Tag Archives: conspiracy

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Ninety-Five

Previously: Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. After two years of deceit, love and death, the war is over. Stanton forces Adam into a final conspiracy. Adam meets John Booth.
Before Adam replied, he went to the door and closed it. He studied Booth’s eyes. Was he the interested party for whom I was searching?
“How were you assigned to the White House, Private Christy?”
“My father knows Edwin Stanton.”
“He’s another person with no morals.”
“Yes,” Adam replied. “I hate him.” He paused. “I hate them both.”
Adam could see Booth’s brain working through his etched, pallid brow. He hoped he had convinced the actor.
“And why do you hate Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Stanton?”
“I was supposed to get a commission,” he replied. “They lied.”
“I could have told you Republicans were liars.”
“I hate them all,” Adam lied again.
“I’d have fought for the South,” Booth confided, “but the reality of war is that it does eventually end, and life goes on, and my life is acting. I might have been scarred in battle, which would have ruined my career.”
“I feel guilty,” Booth added. “I want to do something. Now. To redeem myself.”
“Why are you telling me this? We’re not friends.”
“I make friends easily.” Booth smiled. “I’ve many friends here. You should meet them.”
“Friends or conspirators?” Shivers roamed over Adam’s body, but he forced a smile on his face.
“If they be conspirators, they must be friends first,” Booth replied.
“Then if you consider me a friend you must want me as a conspirator.” Adam had a strange feeling this conversation was going the same way as those he had had with prostitutes on street corners at midnight. What kind of good time do you want to show me, he remembered saying to painted women in cold shadows. “And what kind of conspiracy are you talking about?”
Before Booth could answer, a brutish young giant of a man opened the door and stuck his large head in. This fellow was bigger and brawnier than he, and his facial features—chin, cheeks, nose—were more handsome than his; however, Adam felt superior because stupidity flowed through the giant’s eyes.
“Hey, Johnny,” the man said, “this guy pickin’ on ya?”
“No, Tommy,” Booth replied. “I think we’ve a new friend here.”
“Now please leave and shut the door.”
“All right, Johnny.” The large, stupid man left.
After a moment loud, thumping footsteps faded away. Booth smiled at Adam, a smile which made him nervous.
“What kind of conspiracy do you think I’m talking about?”
“Kill the bastards. All of them.” Adam was tired of romancing about the subject. Stanton wanted it done by the end of the week, so he decided to be blunt.
“What do you bring to the table?” Booth asked.
“What do you know that I don’t already know about assassination?”
“I know a man who thinks like us.” Adam narrowed his eyes. “Things like how to get close to the president.”
“When can you arrange a meeting?”
“I don’t know.”
“Too soon,” Adam lied.
“It must be tonight.”
“Very well. Tonight at midnight, under the Aqueduct Bridge.”
“Do you think the man will show up on such short notice?”
“I don’t know,” Adam lied again. “I’ll try.”
“We’ll be there.”
“All right.” Adam was more nervous knowing he was closer to killing Lincoln. Self-preservation made men do terrible things, he decided, and therefore extended his hand.
“To success,” Booth said as he shook it.
“To redemption,” he replied.
That afternoon he met Stanton at the turnstile gate between the grounds of the Executive Mansion and the War Department.
“I met someone,” Adam whispered. “He’ll be at the bridge with friends.”
“How many?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t want to ask too many questions.”
“Very well. Mr. Baker will be there. What did you say?”
“I said I knew a man who knew how to get close to Lincoln.”
When Adam took the supper tray to the basement, Mrs. Lincoln hugged him and Gabby was still grinning at the old photograph Adam had given him in the afternoon. Adam could not help keeping his eyes down in front of Lincoln.
“Anything wrong, Private Christy?”
“Nothing, sir.” He did not want to look the president in the face.
A traitor, a lowly coward that was all I am, all I’d ever be. In Steubenville, I could have lived into old age without realizing what a despicable person I am. I could have been content to think I have admirable, manly qualities, but my life in Washington has stripped away my pretensions, leaving me with a person I neither like nor want to be.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Ninety-Four

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Duff and Alethia become Lincoln impostors. After two years of deceit, love and death, the war is over. Stanton forces Adam into a final conspiracy.
Adam climbed the stairs to the second-story door of the white boardinghouse at 541 H Street, his stomach tied in knots. He had always admired Lincoln, even as a youth in Steubenville, reading stories about the Illinois lawyer. In the last two years, even though he had had to keep Lincoln hostage, he had known the president was right. Adam did not want to be part of his assassination—but neither did he want to hang for killing Neal. He forced himself to knock.
“Yes?” A tall, dark-haired woman dressed in black opened the door and stared at Adam with blank eyes.
“Mr. Zook asked me to empty his sister’s room and bring the items to him.”
“She always talked of a brother.” She raised an eyebrow. “But I never saw him.”
“I assure you Gabby Zook exists,” he said. “We work together at the Executive Mansion.”
“And who are you?” Her mouth hardened at the mention of the Executive Mansion.
“I’m Private Adam Christy,” he replied. “And what’s your name?”
“I’m Mary Surratt, the owner of this boardinghouse, and as such have the right to deny entrance to anyone I consider suspicious.”
“Are you saying you’re going to deny Mr. Zook his rightful possessions?”
“That’s not what I’m saying,” she replied.
“Then what are you saying?”
“I just want to make sure Miss Zook’s possessions won’t be stolen.” She fluttered her eyes in frustration.
“Are you accusing me, an agent of the White House, of stealing a deceased woman’s property?”
“I did not say that.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Adam noticed a young man, perhaps a few years older than he, standing in the parlor door. He had a fair complexion and curly, black hair. On his face was a bemused expression which Adam could not decipher.
Covertly watching the man, Adam said, “Just because Abraham Lincoln has no morals doesn’t mean I’m a thief.”
The curly-haired man smiled.
“I did not call you a thief,” Mrs. Surratt said in irritation.
“Good,” Adam replied. “Where’s her room?”
“Upstairs.” She stepped aside to allow him in. “Follow me.”
Adam watched the young man move into the hallway as they went up the stairs.
“This is her room.” Mrs. Surratt opened the door.
“Thank you.” Adam walked in to see a clutter of tattered clothes, sources of Gabby quilts that would never be made. “You may leave the door open.”
“Of course I will.” Mrs. Surratt glared at him and left.
Looking into a chest of drawers, he noticed neat stacks of worn clothing. On top of the chest was a framed photograph of Cordie and Gabby when they were younger and not beaten down by life. Gabby would like to have that picture now, Adam thought as he reached for it.
“I couldn’t help but overhear your telling Mrs. Surratt you’re assigned to the Executive Mansion.”
Adam turned to see the young man who had been standing in the parlor door but now leaned against the wall in a nonchalant pose.
“Yes, I am,” he replied.
“She often talked of her brother who couldn’t leave the mansion.”
“I’m gathering her things to give him.”
“In my opinion,” the man said, stretching to his full height, “the Republicans killed her, keeping her from her brother.” His eyelids drooped but could not cover his intense emotion.
“I agree.” Adam paused to appraise him further. “Who are you?”
“John Booth. Perhaps you’ve heard of me.”
“My family is well known in the theater.”
“I don’t go to the theater.”
“I’ve performed in several Shakespearean plays.”
“I don’t understand Shakespeare.”
Booth blinked his dark eyes and ran his fingers through his curly, black hair. Adam was pleased; he seemed to unsettle Booth.
“So you think Lincoln has no morals?”
“Yes,” Adam lied.
“Neither do I.” Booth smiled, revealing white, even teeth underneath his full black mustache. “I’m from Maryland and have no taste for Union bullies.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter 93

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Duff and Alethia become Lincoln impostors. After two years of deceit, love and death, the war is over. Adam makes amends with hostages in the basement.
Adam smiled at Mrs. Lincoln, nodded, and turned to Gabby’s cubicle behind the crates and barrels. He watched Gabby on his pallet, stirring restlessly and mumbling.
“Cord—cord—cordiecordiecordie,” Gabby muttered. After twisting and moaning a few more moments, he suddenly sat up, shouting clearly, “Cordie!” His eyes were wide and blank; after batting them several times, he focused on Adam.
“I’m sorry to wake you up, Mr. Gabby,” Adam said, setting the plate on a chair which had dirty trousers and shirts strewn across the back of it.
“Cordie is dead, isn’t she?” he whispered, staring at the plate.
“Yes. Last night.” Love really did connect people, Adam decided, realizing Gabby already sensed his sister’s death. He envied the old man’s grief.
“I’m not hungry anymore.” He looked at the plate of fried eggs and toast and then glanced away indifferently. “They say we’ll be out of here by the end of the week.”
“Yes, sir. We can all go Friday night.”
“It doesn’t seem to matter anymore, does it? The rats are gone. Wish we hadn’t killed all of them so fast; it gave me something to worry about. I mean, something of no account to worry about. I’ve enough honest-to-God worries as it is.”
“You really don’t have anything to worry about now.” Adam tried to sound hopeful.
“Cordie’s dead. There’s plenty to worry about. Uncle Sammy’s dead. Mama’s dead. Papa’s dead. Joe’s dead. Everybody’s dead except me.”
“No, you don’t have to worry. Cordie had a friend at the hospital. She was with her right to the last moment. Her name’s Jessie Home.”
“Is she a young woman?”
“Then I’ll scare her away. Young women have always been scared of me. Well, not always, but that was a long time ago when I was someone else. I don’t remember him very well, but I do remember young women were rather fond of him.”
“Jessie’s different than most young women,” Adam said. “She doesn’t care about what people seem like but what they are like.”
“You love this girl, don’t you?” Gabby looked at Adam. “I can tell by the way you talk about her. And your eyes. Say her name again.”
“Jessie Home.”
“See. When you say her name, your cheeks turn red. And you can’t help but smile when you talk about her. If you can trust her, then I can trust her; after all, you can’t love somebody you can’t trust.”
Adam darkened when he thought about how much he loved and trusted Jessie, and how little she must love and trust him now.
“And don’t worry. I forgive you.”
“I hurt you the night you jumped me,” Adam said quietly. “If Mr. Lincoln hadn’t pulled me off, I might have hurt you real bad.”
“You couldn’t help it,” Gabby said. “You just fought back like anyone would have. You know, it was all her fault.” He nodded beyond the crates and barrels to Mrs. Lincoln. Leaning into Adam, he added in a whisper, “I don’t think she’s quite right in the head. When people are like that, there’s nothing you can do but forgive them.”
“Are you sure about breakfast?” Adam asked.
“Maybe I’ll be hungry again sometime, but right now I don’t think so.”
Adam smiled and took the plate away. He stacked the dishes on the tray and left for the kitchen. Phebe kept her head down when he came in, and he did not say anything. Back in the hallway, Adam felt a tug at his elbow. It was Stanton, who pulled him into the stairwell.
“I’ve a new assignment for you.”
“No.” Adam moved away. “When the Lincolns are back upstairs, when the others leave, I want to go. I want to return to Steubenville. Forget the commission.”
“I have,” Stanton said. “You’re guilty of kidnapping and holding hostage the president and his wife. I was aghast when I learned of your plot.”
“Do you think people will believe that?”
“Do you think they will believe you?”
“Lincoln,” Adam said with confidence. “Lincoln knows the truth.” He paused and softened his voice. “Lincoln won’t judge me. He won’t judge you. He knows you did what you did to help the nation. The war’s over.”
“The war’s never over. We now have to make the rebels suffer. They must obey the law.”
“That war Mr. Lincoln can win. He won’t punish us. He’s a man of justice.”
“It is exactly because he is a man of justice that we will be punished.”
“I’ve already been punished.” Adam turned somber.
“You don’t know what punishment is.” Stanton’s beady eyes narrowed. “Do what I say. You murdered the butler. We hang murderers. If you cooperate, you can go home to Steubenville.”
“What is it?” Adam asked, hanging his head in defeat.
“The old woman, the sister of the janitor, the one who died this week. Did she ever say anything of interest?”
“Are you sure?”
“She’s dead,” Stanton said. “It makes no sense to protect her when your life’s in danger.”
“Oh.” He looked off. “One time she asked about troop movements.”
“Troop movements?” Stanton pursed his Cupid’s bow lips.
“She said her landlady might turn her out if she couldn’t get any information from her brother who worked in the White House.”
“Do you know the name of the landlady?”
“Do you know where the boardinghouse is?”
“I escorted her home several times.”
“Very good.” Stanton paused to think. “Go to the boardinghouse to say you’re collecting her personal effects to give to her brother. Then keep your ears open.”
“What am I listening for?”
“Conspiracies, plots, assassins.”
“Assassins?” Adam’s eyes widened.
“What do you think we’re talking about?” Stanton snapped. “Lincoln must die.”
“But he’s forgiven me.”
“He’s never mentioned forgiving me, and if I go to prison, you hang.”
“I don’t think I can help kill President Lincoln.” Adam swallowed hard.
“You can, and you will.” Stanton paused. “If you find anyone interested, tell them to meet you under Aqueduct Bridge at midnight.”
“But I don’t know—”
“Just tell them to be under the bridge at midnight.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Ninety-Two

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Duff and Alethia become Lincoln impostors. After two years of deceit, love and death, the war is over. Duff tells Lamon the Lincolns are in Baltimore and urges him to take Alethia away.
The next morning Adam balanced the breakfast tray with one hand as he unlocked the billiards room door. He heard Mary Lincoln fuss about packing.
“I know that woman ruined all my dresses,” she fumed, “and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s stolen all my finest toiletries and unmentionables.”
“Excuse me.” Adam entered, keeping his head down and going to the billiards table.
“You would come in as I was talking about my unmentionables.” She lifted her nose and sniffed. After a pause she added, “Thank you for retrieving my items for me as I required them during our time down here.”
Adam watched out of the corner of his eye as Mrs. Lincoln plopped things into a box. She paused to consider the bottle of laudanum in her hand.
“How many bottles of this have I used since living in the basement?”
“I don’t know, ma’am,” he replied
“The partial bottle you brought down here the first day, and this one,” she said, answering her own question. “It’s close to empty now.” Pausing, Mrs. Lincoln looked at Adam, her eyes softened. “A bottle used to last a month. Who would think I’d need only two bottles in two years.” A smile flickered across her face. “Perhaps I’m stronger than I thought.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Adam hoped that was the proper response; with Mrs. Lincoln he rarely knew. It apparently was appropriate, because she nodded, sat, and sipped her coffee.
As he had for most of his time in the basement, Lincoln stayed behind the French lace curtain. Adam’s routine was to leave his plate on the billiards table so Lincoln could retrieve it when he wanted. Yet on this morning, Adam felt the urge to speak to Lincoln, so he took the plate to the edge of the curtain.
“Mr. President.,” Adam cleared. “May I bring in your breakfast?”
“If you like,” Lincoln replied.
Lincoln, dressed in a shirt and trousers, was sitting on the cot when Adam brought the plate in and placed it beside him.
“Thank you, Private Christy.” He looked at Adam, who was standing on one foot and then the other. “Something on your mind?”
“Yes, sir.” His eyes looked away.
“Sit down, please.”
Settling on the edge of Lincoln’s cot, Adam tried to compose his thoughts so that the president would not think he was a bigger fool than he already believed himself to be.
“Mr. President, I wish to take this opportunity to express my sincere apologies for carrying out Mr. Stanton’s orders.”
“Well said.” Lincoln sipped his black coffee. “Please don’t continue. Your innocence was as plain as the spots on a speckled pup the first day you pulled your revolver on me.”
“Thank you, sir.” He paused, trying to compose his thoughts further. “Life will be better now the war’s over.”
“Well,” Lincoln said with a drawl, his eyes darting up with sad amusement, “don’t expect too much.” After chewing on a dry piece of toast, he swallowed. “Let me give you some advice. Don’t look outside yourself to find happiness.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Do you know what that means?”
“No, sir.”
“Good. Your honesty is intact.” Lincoln sighed in resignation. “The war’s over, yes. The conflict continues. The Union will go on, yes; but we won’t.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Ah.” Lincoln looked at Adam. “Don’t give up your honesty. You know exactly what I mean; it’s just that it’s too awful to accept.”
Adam’s face flushed, and he could not speak.
“I’ve scared you,” Lincoln said. “Don’t be afraid. Why be afraid of things you can’t change?”
“Yes, sir.” Adam stood, nodded, and left through the curtains, where he faced Mrs. Lincoln quietly eating her eggs at the billiards table.
“I hope your breakfast is to your taste,” Adam hesitantly offered.
“It’s fine.” Mrs. Lincoln paused to chew daintily. “It was always fine.” Patting her lips with her napkin, she put it down and pushed the plate away. “I complained to punish you. I focused my anger on you.” She looked at him with compassion. “Mr. Stanton’s the one I should have abused; but, unfortunately, he wasn’t here and you were.” Mrs. Lincoln reached out to pat his hand. “I’m wicked,” she said in a whisper. “I knew very well your mother died when you were a child. I played upon your soft disposition to get what I wanted, and when that didn’t work, I hurt you as your mother’s death hurt you.”
“Thank you, but I should have behaved more like a gentleman.”
“Your sins are trivial compared to mine. Please let it go. We’ve the rest of our lives now to be good people.”
Adam furrowed his brow.
“You frown?”
“Mr. Gabby’s sister died last night at Armory Square Hospital. Her last words were for him.”
“Oh.” Mrs. Lincoln’s hand went to her cheek. “How sad. I’d never seen such devotion between brother and sister.” She looked into his eyes. “I could tell him for you.”
“I thought he wasn’t talking to you.”
“We settled all that last night. Just as you and I have settled our differences now.”
“I appreciate your offer,” Adam said, “but I promised her I would tell him.”
“I understand,” she replied.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Ninety-One

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Duff and Alethia become Lincoln impostors. After two years of deceit, love and death, the war is over. Duff confesses to Alethia that he is married.
Lamon raced up the Executive Mansion steps, past the drunken guard, and up the grand staircase, eager to confront the man who pretended to be Lincoln. Less than an hour earlier, a deputy marshal had burst into his office with the news that Lee had surrendered to Grant, and Lamon wanted to find out the truth that Stanton had kept from him for more than two years. Opening the president’s bedroom door, he saw the man stretched out on the bed, a gangling arm across his face.
“Sir?” Lamon said. “I just heard the war’s over.”
The man sat up, revealing red, moist eyes, and replied, “Yes, everything’s over.”
“No, sir. Everything won’t be over until I see Mr. Lincoln again.”
“Everything’s over for me.”
“You have to help me.”
“What do you mean?”
Lamon shut the door and sat on the bed next to him and whispered, “You can tell me the truth. Mr. Stanton can’t hurt you now.”
“The truth.” He bowed his head. “The truth doesn’t solve anything.”
“The truth will solve everything. Look. I know you were lying about all this business being Mr. Lincoln’s idea.” Lamon waited for a response. “Are you still scared?”
“No, not really.”
“Then why not tell me where Mr. Lincoln is?”
“You don’t know?” The man looked up.
“No. If I can rescue Mr. Lincoln, we can stop Mr. Stanton before he does anything else,” Lamon said. “You want to help us, don’t you?”
“We’re beyond help.” He sighed.
“All right.” Lamon paused to control his emotions. He wanted to throttle the man, but knew that would do no good. “I know after two years it seems like everything’s hopeless. That’s what Mr. Stanton wanted you to think, but we can still help each other.” He searched the man’s face. “Mr. Lincoln could die if you don’t help.”
“What? How do you know this?”
“Know? I don’t know anything. But my gut tells me if Stanton was crazy enough to do all this he’s crazy enough to kill Mr. Lincoln.”
“Then Mr. Lincoln is going to die despite what I can do. I’m already dead.” He put his head in his hands for a moment and then looked up, his hands cupped in front of his mouth. “But we all don’t have to die.”
“That’s right.” Lamon’s eyes widened as he leaned forward. “Nobody has to die.”
“Mr. Lincoln is in Baltimore?”
“And Mrs. Lincoln,” the man added.
“Where in Baltimore?’
The man blinked several times.
“Where in Baltimore?” Lamon repeated.
“Fort McHenry.”
“They’ve known all along?”
“I don’t know.” The man turned to smile. “I’m only the double.”
“I’ll leave right now.”
Lamon stood, but the man grabbed his arm.
“Take the woman with you.”
“What woman?”
“Her.” He nodded toward the other bedroom. “I want her out of here tonight. I don’t trust Mr. Stanton.”
“Very well.” Lamon said. “Do you want to go too?”
“No.” He let Lamon’s arm go and looked down. “I have meetings to attend. There’s a candlelight parade tomorrow night. The people still need to see the president.”
“Good man.” Lamon patted the man’s back. “I’ll make sure she’s safe.”
“Thank you.”
Lamon left and went next door and knocked. The woman softly told him to enter, and he did. He found her sitting in a rocking chair, staring out the window.
“Mrs. Lincoln?”
“May we speak?”
“Of course, Mr. Lamon.”
Her voice sounded lifeless. Lamon walked over to her and went down on his haunches. Her face was expressionless.
“You can leave, miss,” he said in a whisper.
“What?” She continued to look out the window.
“I know you’re not Mrs. Lincoln,” he said as kindly as he could, sensing she was emotionally fragile. “I know Mr. Stanton put you here.”
She looked at Lamon.
“How long have you known?”
“Since the beginning. Mr. Stanton told me it was Mr. Lincoln’s idea, but I didn’t believe him.” Lamon paused for her response. She was as forlorn as the man. “Miss, I know this has been very stressful for you.”
“Not all of it.” She smiled slightly. “Tad is a delightful child.”
“I’m leaving for Baltimore tonight.” He leaned toward her. “I can take you with me. There’s no reason for you to stay any longer.”
“I can leave now?” She straightened her back. “Mr. Stanton said I could leave tonight?”
“No, the man—Mr. Lincoln’s double—suggested it. He’s worried for your safety. Mr. Stanton knows nothing of this.”
She fell back in the rocker, the air seemingly leaving her body, and looked back out the window.
“I don’t care what he wants,” she said in a rueful whisper.
“I don’t care what Mr. Stanton wants either,” said Lamon. “He’s had what he wanted for the last two years. Now it’s what we want.”
“No, I mean…” Her voice trailed off as her hand went to her cheek. Her eyes seemed to focus on a distant object. “I don’t want Tad to be left alone.”
“His parents will be back soon,” Lamon said, “and the man is still here.”
“The man is still here,” she repeated blankly. “No, I don’t want him to be left alone. He’s been through so much, and he’s come to depend on me. I can’t let him down.”
Sighing, Lamon stood and put his hand on the rocking chair.
“As you wish.” He smiled. “I must say, miss, I’ve been wrong about you and the man.”
“Wrong?” She looked up.
“I didn’t think much of you for replacing the Lincolns,” he explained. “But now I see both of you are fine people.”
“Both of us?” She smiled queerly. “Fine people?” Her eyes returned to stare unseeingly out the window. “Thank you.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Ninety

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Ashamed and distraught, Adam gets drunk and kills the butler who stops him from molesting the cook. Six months later Richmond falls to the Union. Everyone in the White House learns the war is over.
After Stanton left, Alethia went to Duff, putting her arms around his neck. She chose to ignore the slight stiffening in his back.
“Isn’t he a queer little man?”
“Yes, he is odd.”
“The war’s over.” She plopped into the chair next to Duff, leaning toward him. “The war’s finally over. I can hardly believe it. Can you?”
“No.” Duff stared at his food.
“Eat, eat,” she encouraged him. “You don’t have to worry about being as bony as Mr. Lincoln anymore.” Her giggles erupted. “I can’t wait to see you at your full, glorious size.”
He did not respond to her joke.
“You’re still worried about your past?”
Duff nodded.
“Then you don’t have to eat. Let’s go upstairs.” They stood and went to the door. “Your week has been so hectic. The long trip to Richmond, capped tonight with news of the end of the war—why, no wonder you’re let down.” She paused for a reply from him, but when none was forthcoming, Alethia continued, “You’re tired, that’s all. Why, after a good night’s sleep, you’ll be all rested and able to concentrate on our new life together.”
Duff climbed the service stairs quickly, Alethia noticed. Maybe he was eager to return to their bedrooms where they could be alone, the thought of which made her heart beat faster. Once they entered Duff’s bedroom, he went to the bed and slowly sat, his head sagging. Something was weighing on his mind, and Alethia did not know what it was. She joined him on the bed, her arm around his waist.
“I know I’ve said it before,” Alethia said in a whisper, putting her head on his chest, “but now that we have all the uncertainties of the war behind us, I want to say it again…I love you.”
Duff’s sad eyes stared into Alethia’s open face. She could feel his emotional intensity and leaned in to kiss him. He kissed back passionately for a second, then pulled away.
“No, I can’t do this to you,” he mumbled.
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not worthy, Alethia.”
“Don’t judge yourself too harshly.” She shook her head. “You told me what you did. Yes, it was terrible, but war’s devastating, forcing good men to do unspeakable things. I forgive you.”
“You don’t know everything.”
“I know everything I want to know. We’re all flawed human beings. You may have killed innocent men, but you saved my soul. All that kept me going was the promise of living with you in Michigan.”
“You can’t go to Michigan.” Standing, he walked to the window and looked out onto Pennsylvania Avenue. Small groups of people were already gathering.
Alethia held her breath when he turned to speak.
“I’ve a wife and three children.”
“You’re married?” Alethia blinked in disbelief. “Oh.” She felt her heart collapse. “Mr. Stanton knew about your family?”
How foolish she must have looked to Stanton, who had watched as she caressed Duff’s hands and looked fondly at him as he spoke. Stanton must have been laughing at her. Alethia loathed him even more than before. Her eyes turned hard as she focused on Duff.
“Will you tell your wife you deserted, you killed men for food, and you had relations with a woman who thought you loved her?”
Duff remained silent.
“Does she know you’re a coward?”
“Leave tonight,” he said softly. “Don’t wait until Friday.”
Alethia stood, straightening her back in an attempt to keep from crying.
Duff stood also. “I’m very fond of you, Alethia.”
“You seduced me.”
“I think we seduced each other.”
“You’re a coward.” She slapped him hard across the face.
Walking through the bedroom door, she slammed it and sat on her bed. She swore she would never cry again. Perhaps returning to Bladensburg was best. She would never be a fool again. Tad bounded in, rousing Alethia from her thoughts.
“Everybody knows now!” he announced. “Old Tom Pen, Mr. Brooks, Tom Cross, Charles Forbes, Alexander Williamson, Phebe, and Cleotis.” He came close to whisper, “I even talked to Mama through the billiards room door. She said she already knew. Ain’t it wonderful?” He paused long enough to wipe the tears from her cheeks. “Oh. I didn’t think about how sad you’d be. I’m really going to miss you, Mrs. Mama. I’ll miss Mr. Papa too, but not as much as you.”
“I’ll miss you too, my love.” Alethia hugged him around the neck. “You see, I never had a son of my own. So you’re the only little boy I’ll ever have.” She pulled out a lace handkerchief to daub her eyes, then smiled and ran her fingers through Tad’s tousled hair. “I’ll keep up with you through the newspapers. I’m sure they’ll report where you go to college, when you graduate, and whom you marry.”
“That’s right.” His eyes widened. “We won’t ever get to talk to each other again. Even if we saw each other on the street we couldn’t even wave. You’ll know about me from newspapers, but I won’t know about you, unless you do something to get in the papers. Like marry somebody important.”
“I don’t think that’ll happen.”
“Do something big. What’s your name, so I’ll know it’s you?”
“Alethia Haliday.”
“That’s a pretty name.” He kissed her cheek. “I love you, Alethia Haliday.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Eighty-Nine

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Ashamed and distraught, Adam gets drunk and kills the butler who stops him from molesting the cook. Six months later Richmond falls to the Union. The captives in the basement learn the war is over.
Alethia looked out of her bedroom window at the setting sun. She thought of the late afternoon, two years ago now, when she unpacked her bag. She had been afraid until she met Duff. The last year had been the happiest in her life, and she had hopes it would continue. She was a little sad that she would never see Tad again. He had been so wild when they had first met, but now he was a kind, loving child. Perhaps she would have her own child soon, if Duff proposed marriage. They would live in Michigan. She didn’t want to go back to Maryland.
“Molly,” Duff said at her bedroom door, “it’s time for supper.”
“I thought the crowds would never leave.” Alethia rushed to him and hugged him tightly. Looking up, she kissed him. “I missed you so much while you were in Richmond.”
“I missed you, too,” Duff echoed. His face seemed to darken. “You know, the war will be over soon.”
“Yes, I know,” Alethia replied, taking Duff’s large, rough hand in hers as she led him out the door. “I can hardly wait. We’ve so many plans to make, plans we were afraid to make before now.”
“I thought you might be doing that.”
“Of course. Don’t tell me you haven’t thought of the day when all of this would be over.”
They entered the dining room, and Tad was already there. Cleotis appeared with their dinner of beefsteak, gravy, potatoes, and greens. Smiling graciously, he put the plates down and then poured milk for Tad and coffee for Alethia and Duff.
“Thank you, Cleotis,” Alethia said.
“My pleasure, madam,” he replied and left.
“I like Cleotis very much.” Alethia sipped her coffee. “He’s much friendlier than Neal—not that Neal was rude, but there was something aloof about him. Neal’s departure was so sudden. Do you know why, Father?”
“No. Perhaps he finally crossed the line of proper behavior,” Duff replied.
“Shouldn’t you have been told why?” she asked.
“Sometimes it’s best not to be told.”
“Anyway, I like Cleotis very much.” Alethia smiled as she cut into her steak.
As they finished their meal, Stanton opened the door and sat in the empty chair at the end of the table, his face as somber as ever.
“General Lee surrendered today at the Appomattox courthouse in Virginia.”
“The war’s over!” Tad exclaimed. “Good! I can finally—”
“Tad dearest,” Alethia sweetly interrupted, “have you finished your supper?”
“Yes, Mama.”
“Would you like to inform the staff the war’s over?”
“Yes, Mama.”
After Tad closed the door, Stanton listened for the little footsteps to fade. After what Alethia thought was an interminable pause, Stanton put on his pebble glasses and pulled out a notepad, opened it, and read slowly.
“Your debts will be canceled Friday, and you both can leave after sunset.”
“Thank God.” Alethia crossed herself.
“Thank me.” Stanton’s cupid lips turned up in a smug smile. “Both of you would have surely hanged if I hadn’t intervened.”
Alethia stiffened. Looking at Duff, she could not sense a direction to follow. In the last two years, she not only had fallen in love with Duff, but also had learned to lean on his judgment. At this moment, she found him indecipherable.
“So, it’ll be as simple as that,” Duff finally said. “We pack our bags, mount a carriage, and disappear in the night.”
“As simple as that.” Stanton’s eyes narrowed.
His tone bothered Alethia, until she thought of her new life in Michigan. Once they were on the steamboat up the Potomac, they could forget the lies, pretense, and, most of all, Edwin Stanton.
“Your duties aren’t over yet,” he continued. “There’ll be a candlelight parade tomorrow evening, so you’ll have to read a speech on the balcony.”
“Will Lincoln write it?” Duff asked.
“Yes, like the others,” Stanton replied. “And then the Cabinet meets on Wednesday and Friday.”
Alethia concentrated on experiencing spring in Michigan; frankly, affairs of government no longer interested her.
“Enjoy your supper.” Stanton stood. “Take everything with you; we don’t want any evidence that anyone other than the Lincolns have lived upstairs.”
No evidence left to show they were there, she repeated to herself; a disturbing notion. Shrugging, she decided not to dwell on that thought.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Eighty-Eight

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Ashamed and distraught, Adam gets drunk and kills the butler who stops him from molesting the cook. Six months later Richmond falls to the Union. The captives in the basement learn the war is over.
“Cordie will fix me a good supper once I get home tonight.”
“It’ll be end of the week before you can leave,” Stanton said.
“That’s fine.” Lincoln put his arm around his wife. “We’ll arise Easter Sunday.”
His mind a blank, Adam unlocked the door. Not knowing where his feet would take him, he did not care; this was the first happy day for many months and he was unable to deal with it. Out the door and in the hall, Adam looked both ways. When he focused on the kitchen, he thought of Phebe. Even though he knew she would never forgive him, Adam felt an obligation to let her and Cleotis know the good news. He found Phebe sitting and rubbing her feet while the butler swept the floor.
“The war’s over.”
Phebe dropped her feet and slipped on her shoes.
“Thank you, Private,” Cleotis replied in deep, solemn tones. “The struggle for freedom is at last over. Hallelujah.”
“We can go home,” Adam mumbled.
“You may be going home, but, the Good Lord willing, we are home. Free and where we should be.”
“Yes, sir.” Looking at Phebe, he saw her reach for Cleotis’s hand and smile. Adam left the kitchen, looked down at his clothes, and rubbed his chin. He needed to clean up, he decided, before he went to Jessie to beg for her forgiveness.
In his room, Adam removed his blue tunic, stained with bean soup and mustard. Looking in the mirror, he brushed his fingers through his unruly red hair. They would have beautiful red-haired children, and he would be a good father. Adam brushed lathered soap onto his stubbly face. Perhaps he could get a job at one of the pottery factories in Steubenville. He did not want to be in the army anymore. Next he searched his room for a spare tunic, finding it under the cot, stained with vomit. Deciding the first tunic was better, Adam put it back on and took a wet hand cloth to wipe away the worst of the stains. When that failed, he told himself it did not look all that bad.
Making his way through the crowded streets, Adam crossed the iron bridge and ran to the Armory Square Hospital. Inside the ward, he looked furtively around, hoping to find Jessie, but could not see her. He did notice the odd-looking man who had approached them on the street the night of the Gettysburg celebration. Adam walked over to the odd man who looked up from writing a letter for a soldier whose hands were covered with bandages.
“Where’s Jessie?”
“She’s in a back room with Miss Zook,” the man replied. “The dear old lady doesn’t felt well. I’m afraid the war has not been kind to her.”
“The war’s over.”
“I was expecting it.” The odd man looked down at the wounded soldier. “I have to finish this letter. He wants his mother to know he’s coming home.”
Adam walked down the long aisle, his stomach turning from the mixture of smells—liniment, incontinence, alcohol. Opening the door at the end of the hall, he saw Jessie sitting on the edge of Cordie’s cot, wiping the old lady’s moist cheeks. Jessie turned to look at him, her eyes blank.
“The war’s over,” he said.
Jessie turned her attention to Cordie, who was delirious.
“I’ve got to get it done,” she mumbled. “Gabby needs a quilt. I can’t get it done just lying here. I got—I got…”
“Of course, me dear, get your strength back,” Jessie said. “Be quiet, me love. Try to sleep now.”
“Did you hear me?” Adam fidgeted.
“Gabby’s got to get a quilt,” Cordie insisted feverishly.
“Darlin’, I’ll finish the quilt meself.”
“So tired.” Cordie shook her head. “Can’t finish the Gabby quilt.” She looked up at Jessie and grabbed her arm. “Take care of Gabby. He used to be so smart, but he needs somebody to take care of him.” Her eyes searched Jessie’s face. “Take care of him.”
“Of course, me darlin’. Try to sleep.”
“Gabby’s leaving the White House soon,” Adam told her. “He can help you get well.”
“Gabby’s coming home?” Cordie’s eyes widened. “Good. Good.” She focused on Adam. “Bring him here as soon as you can.”
“I will.”
“Gabby’s coming home. That’s good. I feel better now. Gabby’s coming home.” Cordie coughed, gasped, and stopped breathing. Her eyes gazed blankly over Jessie’s shoulder.
“God bless ye, me darlin’.” Jessie closed Cordie’s eyes.
“You were good to her.” Adam put his hand on her shoulder. “We can take care of Gabby. He’ll like it in Steubenville. It’s a friendly little town.”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you all right?” Adam realized how warm her body felt beneath his hand, and that her face was moist with perspiration. “You seem awfully hot.”
“I’m fine.” She coughed.
“How long have you been sick?”
“I don’t know.”
“Have you seen the doctor?”
“The doctors are for the soldiers.”
“But you’re important too,” Adam insisted.
“I can take care of meself.”
“But I want to take care of you.” He could only whisper.
“Ye can’t take care of yourself.”
“You’re right.” Adam’s mind raced to form the precise words to win her back. “I’ve behaved terribly, but all that’s behind me. I’ve grown up.”
“I have to make funeral arrangements.” Jessie stood.
“What about Gabby?”
“I’ll think of something.”
“What about me?”
“You’re grown up. Take care of yourself.”
Adam followed her out the door, watching her cough as she disappeared into the crowded ward. The odd-looking man walked up.
“Miss Zook is dead, isn’t she?”
“You love Miss Home, don’t you?”
“She hates me.”
“Love and hate are related; she could not be so deeply hurt if she did not love as deeply.”
“No, she hates me.”
“She loves you. Give her time.”
“We don’t have time.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Eighty-Seven

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Ashamed and distraught, Adam gets drunk and kills the butler who stops him from molesting the cook. Six months later Richmond falls to the Union. Lincoln impersonator Duff learns that he is officially dead.
Stanton unlocked the billiards room door, rousing Gabby from a restless afternoon nap. Gabby listened carefully to Stanton as he spoke to the Lincolns.
“The president has returned from Richmond.”
“With Tad safe and sound,” Mrs. Lincoln said.
“You have to learn the details of the trip,” Stanton said, ignoring her. “When you return upstairs, you’ll have to answer questions from the press.”
“Our places upstairs?” She sounded surprised. “This will be over soon?”
“General Grant is pursuing General Lee through the heart of Virginia.”
“I’ll be back with my precious Taddie.”
And I’ll be back with my precious Cordie. Gabby’s heart raced. What will I do first once I’m free to go to her?
“Calm down, Molly,” Lincoln said. “Listen to Mr. Stanton.”
“After Richmond fell,” Stanton began, “the navy removed Confederate torpedoes in the James River. You were aboard the U.S.S. Malvern until it could no longer pass the line of enemy obstructions, then you transferred to a barge pulled by the tugboat Glance. You were recognized by a group of colored workmen who shouted, ‘Bless the Lord, this is the great Messiah! Glory, hallelujah!’ From there you, Mr. Lincoln, and Tad went to the Confederate White House where you sat in Jefferson Davis’s chair.” He paused to cough.
“You don’t look well, Mr. Stanton,” Lincoln said.
Good. Gabby clinched his jaw. I hope he dies.
“You spent time reviewing troops, and left Richmond yesterday evening, and arrived at the capital this afternoon. You’ll speak to the public tomorrow and meet with the Cabinet on Wednesday.
“About reconstruction of the South?” Lincoln asked.
“I’m sure the topic will come up. I’ve encouraged him to pursue your agenda. He’s been so persistent he’s alienated several sympathetic Cabinet members.”
“When I return, I can soothe any hurt feelings,” Lincoln said.
Gabby noticed a pause.
“Mr. Stanton,” Lincoln continued, “exactly what is your position?”
“On what?”
Stanton did not want reconstruction. Gabby glared at the war secretary. He wanted to keep the nation divided to make it easier for him to become king. Long ago, Gabby decided Stanton did not want to end the war, but wanted to be all-powerful.
“The rebels must be punished,” Stanton declared.
“I believe they already have been,” Lincoln replied.
“They certainly have,” Mrs. Lincoln agreed.
Gabby heard the door open. It must be the private with supper.
“When you return to office, you may pursue any reconstruction policy you wish, but I doubt you’ll succeed.”
“Excuse me,” Adam muttered.
Slowly rounding the corner, Gabby watched him place the tray on the billiards table.
“Here’s a wire from the War Department.” Adam handed Stanton the envelope and turned away. As he was about to pass Gabby, Adam lowered his eyes. Gabby noticed Lincoln studied Stanton as he opened the wire and read it. Lincoln reached out to squeeze his wife’s hand. Stanton cleared his throat, and Gabby watched Lincoln lean forward.
“This is the news we’ve been waiting for. General Lee surrendered at the Appomattox courthouse in Virginia. The war is over.”
The war is over. Gabby’s mind raced with a thousand thoughts. I don’t know what to do. I wonder if the President would mind if I hollered for joy. No. I want to see Cordie. That’s all that mattered. I’m going to see Cordie!

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.”