it.”
In the following days, Lamon reached for his newspaper in anticipation of reading new revelations about the diary, but none were forthcoming. He became sick at heart of the conflicts on Capitol Hill and unable to see any appropriate resolution. More and more, his mind wandered back to his home in Danville, Illinois, and to his dear family who waited for his return. He acknowledged how fine a woman his second wife, Sally, was. She didn’t hesitate to open her arms to his daughter Dorothy and loved her as her own. His first wife Angelina had died of natural causes only a few years earlier. He remembered the letter from Sally that described her joy when his ten-year-old child without any prompting hugged her and called her “Mommy.” How many more warm family moments would he miss because of his vaunted conviction that the nation needed him to save it? He didn’t know the answer, but he knew it was a cost that he was increasingly unwilling and unable to pay.
So when summer arrived in Washington City and Congress continued to butt heads with Johnson over reconstruction legislation, Lamon left the battle to the politicians. A sense of relief overcame him as he boarded the train to Danville in early June, and every mile closer to home convinced him that he had made the right decision. Sally and Dorothy welcomed him with hugs and kisses. He reopened his law practice and focused on civil suits about property disputes and contract negotiations.
Barely a week had passed when he received a letter from Lincoln’s former law partner William Herndon who requested permission to visit his office as soon as was convenient. Herndon had always appeared to be an affable man, though not possessed of the highest intellect, so Lamon agreed to the visit. When the Springfield attorney arrived, Lamon noticed he had gained quite a bit of weight. Coffee and food stained his wrinkled clothing.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Fifty-Five

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 threatens a key witness in a corn field.
Ward Hill Lamon decided after the hangings in the summer of 1865 that the best course he could take would be to continue in his duties as Marshal for the District of Columbia. He intended to go about his ordinary chores while discreetly probing the dealings of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, whom he considered the linchpin in the entire conspiracy.
Weeks passed into months without progress in his investigation. The deaths of Preston King in New York and James Lane in Kansas did not pass without his notice. Local coroners declared both had been suicides, but Lamon had his doubts, remembering the roles they played in blocking Mrs. Surratt’s reprieve. He also learned that Louis Weichmann left his government job to live in Indiana. Obtaining Weichmann’s new address, Lamon sent letters, asking to speak with to him. Weichmann never replied to any of the letters; in fact, the last one returned with “Refused” scrawled across it.
The man writes like a damned schoolboy. He’s scared to death.
Meanwhile Lamon searched all the local newspapers for political developments. By late August, four different mid-term conventions met to select candidates for the House of Representatives. Delegates at one convention urged Johnson to fire Secretary of War Stanton, while participants at other conventions called for the president’s impeachment. In fact, impeachment was the central issue in congressional elections around the country.
When Johnson announced plans to go on a speaking tour in the fall, Lamon’s first instinct was to offer his services as a personal bodyguard. Johnson’s traveling companion was William Seward, who had sufficiently recovered from his knife wounds to continue his duties as Secretary of State.
Seward was too weak to defend Johnson against any attack.
After many nights of late drinking, Lamon dissuaded himself from making the offer. As long as Stanton obsessed over impeachment, Lamon knew Johnson’s life was not in danger. Stanton’s faction carried enough seats in the November mid-term elections to maintain its lead in the House.
Lamon spent the week before Christmas ensconced in one of his favorite taverns in Washington City reading newspapers. He sighed as he considered the ongoing battles between Congress and the President on one piece of legislation after another. The new session began in December of 1866, and the House passed a bill giving Black men in the District of Columbia the right to vote. Representatives then passed the Tenure of Office Bill.
That bill looks tame enough but it could raise a lot of hell. Thaddeus Stevens had a hand in it.
The tenure bill stated the President couldn’t fire a member of his cabinet without permission of Congress. Another bill called for Johnson’s impeachment if the President did fire anyone.
The New Year will only bring more presidential vetoes and more congressional overrides.
“Excuse me.” A soft voice of easy manner interrupted Lamon’s thoughts. “Are you not Marshal of the District of Columbia Ward Hill Lamon?”
“Yes, I am.” He wrinkled his brow trying to make out the figure of the man standing over him. He was older than Lamon, somewhat shorter and less stout, and his shoulders sloped in such a way to render his presence benign.
“I thought so.” The man smiled through his full gray beard. “I’m Walt Whitman. You visited my home in Brooklyn last year. You spoke to my mother and my dear friend Gabby Zook.”
Lamon’s eyes widened and he stood to shake Whitman’s hand. “An honor, sir. I’ve been trying to make your acquaintance for some time. Every time I go to the Office of Indian Affairs I’m told you’re away for a few days.”
“Yes, I don’t make a good employee, it seems. But they have a good nature and overlook my shortcomings.”
“Please, have a seat.”
“Thank you.”
“Would you like ale?”
“Another hot tea would be pleasant,” Whitman said as he sat. I’ve witnessed in my family what alcohol can do to one’s constitution, but I do enjoy the company of men who enjoy their liquor.”
Lamon ordered another tea for Whitman and a large pewter mug of ale for himself. After taking a deep gulp, he leaned back and smiled. “So, do you agree with your mother’s assessment that Gabby Zook is insane?”
“Insane is a complicated word.” Whitman furrowed his brow. “I’ve observed insanity first hand in my own family. My colleagues in journalism have called me insane. Mr. Gabby has an extremely high degree of anxiety. Such anxiety cannot be created merely from the wild imagination of an insane man but rather from harsh, stark reality.”
Lamon nodded. “I agree with you.” After another draught, he leaned forward so no one standing nearby in the noisy tavern might eavesdrop. “I’ve proof—well, eyewitness testimony for whatever that’s worth—that Gabby Zook, President Lincoln and his wife were held captive in the Executive Mansion basement.”
“And a private Adam Christy attended to their needs,” Whitman added. “Mr. Gabby thought he heard Christy murder the butler in the middle of the night. He also said an intimidating short man with red hair killed the private. Mr. Gabby fears the man might kill him.”
“So he told you the same stories. Do you think you could convince him to tell President Johnson what he knows?”
Whitman shook his head. “I’m a gentle man, Mr. Lamon. Mr. Gabby feels secure around me and opens his heart to me. You and President Johnson, on the other hand, are rough, crude men. You scare him.” He put down his cup and rose. “Thank you so much for the refreshment.” Patting Lamon on the shoulder, he added, “I’ll do all in my power to convince Mr. Gabby to trust you. Have patience. Our Captain must be avenged.”
“Our Captain?” Lamon was confused. “Who’s our Captain?”
“Our Captain,” Whitman repeated. “Mr. Lincoln, dear sir. We must avenge our Captain.”

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.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Fifty-Three

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. Gabby wonders why everyone can’t just get along.
One story of the crisis-ridden spring of 1866 did not appear in a New York newspaper which Walt Whitman could read to Gabby. That story was the internal moral battle going on within Sen. James Lane of Kansas. In 1865 he ingratiated himself to Secretary of War Stanton by agreeing to monitor President Johnson’s behavior and, when discretion allowed it, lead the president back into old habits of drinking.
As one who had hardened his scruples during the bloody conflict of slave and free factions in Kansas of the 1850s, Lane didn’t question Stanton’s motives because of the overriding goal of total equality for black people. Now he feared the civil rights battle lost its focus and degenerated into a simple exercise of impeaching President Johnson.
Several times during the spring when Stanton felt Lane’s resolve waning, he stiffened it with hard cash, in untraceable small denominations of currency. Several newspapers ran stories based on vague government sources that claimed substantial amounts of money had appeared in Lane’s financial portfolio. They were true and eroded Lane’s sense of honor and self-respect. Rumors of bribery ran amok on Capitol Hill. Finally, the stress of placating Stanton and battling for his inner core of decency forced Lane to take a few weeks rest back in his hometown of Leavenworth in June.
Abolitionist editor of the Kansas Tribune Edmund Ross denied him that rest. Ross left his prosperous Wisconsin newspaper during the 1850s to move to Kansas and advocate the free-state movement. At the outbreak of the war, Ross joined the northern forces to combat slavery and rose to the rank of major. Lane didn’t want to talk to Ross because he was a tough, courageous man who had two horses shot from underneath him during one battle. Lane cringed every time Ross wagged his finger in his face.
“Sen. Lane,” Ross began in his blustering baritone when he cornered him in a livery stable in Leavenworth, “you, sir, still have not adequately explained your vote to uphold Andrew Johnson’s veto of the Civil Rights Bill! I asked you about that vote at the town hall meeting not a week ago. Again I asked you on the courthouse steps when you were dedicating the plaque to the dead and still you evaded. My God, man, you stood with me when I first came to Kansas to fight for the cause of abolition. What has happened to you?”
“Well, if you wouldn’t talk constantly and I could get a word in edgewise, I could make you understand what so many other thoughtful men found self-evident.”
A groom approached the men. “Mr. Lane, sir, your carriage is ready for your daily ride.”
“He’s not going anywhere until he explains why he supported Johnson in blocking a colored man’s rights. The war is over. Slavery is dead. What would it serve to fight civil rights now?”
“We have enough laws to protect colored rights.” Lane’s face turned crimson. “We don’t need laws on top of laws on top of laws.”
“Sen. Lane,” the young man pushed his way into the conversation. “This horse and carriage have to be back to take the mayor and his wife to supper.”
“Boy,” Ross turned to bellow at the groom, “I said this would take only a second!”
“You talk about rights? What about this young man’s rights? How can you think of the colored when you don’t treat a simple white stable boy with respect?” Lane fought back.
“You’re changing the topic again. You’re trying to put me on the defensive, and I just won’t have it!”
Lane turned away, put his arm around the groom’s shoulder. “Maybe you want to get rid of me so you can become senator!”
“I might just do that!” Ross yelled to no avail.
As Lane mounted the carriage, he noticed the boy seemed stooped over on purpose to hide his true height. Probably the result of a war wound, he decided, and didn’t press the matter as he climbed into the carriage. Long carriage rides were among the few activities that alleviated his melancholia. The dry winds of the prairie seemed to clear his mind.
“Where you hankerin’ to visit today, Sen. Lane?” the carriage driver asked as they lost their view of town through the trees. The boy had indiscernible features. He wore an oversized duster and an enormous flop hat.
Lane frowned. “You’re not Joe, my usual driver. He knows my favorite routes.”
“No, I’m not Joe. Sorry to inconvenience you, sir.”
“Well, just head north.” Lane waved his hand without conviction. “It makes no difference.”
A few miles passed in silence before the driver spoke again. “Make way! Presidential pardon! Make way!”
Lane sat up. “What the hell did you say?”
“You know very well what I said, Sen. Lane. They were my words from just a year ago in the prison yard where Mrs. Surratt and the others were about to be hanged.”
“Your words? Who the hell are you?”
The driver turned and smiled. His features were young and pleasant enough, but Lane couldn’t quite place him.
“You stood in our way so that those foul soldiers could hang a good and honorable woman.”
Lane’s flinty eyes lit in indignation. “That woman was as guilty as sin! She had to die to restore peace to our nation!”
“And you have to die to restore peace to my nation.” The driver pulled a gun from an inside pocket of his duster.
Lane jumped from the carriage, but before his body reached the ground, the driver put a bullet through his skull. The shooter hopped from the carriage seat and watched the horse pick up speed, turn and head back to the livery stable in Leavenworth. He placed the gun a few inches from Lane’s hand where his body lay on the road. Then he ambled South, with a slight limp to his gait.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Forty-Nine

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Lincoln’s friend Lamon interviews Mrs. Surratt and others in prison. Anna Surratt pleads for her mother’s life. Johnson grants a reprieve, but it arrives too late.
Stanton spent many restless nights through the fall months worrying about what President Johnson knew about the conspiracy, who told him and how long he would wait before he did something about it. While the secretary of war did not have a specific plan to move against Johnson, he realized he had to lay groundwork, gain support among the serious critics of the president in Congress.
Time is on my side. Congress was not in session, and the Republicans were touring the country, rallying support for their own strict Reconstruction policies. Embers of hatred for the Tennessee usurper burned, and all Stanton had to do was wait until the right moment to fan them into full impeachment flame.
Late one evening in December of 1865 Stanton awaited several Republicans to arrive at his home on K Street. He suggested to his wife Ellen an early bed time might ease her melancholy. Without a word, she retired to their bedroom.
A few minutes before midnight six congressmen entered the parlor lit by oil lamps, looked around at the placement of the chairs and took seats which would not draw attention to themselves. Each crossed and uncrossed their legs and moved from side to side.
When Thaddeus Stevens arrived, however, he headed for a tufted leather upholstered chair situated near the Franklin stove against the wall opposite the door. He sat as though it were a throne—his throne.
“What the hell is this all about, Stanton?” Stevens bellowed. “I’m too damned old to be called out in the middle of the night by some fool government bureaucrat. It’s too damned cold.” He held his well-worn cane in front of him.
Knowing he needed Stevens’ skills of intimidation to remove Johnson, Stanton smiled with the innocence of a trained roué on the prowl. “You know very well how I admire your devotion to our Constitution and your stern patriotism—“
“Oh, hell, Stanton, get on with it,” Stevens growled.
“It’s the President, sir.”
“That damned bastard, bigot, drunk!”
“And every word you uttered is undebatable, but they can hardly be used as legal points in the impeachment of the President,” Stanton replied in a smooth, understated voice.
“Impeachment?” Benjamin Wade leaned forward, every wrinkle on his sixty-five year-old face illuminated in the lamplight. “Do you think impeachment is a possibility?”
Stanton restrained the smile trying to emerge on his lips. He was aware that Wade had been working the cloakrooms of the senate vigorously, though delicately, trying to position himself to be named Presiding Officer of the Senate of the 40th Congress, which was to convene in 1867. That title would ensure that he would be the President’s successor in the event of his removal from office since Johnson had no Vice-President. Quite an improvement in social standing for a man who began his life digging ditches for the Erie Canal.
“Correct, Mr. Wade,” Stanton replied. “Not only possible but indeed our obligation. Rumors persist about the man’s habits of lurking about the taverns of Washington City, late into the night, drinking and who knows what other practices of debauchery.”
“Well, that’s just not right,” Charles Sumner agreed in his familiar righteous tone. “A humane and civilized society cannot tolerate such behavior from its chief executive.”
“Exactly so, Mr. Sumner.” Stanton knew he would have a strong advocate in the Massachusetts representative. Right before the war a Southern congressman nearly beat him to death with a cane on the floor of Congress. Sumner often spoke with benevolence of treating the defeated Confederates with dignity and compassion, but his actions always spoke otherwise.
“While Congress was adjourned,” Sumner continued, “the Tennessee President acted on his own and without due authorization to proclaim Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Texas, South Carolina, and Arkansas back in the Union. Hundreds of Negro friends of the Republic slaughtered on the streets of New Orleans, and the President did nothing. My God! Shall there be no justice administered at all?”
“No! No!” the men responded, as though they were attending an evangelical tent meeting.
“And worst of all….” Stanton paused because he knew introducing this accusation into the discussion might cause repercussions. He added an exasperated sigh. “Such rumors do not bother me. I’m used to all manner of verbal abuse, but my delicate wife Ellen was particularly devastated at whispers about town that I actually had some role in President Lincoln’s assassination.”
“Why I’ve heard no such thing!” Lorenzo Thomas blurted out. “If I ever hear anyone under my command repeat this slander I’ll have him court martialed!”
“That’s very kind of you to say.” Stanton nodded in appreciation. Lorenzo Thomas was a West Point graduate and had proved himself proficient in insinuating himself up the chain of command. Thomas would be pleased to become Assistant Secretary of War as a reward for defending my honor.
“If anyone outside the ring of convicted conspirators exists, it would be the man to benefit the most from the president’s death, Andrew Johnson himself!” Rep. George Boutwell of Massachusetts looked around the room, nodding at the other men, as though trying to garner support for his statement.
“Do you really think so?” Stanton raised his eyebrows in mock surprise. Boutwell was the youngest man in the room so therefore not as trained in the art of guile as the others.
“Of course!” Boutwell lifted his chin. “I know my forthrightness might imperil my political career but I don’t care. My heart’s deepest desire is to serve my country as a member of the President’s cabinet, but I would rather leave that ambition unrequited than to let any man—president or not—go unpunished for crimes against the nation.”
“Well said, my friend.” John Bingham, slightly older than Boutwell, had been a Pennsylvania congressman until he was appointed a judge-advocate by the Attorney General. He was a prosecutor in the conspiracy trial, and if he were re-elected to the House in the upcoming mid-term elections, could bring expertise to the impeachment charges against Johnson. “We must move on this quickly.”
Stevens rapped his cane on the floor. “Patience, my young friends. First we must create a law that a stubborn jackass like Johnson would be bound by personal honor to violate. Then we shall have him. No charges based on mythical conspiratorial assumptions but instead charges rooted in actual law.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Forty-Eight

Preston King’s tenure as the Executive Mansion’s chief of staff did not last long. Even he, who was a master of political intrigue, became uncomfortable in his duties of spying on the president. King’s inner conflict came to a boiling point in late July when black men in New Orleans demonstrated on the green in front of St. Louis Cathedral. The new Louisiana constitution did not include Black suffrage. When all calmed down, two hundred men, mostly Black, lay dead.
The nation blamed President Johnson for his incompetence. In a rage, Johnson stood in the hallway outside his Executive Mansion office, screaming for his chief of staff. “King! Get your ass in here right damn now!”
When King entered the office, Johnson waved a newspaper in his face.
“Did you know about this?” he demanded, pointing out the large headline about the New Orleans riot.
King gulped and looked wide-eyed at the president. Soon he took out a handkerchief to wipe his sweating brow.
“For once tell the truth, you worthless dog!”
“We decided—I decided—it would be in your best interests not to know about the situation. You see, no one side in this issue was clearly in the right, and we—I—wanted to spare you from any more unjustified criticism of your administration.”
Johnson, his face still crimson from anger, strode over to King, staring into his eyes, his nose almost touching his chief of staff’s nose. “And just who the hell is this ‘we’ you keep referring to?”
King took a step back, but Johnson stepped forward to remain in his face. “I am fortunate to have a private circle of friends from whom I take counsel.”
“Who the hell is in this circle of friends of yours?”
“Well, it’s hard to say.” King paused to clear his throat. “Sometimes this person, sometimes another.”
Johnson thrust his rough hands around King’s neck. “Give me a name or by God I’ll kill you!”
“Stanton,” he squeaked out. “Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, sir. I thought he was one of your closest advisors so—“
“That’s a lie! You know damn well I hate that bastard!” Johnson let go of King’s neck, walked back to his desk, sat and reached for some paper and a pen. “I think you have lost all value you might have had to this administration. I’m writing your letter of resignation, and you better damned well sign it.”
The pause in Johnson’s assault on his person gave King time to organize his thoughts. “Whatever you may think is best but what shall I do with my time, sir, if I am not in service to the nation I love?”
“I don’t give a rat’s ass, King.”
“Perhaps you should, sir. You don’t fully understand the impact of newspapers in this great land of ours. They tend to lend credence to any story that is told to them by a former government employee.”
Johnson stopped his writing and looked up. “What the hell do you mean?”
“I mean, sir, that I can tell the newspapers that I told you about this situation developing in New Orleans right after I became your chief of staff. I have my sources in Louisiana who keep me apprised of the racial situation there.”
“That’s a lie!”
“Can you prove it’s a lie, sir? I think not. Any more than I can prove what I may say in an interview is the truth. Newspapers are only obligated to prove that you or I actually made a statement, not that the statement in itself is true.”
“You son of a bitch.”
“I understand there’s an opening in the Port Authority of New York City for customs collector. It’s a very busy job. Making intricate import/export decisions would render me unavailable for any newspaper interviews.”
Johnson wadded up the dismissal letter and threw it at King. “Write your own damned resignation then get the hell to New York City. That slum pit deserves you.”
Within a few weeks, King settled into his job as customs collector for the Port of New York, began his official duties and indulged in the shadowy practices of bribery, which proved most profitable. He found an elegant brownstone across the East River in Brooklyn, and took an invigorating ferry ride to his office in the bustling Harbor District of Manhattan. He enjoyed the brisk spray of salt water in his face which he told his acquaintances was responsible for his clear sinus cavities which led, as everyone knows, to clear thinking.
On one chilly evening in November of 1865 King continued his practice of standing rail side while other ferry customers huddled inside the large passenger cabin heated by a coal-burning stove. He was congratulating himself on his clever rise to his current position when he almost lost his balance because someone bumped into him. King turned to see a young man, obviously still a teen-ager as he hunched over and avoided eye contact, a prevalent trait among certain young men of the era. He wore a wool cap pulled down over his eyes and a long gray scarf, which circled his neck several times.
“Don’t you know who I am?” King asked as he jutted out his chin.
The boy bowed and stepped back revealing a slight limp. “Yes sir, of course, sir. You are the highly regarded customs collector for the Port of New York, former congressman and for a brief time chief of staff for President Johnson. You are the honorable Preston King, sir.”
“If you know that much about me, you know you must not jostle me like that!”
“Oh yes, sir, of course sir.”
King narrowed his eyes. “This is not the land of your birth, I detect from your accent.”
“Ireland, sir. Ten years here in America, sir.”
“That explains the lack of respect.”
“None intended, sir.”
“Then go inside. Don’t bother me.”
“They tossed me out, sir. They said I wreaked of something most foul, sir. Of course, says I, this be Friday and bath night is not until tomorrow.”
King’s nose crinkled. “Then take a seat on the bench over there, and take your stench with you.”
“Yes, sir. Forgive me, sir.” The Irish lad limped over to the bench, which was in the shadows.
King shook his shoulders, as though trying to remove the inconvenience of the last few moments, and then returned his concentration on the waves breaking against the ship’s hull, spraying his face with salt water.
“Make way! Make way!” a whisper came from the darkness. “A reprieve from the President!”
King turned to stare at the young man on the bench. “What did you say?”
“Me, sir? Nothing, sir.”
“Then who was speaking? What was being said was in extremely poor taste.”
“I didn’t hear a thing, sir. Maybe you heard someone from inside the cabin, sir.”
“Hmph. Perhaps.”
King returned his gaze to the darkness covering the East River, and he began to anticipate the arrival of the ferry at the dock on the far side. He had hardly taken a second breath when he felt a rope around his neck tightening quickly, ruthlessly.
“We’ll see how you like having your neck in a noose.”
The voice was not that of the Irish lad but that of some other man, intent on murder.
“What? Who are you?” King rasped, trying to pull the rope from his neck.
“I’m the man who slammed the butt of my rifle into your chin last summer. I’m the man you thought died in a Virginia barn. I’m the man who’s going to kill you to avenge the death of Mary Surratt.”
“What? What? You fool! You can’t strangle me on public transportation! The other passengers will see my body! You’ll never get away with it!”
“You’re absolutely right. But I’m not going to strangle you. You’re going to drown.” The man held a sizable bag of bullets in from of King’s face. “This bag is tied to the other end of the rope which is around your neck. The newspapers will say you committed suicide.”
“What? Why? Who are you?” King asked.
“I am the avenging angel.” With that statement, the man pushed King over the railing.
He had no time to scream as his face hurtled toward the dark waters of the East River.