Tag Archives: conspiracy

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Eighty-One

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Mary talks Gabby into attacking Adam. Lincoln intervenes. Ashamed and distraught, Adam gets drunk and kills the butler who stops him from molesting the cook. Stanton and henchman Baker clean up the mess.
Sticking his head out from the darkest corners of the kitchen was presidential secretary John Hay. He had been hiding in there ever since his return from one of his frequent bar strolls. He slid into the blackness once he became aware a fight was going on. He saw Private Adam scurrying through the kitchen and out the door. Hay was too frighten to move. The atmosphere settled into dark macabre. What seemed like an hour passed when Christy returned with Stanton and Baker. He heard them talking. He heard Stanton coughing. He saw Baker walk out with Neal the butler slung over his shoulder. Stanton quickly followed.
Hay thought it might be safe to slink to the stairs leading upstairs. Entering the basement hallway, he heard a voice mumbling behind the billiards room door. In another room the cook Phebe curled on her bed crying. Most curious of all, Private Adam Christy stood holding a bundle tied up in a sheet in a dark bedroom seeming incapable of moving.
Hay raced up the service stairs, his wits shaken but still trying to compose his thoughts before he entered their bedroom across from their second-floor office. He lit the lamp on the table, then shook Nicolay’s shoulder until his eyes opened.
“Something terrible has happened.”
“What?” Nicolay rubbed his eyes as he sat up.
“I just saw something horrible.”
“What do you mean, something horrible?” Nicolay coughed and shook his head.
“I just came in through the basement. I heard an odd voice inside one of the rooms, saying, ‘Stop hurting people.’”
“What people?”
“Neal, the butler.” Hay paused to swallow hard. “I was hiding in the kitchen when I heard Mr. Stanton tell Lafayette Baker—“
“—that Christy had killed the butler, Neal, when Neal had tried to keep the private from raping the cook. She was whimpering. Stanton went in and spoke to her. I didn’t understand what he said.”
“Why was Baker there?”
“He took out the body.”
Nicolay leaned into him. “Was anyone aware you were there?”
“No.” Hay shook his head. “Maybe the cook.”
“She won’t tell.” He bit his lip. “Remember what I said about doing our jobs and ignoring everything else?”
“Well, we can’t do that anymore.” Nicolay stood, went to the door, and cracked it to look out, then shut it carefully.
“So what do we do?” Hay asked.
Extinguishing the lamp, Nicolay sat next to him.
“I’ve friends in the State Department who can get me a post overseas. I know the Paris consul is open. Once I get there, I’ll find a job for you.”
“But shouldn’t we stay? Try to stop Stanton?”
“I never trained in the army. Did you?”
“Could you overpower Lafayette Baker?”
“We have the law on our side.”
“Stanton and Baker are the law.”
“Lamon suspects something. He’d be on our side.”
“If they can abduct the president and keep it a secret for two years, they can make Ward Lamon disappear too.”
“We should try to do something.”
“Like the butler who tried to stop a rape? He’s dead, and no one will know he ever existed. Do you think anyone would notice if you disappeared?”
“Oh.” Hay put his hand to his neck. “Perhaps Paris would be good.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Seven

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Alethia is plucked from prison to play Mary Lincoln. Mary talks Gabby into attacking Adam.
Bellowing, Gabby jumped on Adam’s back, causing the soldier’s knees to buckle.
“Good!” Mrs. Lincoln screamed. “Force him to the floor! You’ve got him now! You’ve got him down!”
Gabby bounced on Adam’s back, trying to break him and force him to his knees, and then prone on the ground.
“That’s it! Ride him down! Break him!”
With a groan from the pit of his stomach, Adam regained his balance and allowed himself to fall backwards. Gabby landed flat on his back on the cold hard floor, heard a noticeable crack in his spine, and whimpered. Adam rolled off him and pounced on Gabby’s chest, pinning his shoulders to the floor with his knees.
“What the hell are you doing?” Adam slapped Gabby’s face several times.
“Stop it!” Mrs. Lincoln screamed as she tried to pull Adam off Gabby. “It’s not his fault! I made him do it!”
“What the hell’s going on?” Lincoln, in his nightshirt, appeared through the lace curtains.
“Quick, Father!” Mrs. Lincoln stopped pulling on Adam and ran to her husband. “Kill him! Get us out of here!”
“Molly! Shut up!” Lincoln yelled. He charged Adam, who was still on Gabby. “Get the hell off him!”
Before Adam could do anything, Lincoln grabbed him by his armpits and threw him across the room. After gasping for air, he reached for Gabby, who cringed and pulled away.
“No, Mr. Gabby, you’re all right. Does anything hurt?”
“I don’t think so.” Gabby sat up carefully and reached around to feel his back. “I thought I heard something crack, but it must not have been important, because it doesn’t hurt now.”
“That’s good.”
“I guess it was bad to jump him like that.”
“Try to forget it.” Lincoln went down on his haunches to smile into Gabby’s face. “Don’t take seriously anything that Mrs. Lincoln says.”
“Then I’m not president?”
“And you’re president?”
“Good,” Gabby said. “It works out better that way.”
Lincoln stood and walked to Adam, offering him a hand to help him up.
“This is Mrs. Lincoln’s fault. She’s not stable. It’s your responsibility as the military authority here to keep a handle on things.”
“Yes, sir.” Adam straightened his back.
“Good. Now go about your duties.”
Adam looked down, avoiding eye contact with Gabby and Mrs. Lincoln, and left the room.
“You fool!” Mrs. Lincoln snarled, rushing her husband. “You could have killed him, and no one would have cared! One word from you, and Mr. Stanton would be off to the Old Capitol Prison in chains!”
“And if the nation discovered someone had put the president in the White House basement for two years and no one knew, what confidence would the people have then to fight a war?”
“So you’re on Mr. Stanton’s side?”
“I’m on the Union’s side,” he replied. “Only the Union is important.”
“Yes, sir.” She pursed her lips.
“Don’t do this again, Molly.” Lincoln pointed at Gabby. “You could get him killed. You could get us all killed.” He sighed deeply. “I think it’s time to sleep.” He disappeared behind the French lace curtains.
“So you’re not my wife?” Gabby stared a long time into Mrs. Lincoln’s face, expecting to detect a trace of remorse.
“I knew I kept having memories of New York and not Illinois.” He paused to compose his thoughts as well as he could. “Why did you do it?”
“Because I want to get out of here.”
“Well, that’s all right. I’d rather have Cordie as a sister than you as a wife, anyway.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Five

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Alethia is plucked from prison to play Mary Lincoln. Christy kisses the cook Phebe.
Neal was not big; Adam was taller than him by a head, and Adam was only average size. Neal’s face was very pale for a Negro and covered with light brown freckles. Her mother had told her if one of the light-skinned servants in the big house wanted to marry her, she should let him; but when Phebe looked at Neal, who, by her mother’s standards, measured up to be the perfect husband, all she saw was a feisty, friendly, constantly yapping dog.
“What happened?” he repeated.
“It was my fault.” She concentrated on the last of the dishes, wanting to finish her chores, disappear into her room and forget what had happened.
“Who touched you, girl?” Neal took her arm and turned her toward him. He looked into her eyes.
“No one.” Phebe pulled away from him. “Forget it. I’ve got to finish the dishes. It’s late.”
“No.” Neal positioned himself between her and the sink. “It was the soldier boy, wasn’t it?”
“I handled it. I hit him upside the head with a plate.”
“What did he do?”
“He kissed me.”
“I’m gonna whip his ass!” Spinning around, Neal rushed to the door.
“No, you’re not,” she said, following him. “You’re a Negro. He’s white. You’re a butler. He’s a soldier.” Phebe now stood between him and the door. “Whose side do you think the law is gonna come down on?”
“Damn the law!”
“No! The law will damn you!” She sighed in guilt, having yelled at Neal. “Please,” she said, “we’re Negroes in a white man’s town. There are things going on in this house. Evil things.” Phebe stepped closer. “He told me something’s bad’s going on. He said if word got out, Tad could die. He said he could die. He even said I could die.”
“Did he threaten you?”
“He didn’t threaten me. He warned me. Neal, if I could die, you could die.”
He was quiet a long time. Then, staring at her intently, he asked, “Did you like it?”
“Like what?”
“Did you like the kiss?”
“No. If I had, I wouldn’t have broken a perfectly good plate.”
“Have you ever had a good kiss?” Neal stepped closer.
“Yes.” It was a lie. She did not want him to kiss her.
“I know how to kiss.” He pulled in his lips, moistening them so they shined in the whale oil light.
“So find somebody who cares,” Phebe said as she pushed past him to return to the sink. Washing the last glass, she dropped her head. “I’m sorry, Neal. I like you. But I don’t want to kiss you any more than I want to kiss Private Christy.”
“Because I hope for a better life.” She turned to look at him, drying her hands on a ragged cloth and twisting in fear. “If I kiss you—or any man—I might relent and allow you to have me. Then, alone with a baby, I’d have no chance for a better life.”
“I wouldn’t do that. If you let me kiss you, I know you’d love me. I want to marry you.” He paused. “I’m not a common dog.”
“I know, Neal.” What an unfortunate choice of words. Phebe restrained herself, not wanting to hurt him anymore.
“I love you, Phebe, but you’ll never love me, will you?”
“I’m sorry.”
A long sigh escaped Neal’s lips as he turned to leave, softly adding, “I lied about kissing. No girl ever let me kiss her.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Three

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Alethia is plucked from prison to play Mary Lincoln. Tad knows she’s not his mother but thinks she’s part of the plot to save his father.
Alethia closed the door and walked to her room. Her eyes shut, she enjoyed the cool breeze. The cottage in the Maryland foothills was charming and romantic. Before going in, she looked into Duff’s bedroom and found him sitting on the edge of the bed, drinking from a flask.
“Father? Are you all right?”
“Molly, come in. Sit next to me.” He turned around, and his face was wet with tears.
“You look troubled.”
“Demons.” Duff sipped his whiskey. “Old demons. I’ve kept secrets from you, Molly.” He paused. “No, I’ve kept secrets from Alethia. Molly knows everything she needs to know, but I want Alethia to know everything.”
“Don’t be afraid to tell me.” Her heart pounded so hard she feared she would faint.
“I wasn’t just captured at the first Manassas,” he said. “The Confederates caught me and a bunch of pals as we were deserting.”
“You still spent time in prison,” she offered.
“Belle Isle Prison at Richmond. The worst time of my life. Rotten food, rotting flesh. The hunger.” He looked at her. “I told you I was a big boy. I was always hungry. I’m still hungry.”
“There’s no shame in that. No one knows you were running away. Everyone was running away. Most of them were running back to the army, and some didn’t know where they were running—just running. They can’t prove anything. You got more punishment than you deserved.”
“No,” he whispered. “I deserved even more. Back in Michigan everyone thought I had courage to match my size. Many men challenged me to fight so they could brag they whupped the biggest man in the county. I ran away. I always ran away. I always was a coward. That’s what they called me. Big Yeller. When the war broke out, my friends told me if I wanted to shake that Big Yeller name I’d better join.”
“Courage isn’t beating men. Courage is admitting you can’t handle things. You’re smart, cautious, and brave.”
“After a while in prison, when a cell mate would die, I wouldn’t tell the guards for a few days. They never came in, just pushed the plates through the slot. I didn’t tell so I could eat the dead man’s food.”
“This is war.” Her eyes fluttered. “You do what you have to do to survive.”
“Soon,” he continued, with his head down, “I think they caught on to what I was doing. So they started putting healthier men in with me. I suffocated them in the middle of the night so I could get their food.”
“Oh.” Alethia could not help but be shocked. Only a monster could do that, but Duff was not a monster. War made monsters; prisons made monsters; a normal life made him normal again.
“Next they put a man as big as me in the cell. We figured a way to get out.”
“Did he know what you had done?”
“No. But the men in the cell block knew. When we all broke out and made it back to the Union lines, the others told. My last cell mate spit in my face when he found out. They court-martialed me and sent me to Old Capitol to be hanged. At least the food was good. Stanton found me, said I looked like Mr. Lincoln, and gave me a chance to escape hanging.” His eyes narrowed with intensity. “I hate him.” He looked at Alethia. “You hate me now, don’t you?”
“Do you want me to hate you?”
“Good,” she replied. “I love you too much to hate you.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Two

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Alethia is plucked from prison to play Mary Lincoln. Tad knows she’s not his mother but thinks she’s part of the plot to save his father.
Lighting the last of a dozen candles around Tad’s room, Alethia settled next to him on his bed at Anderson Cottage and cuddled.
“The candles look nice,” Tad murmured, resting his head on her full bosom. “Mama always said candles were romantic.”
“They can be.” Alethia caressed his brow. “But they can also be comforting, soothing, nurturing for the soul.”
“Could you sing me that Gloria song? It’s nice.”
Softly and off-key, Alethia sang, and Tad hummed along.
“I don’t know what language that is, but it’s pretty. I like this. It makes me feel good and calm. I sleep better. I’m gonna miss it when Mama comes back.”
“I’m glad.”
“I mean, there’s nothing wrong with the way Mama puts me to bed. I still want her back. But I’ll miss you…”
“Hush, Taddie, my baby.” Wrapping her arms around his head, she continued, “I know what you mean.”
Moments went by without a word, and Alethia relished the intimacy.
“I’m glad you’re feeling better,” Tad whispered. “I got worried about you last summer. Your head was all bloody. I thought you were going to die.”
“No need to worry.”
“I don’t think we could find another lady who looked like Mama and who was so nice.” He paused. “I liked going to the White Mountains with you and Robert.”
“It was so cool there,” Alethia said. “The wind gently blowing against my brow made my head feel better.”
“I’m sorry you couldn’t go hiking with Bob and me. It was fun.” He looked at her. “But you would have got a headache. I don’t want you to have headaches like Mama. They’re awful.”
“Thank you.” She smiled. “I loved watching you two from the veranda. I could tell by the way Bob put his hand on your shoulder he loves you very much.”
“I know,” he said with a chirp. His face clouded. “He thinks I’m a spoiled brat, but he still loves me.”
“And I love both of you.”
“Mama does too,” Tad said. “It’s just that…”
“What Mama calls love, some folks might call bossing people around.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You love up on me, but Mama fusses at me about brushing my teeth and combing my hair.”
“She means well,” Alethia said. “She loves both of you.” She smiled. “I’m sure she was as proud as I was when Bob graduated from college in June.”
“He wants to join the army, but Mama’s scared he’ll get killed. She’s lost two sons already, and she doesn’t want to lose another. I can sound like Mama when she’s fussing at Bob. Do you want to hear it?”
“No, thank you.” Alethia paused to take all this information in. “So should I keep him out of the army?”
“If you don’t want him to find out you’re not Mama. I don’t think he’d play along with it like I do.” Tad frowned. “There’s something else Bob told me as a secret. I don’t know if I should tell.”
“He’s afraid you’ll make him go to law school next month.”
“I see. Thank you for the help.”
The candles began to wane.
“There’s something else about Bob.”
“Bob’s got a girlfriend.”
“How sweet.” Alethia smiled. “What should my reaction be?”
“Fight it at first—Mama would, until you find out who the girl is. She’s a doozy.”
“Really? Who is she?”
“A senator’s daughter. A big shot with the Republicans. Mama will love that.” Tad smiled. “Do you want me to show you how she’ll yell when Bob tells her?”
“No, thank you,” she replied. “I can imagine.”
“The candles are just about out.” Yawning, Tad settled down into bed.
“Then that means it’s time to go to sleep.” She hugged him again. “Let me pray for you.” She mumbled sweet words and then kissed him on the forehead. “Good night, my love.”
Standing to leave, Alethia went to each candle to make sure it was out and then walked to the door.
“Thank you, Mrs. Mama. When the war’s over, and Mama and Papa come back, and you go, I hope you have a happy life.”
“Thank you, my love.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-One

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. One day Gabby wakes up with a clear head.
Everyone looked to the door as it was unlocked. Stanton entered. Adam lowered his head, took the tray, and left quickly. Mrs. Lincoln stiffened and went behind her French lace curtains, and Lincoln stopped eating his apple. Gabby could feel the tension rise in the room. He found the broom to begin sweeping.
“I thought you might be interested in General Grant’s latest plans,” Stanton said as he sat, motioning to Lincoln to do the same. “General Grant’s in favor of multiple large attacks on the Confederacy to destroy rail lines.” He pulled out a notepad, put on his glasses, and began to read. “Banks’s forces at New Orleans will move east to Mobile, then on to Georgia; Sherman will advance on Atlanta and then to the coast; and Grant’s army to Suffolk, Virginia, and then to Raleigh, North Carolina.” He paused to glare at Gabby, who was at his shoulder. “Must he be hovering?”
“He’s not hovering; he’s sweeping.”
“As I was saying, Grant thinks the enemy would be forced to evacuate Virginia and East Tennessee.”
“What do you think, Mr. Zook?”
“I think if General Grant moves to North Carolina,” Gabby said, keeping his eyes on the floor, “he’ll leave the capital unprotected.”
“Thank you, Mr. Zook,” Lincoln said. “I agree.”
“I’m not defending the proposal; I’m merely relaying it to you.” Stanton stared at him. “Very well.” He turned to Lincoln, crossing his arms across his chest. “What’s your opinion?”
“Mind you, I don’t think his entire plan is without merit.” Lincoln leaned forward. “Just not properly focused.”
“What does that mean?”
“He means General Grant is spreading his forces too thin,” Gabby mumbled
“For instance, General Bates attacking Mobile is good,” Lincoln continued, “but he should not march on Georgia too. General Sherman will do that. But General Sigel should attack the Shenandoah, and General Butler should move against Petersburg and then Richmond. Leave Grant’s Army of the Potomac where it is.”
Shutting his notebook, Stanton stood, grumbling to himself. Lincoln reached to touch his sleeve.
“I’m concerned about Mr. Nicolay. The trip out West kept him occupied, but now…” Lincoln paused to collect his thoughts. “He’s a good man. I don’t want him hurt if he figures out what’s going on.”
Gabby had not thought about what danger awaited those who knew about Stanton’s plan. He might be killed; and because of him, Cordie might be killed. His mind began to feel a dull pain.
“I’ve kept him busy,” Stanton curtly replied. “I sent him to New York to talk to Thurlow Weed, who was not pleased with the appointment of Chase’s friend John Hogeboom as appraiser in the New York Customs House. Nicolay tried to appease him and shore up support for your re-nomination. He went to the Republican convention, and now he’s busy with plans for the fall campaign.”
“Good.” Lincoln stood and disappeared behind his curtain.
Stanton grabbed Gabby’s arm and shook at finger at him.
“And don’t you ever speak like that again.”
Gabby wanted to reply, but became aware his mind could not compose thoughts. His shoulders slumped.
“Yes, sir.”
As Stanton left, Gabby’s eyes felt heavy, and he walked to his corner to rest. Mrs. Lincoln stepped from behind her curtain and gasped.
“Mr. Zook, are you all right?”
“Just fine, ma’am.” His eyes went to the floor. “Just fine.”
Lying on his pallet, Gabby thought about what had just taken place. As president, he should have that man, Stanton, punished for his insolence. That is—Gabby’s mind clouded, and he closed his eyes in pain—if he were president.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Lincoln’s friend Ward Lamon tries to figure out what’s going on.
A miracle occurred one early August morning, 1864, in a corner of the billiards room in the basement of the Executive Mansion. Gabby awoke refreshed and clear-minded. This day, reality embraced his brain like an old friend. To maintain emotional stability, he knew he had to stay busy, sweeping floors, dusting, anything to keep his mind occupied. Standing, Gabby subconsciously straightened his shoulders and walked out to the billiards table, where Mrs. Lincoln sat brushing her hair. When her eyes caught sight of him, she stopped in mid-stroke.
“Mr. Gabby, you seem different somehow.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” He bowed. “I feel particularly refreshed.”
“I pray you remain refreshed.” She smiled.
“I appreciate your concern.” Gabby glanced at the curtained corner where Lincoln still slept. “If you wish, I could move your chamber pots to the door. It’d be much more pleasant for you that way.”
Mrs. Lincoln appeared to ready to say something, but her mouth stayed agape with no words coming out. Keys rattling broke the silence, and Adam entered. This situation would not end well for the boy, Gabby reflected. Stanton could not be trusted to keep promises. His impulse was to tell Adam to leave, this very hour, to go out west where the government could not find him, but he knew the boy would ignore him.
“Breakfast!” He walked to Adam to help him with the tray.
“Here, Private Christy, I can help too,” Mrs. Lincoln said.
“Thank you, Mr. Gabby; Mrs. Lincoln,” he replied with a smile. Taking the chamber pots, he left.
“Mr. Lincoln will want his usual apple and milk. I somehow don’t feel like a double helping of eggs.”
“Yes, Mr.—Zook—I think you’re right.” She took the tray and placed it on the billiards table. “You may have your breakfast at the table if you like.”
“I’d appreciate that.”
As they began to eat, Gabby noticed he was sitting aright, his left hand in his lap and his right hand delivering proper amounts of egg to his mouth.
“I apologize for anything I’ve done or said that was improper.”
“Why, thank you.” She sighed. “And I apologize for my behavior.”
Gabby slowly chewed, swallowed, and smiled. “Thank you.”
They ate in silence.
“Mr. Zook,” Mrs. Lincoln said, “do you think this—this clarity will last?”
“I don’t know,” Gabby whispered. “I hope so.” He paused. “I fear it won’t.” He looked into her eyes. “I don’t want to go back to thinking I’m president.”
“At times you thought you were president?” Mrs. Lincoln leaned forward.
“Unfortunately, yes.” Gabby looked at the remnants of egg. “Mrs. Lincoln, if at any time I express that delusion, please pity me and ignore it.”
Before she could reply, Adam returned with cleaned chamber pots. Gabby stood and took the pots from him. Lincoln came out, stretched, went to the tray, and picked up the apple and bit into it.
“Good morning, Private Christy; Mr. Gabby.”
“It’s Mr. Zook,” Mrs. Lincoln said, correcting him.
“Mr. Zook.” Lincoln looked at Gabby’s posture and clear eyes. He cocked his head. “Yes; Mr. Zook.”
Gabby took the pots and placed them in their respective places. Stacking the plates on the tray, he turned to Adam.
“Is there anything else I can do for you this morning?”
“No, thank you,” he replied. “Anything I can bring you, Mr. Lincoln?”
“Nothing, Private,” Lincoln said. “Thank you.”
Gabby enjoyed the structured line of conversation he had initiated. Efficiency and courtesy flourished in routine, a lesson Gabby had learned at West Point. He frowned; he did not what to think about West Point. Negative emotions sapped his mental energy.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty-Seven

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Impostor Duff must deliver the Gettysburg Address. Mrs. Surratt confronts Gabby’s sister Cordie at the boardinghouse about spying for the South.
Late April found the capital drenched in an eternal cold, tingling drizzle. Duff, well into the second year of pretending to be Abraham Lincoln, stared out of his office window at the people running through the rain, trying to jump around mud holes. In many ways, he felt content with his life as husband to Alethia, though he had not found the courage to consummate their love, fearing the intimacy would require that he reveal his secrets to her. He liked Tad better each day, and enjoyed his contact with the Cabinet members. On the other hand, Duff hated himself for lying to Lamon, for fearing Stanton, and for allowing the Lincolns to waste away in the basement.
“Mr. President, Secretary Stanton is here to see you.” Hay broke Duff’s trance with his announcement.
“Very well.”
Hay stepped aside to allow Stanton, wheezing and coughing, to enter. After the young man closed the door, Stanton sat and wiped his mouth with a handkerchief.
“Have you seen your doctor?”
“Yes, this morning.” A hacking cough erupted. “Damn asthma. Damn nuisance.”
“You should take to your bed.”
“That’s what my doctor said.” He looked up at Duff. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? You’d have Ward Lamon here and tell him the whole story.”
“How do you know I haven’t already told him?”
“Because Lamon hasn’t stormed the building.” Stanton coughed. “And because you know if Lincoln’s freed now, you’ll return to prison to hang.”
“Maybe not.”
“I don’t think you’re willing to take the chance.”
“In any case, you’re not willing to give me the chance.”
Stanton laughed and coughed at the same time. Putting his head in his hands, he continued, “The newspapers are responding well to the announcement that you named General Grant to head of the Army of the Potomac. He’s taken control of the troops, and they seem to be responding favorably to him. In the next few days, you should send a series of letters to him, reiterating your support.”
“Anything else?”
“I’ll let you know.” Stanton stood. “I’m going home, but I’ve instructed Private Christy to spend more time with you in the office. After all, he is your adjutant.”
“Yes, sir.”
“He’ll be here in a few minutes.” Stanton turned for the door. “I’ll return this evening, with news from the telegraph room.”
How he loathed the man, Duff thought as he returned his gaze to the rain outside his window.
“Mr. President?” Hay hesitantly asked as he stepped into the office. “May I have a word with you?”
Duff nodded. Hay looked back before he closed the door.
“I think I should mention something, but you may not want to hear it.”
Stiffening, Duff remained silent but motioned for Hay to sit.
“Mr. President,” Hay began with his eyes down, “as you know, I enjoy my night life, going to bars late into the evening. Often I hear gossip, and I dismiss it as gossip, but recently soldiers, many of them just released from army hospitals, were complaining about lack of medical supplies.”
“We’re funding the military as well as we can,” Duff replied.
“They aren’t blaming you or Congress. It’s Mr. Stanton.”
“It’s gossip.”
“They say you were going to fire him—back in sixty-two.” Hay stressed the year, cocking his head.
Duff smiled. “Have you heard the one that Mrs. Lincoln’s a Southern spy? Not only that, she stole my State of the Union address and sold it to the newspapers. Best of all is the story that I’m totally insane.”
“You haven’t been yourself for almost two years,” Hay whispered. He looked startled and then dropped his head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
Duff did not know whether to be relieved or threatened. Hay knew. If he knew, Nicolay knew, yet they had said nothing all this time. Duff wondered why Hay had chosen this time to broach the topic. Putting his hand to his mouth, he thought perhaps the asthma outbreak had weakened Stanton’s determination. Maybe it had. Maybe this was the time. Duff leaned forward in his chair to confide in his staff. A knock interrupted him.
“It’s me, sir, Private Christy.” Adam paused at the door. “Mr. Stanton said you needed me.”
For a moment Duff made eye contact with Hay, then decided the opportunity had passed.
“Come in, Private.”
Adam entered, and Duff was impressed. He looked sharp in his uniform. Maybe he was filling it out, too. His eyes no longer looked glazed over.
“What do you need, Mr. President?”
“A letter delivered to the War Department,” Duff said, watching Hay slump back in his chair. “For General Grant. Ready for dictation, Mr. Hay?”
“Yes, sir.” Hay pulled a pad and pencil from his pocket.
“Dear General Grant…”
Duff leaned back in his chair and tried to think of the right words to say while he watched Adam’s eyes wander out the window and a smile land softly on his lips.
“I want to take this occasion to express my confidence…”
Adam was in love, Duff decided. He had been young once. He remembered how it felt. He knew how it felt even now when Alethia walked into the room. Did love make his intolerable job tolerable? Duff wondered. Perhaps. Love created hope, and hope meant there was going to be a tomorrow.
“Reports say the troops are responding well to your leadership…”
And what kept Hay going? Duff switched his attention to his secretary. He did not believe Hay was in love, except for his love of life. Maybe that is what gave him the courage to speak the unspeakable and the hope for something better.
“Please feel free to correspond with me any time…”
And what kept himself? Was it love, hope, or pure, simple fear that he would be discovered? His cowardice and his evil desperation could be exposed to the world for condemnation. As long as he lied and walked the tightrope of deception, his world would continue.
“Best wishes, A. Lincoln.”
Duff turned to look out of the window.
“That will be all, gentlemen.”
Hay and Adam left, and after they shut the door, Duff choked back tears. This was torture, but he feared more what awaited him beyond the torture.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty-Six

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Impostor Duff must deliver the Gettysburg Address. Mrs. Surratt confronts Gabby’s sister Cordie at the boardinghouse about spying for the South.
Adam and girlfriend Jessie enjoy the parade celebrating the Gettysburg victory.
Cordie awoke early, went downstairs to the kitchen to have a cup of coffee and a muffin with Mrs. Edmonds. After that she solicited sewing jobs from other boarders, and asked if anyone wanted a nice, sturdy, plain quilt, cheap. Several young men gave her socks, and Cordie slowly climbed the steps. She had to finish her mending by noon, so she could volunteer at Armory Square Hospital. Every morning was similar: busy, hectic, and tense. She never knew when Mrs. Surratt would appear and demand information from the Executive Mansion. Her chest was beginning to hurt, but she decided it was just a bellyache and chose to ignore it. Settling in her chair by the window, she jumped when she heard a forceful knock at the door. Only Mrs. Surratt knocked that hard.
“Miss Cordie? Are you there?”
“Yes, Mrs. Surratt,” she replied. “Come in.”
The landlady entered, her hands cupped together, a smile cemented to her face and her eyes hardened with determination.
“Isn’t it a beautiful November morning, Miss Cordie?”
“Yes, ma’am, very nice.” She kept her eyes on her darning.
“May I sit on your bed?”
“Of course, ma’am.”
“Thank you.” Mrs. Surratt sat primly on the edge of the mattress, her back stiff. “Have you heard from your brother lately, dear?”
“Yes. He’s doing quite well, thank you.”
“And the young man, the private. How is he?”
“Very well, too, ma’am.” Before she knew it, she was blathering. “He has a new spring to his step. Keeping himself groomed, clothes washed.”
“It’s very rude not to look at people when they talk to you, dear.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry, ma’am.” Cordie looked up, her eyes beginning to well with tears.
“You mustn’t sound so contrite,” Mrs. Surratt said. “After all, we are comrades in the good fight.” She looked into Cordie’s eyes. “And there’s no need to cry. You start to cry every time I visit you.”
“I—I don’t have anything to say,” Cordie whispered. “I don’t want to be put out in the street.”
“That young man is still being uncooperative? After all these months?”
“Yes, ma’am.” She fought the urge to return her eyes to her darning.
“That’s a Yankee for you. Never thinking of others.”
“He’s very considerate. He’s nice to me. And to his lady friend, Miss Home. But then we’re nice to him. I mean, I don’t mean you’re not nice, ma’am.”
“I swear, if you call me ma’am one more time…” she said lightly, then paused to laugh. “I shouldn’t say such things. You take them so seriously. So what are we going to do about this situation?”
“I don’t know, Mrs. Surratt,” Cordie replied. “He doesn’t seem like he’s going to change. Maybe he doesn’t know anything to tell.”
“Hmm.” Mrs. Surratt opened her hands, revealing several gold coins. “I think I have another way the Confederacy can help you.”
Looking over, Cordie saw the coins, and her eyes widened.
“What do I have to do for that?” she asked, thinking she could never do anything wicked enough to earn that much money.
“Oh, dear me.” Mrs. Surratt laughed. “This isn’t for you. Your reward is staying here. These coins are for our gallant men in Virginia.”
“I—I don’t understand.”
“Downstairs I have two dresses, and you will sew the coins into the hems,” she explained. “Tightly, so no one can hear them as the ladies move around.”
“I’m busy with my darning.”
Mrs. Surratt took the torn socks.
“What do we have here? Oh. These can wait,” she said, tossing them to the floor.
“But the boy needs them…”
“I don’t care what the boy needs.” She stood and put the coins in Cordie’s lap. “I’ll bring the dresses right up.”
“This doesn’t sound right.”
“Some terribly sweet lady friends of mine wish to wear these skirts when they take a leisurely carriage ride through the Virginia countryside tomorrow morning. What is wrong with that?”
Cordie sighed deeply, causing Mrs. Surratt to put her hands on her hips.
“Now what?”
“It’s just that…” Cordie searched for the right words. “I feel guilty.”
“You feel guilty?” Mrs. Surratt took a deep breath. “It’s the damnyankees who should feel guilty!”
“I wish you wouldn’t use that word,” Cordie said softly, looking down. “I’m a Yankee.”
“Haven’t I told you how they’ve burned whole towns?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Taken livestock, food, left our people to starve?”
“Yes, you’ve told me.”
“Do you think I’m lying?” Mrs. Surratt’s eyes narrowed. “Am I not a woman of honor? Am I not letting you stay in my boardinghouse?”
“You said I can stay in your boardinghouse only if I sew the coins in the dresses.”
“I didn’t put it that crudely,” Mrs. Surratt said with a sniff, “but it’s a reason for you not to feel guilty then, isn’t it?”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty-Three

Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Mrs. Surratt confronts Gabby’s sister Cordie at the boardinghouse.
Walking down the Executive Mansion steps to Pennsylvania Avenue, Adam inhaled and exhaled deeply, thinking of Jessie. In the beginning, just the mention of her name had been enough to make his heart race and his spirits lift. Now he had to rely on a few gulps of whiskey. Pulling a flask from the pocket of his blue jacket, he popped the cap and lifted it to his mouth. The clanging of an omnibus caused him to jump and quickly cap the flask and return it to his pocket. Perhaps Jessie was on the bus, and he did not want her to see him drinking. She did not like it. He brushed aside his unruly red hair and smoothed out the wrinkles in his uniform. Standing on one foot, then the other, Adam eagerly waited for the omnibus doors to open. His heart sank when he saw Cordie appear. He wanted an evening alone with Jessie, but he forced a smile as Cordie walked toward him.
“I mended these pants for Gabby.”
Her hands were trembling, Adam noticed. Perhaps she was tired. His spirits rose when he decided to suggest that she go back home to rest. He wanted time alone with Jessie.
“Of course, I’ll give them to Mr. Gabby. You look very tired.”
“I’m fine. Jessie wanted me here tonight.”
“And how are you? Did you have a hard day?”
“It wasn’t bad.” Adam glanced down the avenue, hoping Jessie would appear.
“How’s Gabby?”
“Very good. He’s always eager to get his food.”
“That’s good. At least he’s eating well.” Her eyes went down. “I hope the war’s over soon, then Gabby and I can be together.”
“Yeah, I hope it’s over soon,” he said, distracted. He looked at Cordie. “Do you know why she’s so late?”
“Don’t ask me.” Cordie laughed. “I don’t know anything. You’re the one in the White House. You must know more than me.”
“Hmm.” His attention was down the dark avenue.
“I bet you even know what happened at Gettysburg today.”
“I bet you know how many soldiers got killed; where the army’s going next.”
“Troop movement?” Adam shook off his distraction to focus on her. “Casualty numbers? Why would you want to know that?”
“I don’t want to know.” Her eyes fluttered. “I was just saying you must know.”
“You’ve never asked questions like this before.”
“I was just making conversation.”
Her hands trembled more, making Adam think something was wrong.
“People don’t make casual conversation about troop movements,” Adam said.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t even say that. I only asked about your day.”
“No. You asked where the Union army was going next.”
“I didn’t ask anything. I never asked a question.” Cordie’s voice rose to a high pitch. “I said I bet you knew where the Union soldiers were going next. That’s all.”
“Don’t try to play games with me. I like you, Miss Zook, but I think you’re up to something bad.” Adam heard his voice, but did not recognize it, which frightened him. “Who put you up to this? I know you. You wouldn’t do anything like this on your own.”
“No one put me up to it!”
“Was it a Confederate spy?”
“She’s not a spy.”
“She? Who’s she?”
“Nobody! I—I didn’t say anything about a woman.” Her voice began to crack.
“Don’t lie to me.” Adam stared into Cordie’s watery eyes until she looked down at the hard dirt street. “Who is she?” He took her chin and lifted her face.
“My landlady.” She averted her eyes again. “She forced me to tell her about Gabby. And she wanted more information.”
“Did she give you money?”
“Enough for the omnibus,” she whispered.
“More to come later?”
“Only if I could find things out.”
“Are you that bad off?” Adam softened the tone of his voice. “If you needed money, I could have gotten some for you.”
“She was going to raise my rent.” Cordie took a handkerchief from her pocket to daub her cheeks. “She was going to put me out on the street.”
“You didn’t want to tell her anything?”
“No. But she scared me, just like you’re scaring me now.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Could you make something up for me to tell her, so she won’t raise my rent?”
“I don’t know enough to make up a good lie.” Adam ran his hand through his coarse red hair. “Tell her I’m a mean cuss who won’t tell you anything. Tell her it might take months to soften me up. By then, maybe the war will be over.”
“Thank you.” Her eyes focused on the trousers stuck under his arm. “Make sure Gabby gets his pants.” She sighed. “I’m tired, but I don’t want to disappoint Jessie.”
“You don’t have to stay,” Adam said hoarsely.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” he whispered. “Here’s omnibus fare.” He held coins out to her.
Cordie looked as though she were about to decline his offer, but instead smiled and took the money.
“Thank you. Tell Jessie I’ll see her tomorrow.” She walked toward an approaching omnibus.