After the fact by Fred Saberhagen

Less than a minute after he had entered the room, Jerry was out in the corridor again, the autographed playbill in hand, and Booth’s door closed behind him. Jerry moved a step closer to the door, listening intently for a moment, but heard nothing. He retreated down the corridor.

In the lobby, he hesitated briefly at the door leading to the street, and then turned back. Buying a newspaper, he settled himself to read, in a chair from which he would be able to keep an eye on the main stairway. He was also close enough to the desk to have a good chance of hearing any name callers might ask for.

Jerry didn’t think the other man in Booth’s room was an autograph hound, and he certainly hadn’t looked like an actor, at least not compared to Booth himself; too sloppy and somehow unkempt, though he had been well dressed. That, in Jerry’s mind, left a great many possibilities open, including one in which the powerful-looking youth might be a co-conspirator. There might be other conspirators; damn it, he hadn’t had the chance to go into any of that with Pilgrim. The two men up there now might be planning the assassination at this moment.

Jerry decided to hang around, on the chance that he might be able to learn something that would be of help. The fact was that he could think of nothing else to do just now that gave even the slightest promise of being useful.

Jerry lurked with his paper in the lobby for almost an hour before the tall, powerfully built man who had been with Booth appeared, coming downstairs alone. As Jerry had noted earlier, he was clad in respectable clothing, fairly new, but worn with a lack of attention to such things as fastenings and minor stains. Tall and muscular, moving with an unconscious catlike grace, Booth’s companion looked neither to right nor left as he passed through the lobby, seeming totally unaware of Jerry watching him as he went straight out the door.

Jerry made himself wait for a count of three. Then he stood up and folded his paper, and, trying not to hurry, followed the other out of the lobby into the street. There was the tall form moving away from him.

Jerry followed. The effort might well, he supposed, be a complete and total waste of time, but still he was determined to give it a try, even though, for all he knew, he was tailing the president of the John Wilkes Booth fan club. Or perhaps a theatrical agent.

The quarry led Jerry up Pennsylvania to Seventh, then north for almost half a mile to H, then quickly around a corner.

Jerry followed without changing his pace, but now he was thinking furiously. Had the tall man realized he was being tailed; was this a ploy to shake his pursuer off, or draw him into a trap? He must have eyes in the back of his head if so, for he had never looked behind him.

Jerry in turn rounded the corner warily, just in time to see his quarry halfway up a long ascent of wooden stairs, about to enter the high first floor of a house of dingy brick. A young woman, a servant of some kind probably, was shaking a dustcloth out of a window on the ground floor of the house.

What now? Jerry could think of no reasonable excuse for stopping, so he kept on walking. He noted as he passed the house that the tall man had gone right in; and he noted the address also: 541 H Street. ROOMS TO LET, said a faded sign in another of the lower windows.

What now? Jerry didn’t know. He made his way by a winding route back to his hotel, stopping in a couple of stores on the way to purchase a couple of new collars and shirts. How about a new suit? He could easily afford it. But he swore to himself that he was not going to be in this century long enough to need one.

Re-entering his hotel room after lunch, he half expected to find Pilgrim lounging there, waiting for him. But there was no one. Jerry stood at the window looking out upon an alien world. Well, Pilgrim had said that communication between time-frames wasn’t easy.

Presently Jerry went out again. He spent most of the afternoon walking restlessly through this peculiar world and thinking about it, trying to familiarize himself more thoroughly with the way of life of its inhabitants. Within a few blocks of the house where Lincoln lived he noted some former slave-auction facilities, still identified as such by painted signs, but deserted now. Thank God, no one was still doing that kind of business in the capital. Ignoring a threat of rain, he wandered around the large perimeter of the White House grounds, until he was brought to a halt by the foul-smelling canal along their southern boundary. In the twentieth-century, this area, Jerry seemed to remember, was occupied by a grassy mall.

He stood for a while beside the canal, marveling at the dismal stench of it, and how everyone around him put up with it so stoically. In summer it must be truly remarkable.

Presently he walked along the canal until he could cross it on a footbridge, and went to stand by the unfinished Washington Monument, observing that a kind of stockyard and open air slaughterhouse had been established at its base. Turning east, past grazing sheep, he looked at the red-roofed construction of the Smithsonian Institution, still confined here to one building, like some kind of vast elfin castle. He tried yet again to think of what else he might do to ready himself for Friday evening’s confrontation, and he could think of nothing.

For variety, he dined away from Willard’s. But shortly after dinner he was back in his room and sound asleep.


The next morning, Jerry awoke from a dreamless sleep thinking this is Thursday, April thirteenth. There will be no Friday the thirteenth this month.

Only then did he react to the sound that had awakened him, a rough knocking on the door of his room.

It was broad daylight, time he was up anyway. He sat on the edge of his bed, reaching for his pants. “Who is it?” he shouted.

“Porter.” The answering voice was muffled.

“Just a second.” For a moment he had dared to entertain a foolish hope that it was Pilgrim, come to take him home or at least to bring him lifesaving information. Half-dressed, Jerry shuffled to the door and pulled it open.

As soon as the latch released, a force from outside pushed the door open wide, and sent Jerry staggering back. Two large men in civvies burst into the room. Each of them had Jerry by an arm before he could start to react.

“You’re under arrest.”

“What for?”

“Shut up.” His arms were forced behind his back, and the handcuffs went on his wrists, painfully tight. Miranda rights were a long way in the future.

“At least you could let me get dressed.”

They grudgingly agreed with that. One man watched him, glowering, while the other closed the door of the room, and searched. Bedclothes, the garments Jerry hadn’t put on yet, the stuff in his closet, all went flying. It was a violent effort but it didn’t look all that efficient.

At least, he thought, I’ve already managed to lose my pistol. But that was a foolish consolation. In this world carrying a firearm was no crime, and the mere presence of one probably wouldn’t make anyone suspicious.

He was patted down for weapons, then the cuffs were removed and he was allowed to get dressed before being handcuffed again. As he tucked his watch into its pocket in his vest, he said: “You’ve got the wrong man.” No we ain’t.

“What’s this all about?”

The older man, who had a graying mustache, was doing the talking for the pair. “Just walk out with us quietly, it’ll be easier that way.”

“Sure. But where’re we going? I still don’t know what this is all about.”

He wasn’t going to find out now. As soon as he was dressed they pulled him out into the hall and started down the stairs. One of the men locked Jerry’s room behind him, and brought the key along.

On the stairs a couple of passers-by looked at him and his escort curiously. As the three of them were passing swiftly through a corner of the lobby, on the way out a side door, a distraction at the other end of the lobby, near the front desk, turned all eyes in that direction. A wave of talk passed through the lobby.

“It’s Grant!”

“General Grant is here!”

So much for the sophistication of the capital, that more or less took the presence of President Lincoln in stride; Jerry got the impression that Grant, the conquering hero, had rarely been seen in town before. What was he doing here now, away from his army? But why not, now that the war was virtually over. And was it possible that the General’s presence in the city was going to have any effect on what happened at Ford’s tomorrow night?

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred