After the fact by Fred Saberhagen

A ragged black man carrying a mop and bucket went by, carefully seeing nothing. Two white men, leaning against the wall and chewing tobacco, looked at Jerry with real surprise.

Jerry looked back at them as arrogantly as he could and gave them a peremptory motion of his head. “He wants you both in here, right away.”

The two of them filed in past Jerry, looking round them uncertainly for the Colonel, and Jerry closed the door on them when they were in. The two had reached a position near the desk by now, and in a moment they were turning around, about to ask him what the hell was going on.

At that point he let them see the revolver. “Just turn back and face the desk, gentlemen. That’s it. Stand there. Just like that.”

His blood was up, and he was acting with a ruthlessness that almost surprised himself. One after the other he tipped the men’s hats forward from their heads onto the desk; one after the other he clubbed their skulls with the revolver barrel. The first victim, he of the gray mustache, sank to the floor at once. The younger man clung to the desktop, struggling against going down, and Jerry hit him again, a little harder this time.

He stuck the gun into his belt; he could hope that under his coat it would not be noticed. Then without looking back he let himself out of the room, and turned down the hallway to the left, in which direction he thought that he had glimpsed an exit. There was the black man with the mop, using it on the floor now, still seeing nothing. The pain in Jerry’s left arm had abated to the merely severe, and he thought he might soon have feeling again in the fingertips. At best he was going to have one terrific lump on that forearm.

The back door of the prison was locked, with no latch to turn it open from inside; but one of the keys on Lafe’s ring worked, letting Jerry easily out into the night. No one had taken note of his departure. It was still early in the evening, for the street lamps were still lighted.

There was the Capitol, its gaslighted dome glowing against the stars, to give a fugitive his bearings. His recovered watch ticked in his pocket. In a few hours Good Friday was going to begin.

Jerry started walking, anywhere to get away from the vicinity of the prison. One thing was sure, he couldn’t go back to the hotel.


From now on Baker and his people were going to be hunting Jim Lockwood with all their energy. So would whatever forces Stanton and Colleen Monahan had available—and Stanton had armies at his command if he wanted to deploy them for that purpose. Jerry supposed that damned near everyone in the District of Columbia would be looking for him now, and he had to stay out of sight for approximately twenty-four hours before the play even started at Ford’s. The task would be made no easier by the fact that every cent of his money had been taken from him. He swore under his breath, realizing only now that the men he had left unconscious would certainly have had some money in their pockets. Very likely his money. Well, it was too late now.

He had eased his left hand into a coat pocket, the better to nurse his throbbing wrist; he moved it again now, slightly, trying to find the easiest position. He was going to need help.

There was Pilgrim, of course. But Pilgrim had given him no active assistance at all up to this point, and Jerry saw no reason to expect that he would do so now. Nor was there any native of this century to whom Jerry could turn for help. He did not even know anyone here, unless he counted his new-made enemy Colleen Monahan…

But then Jerry, striding northward away from the prison, came almost to a full stop on the dark wooden sidewalk. It was true that he had formed no alliances or even acquaintances here that might serve him now. But it was not true that he knew no one. There was one man he did know here in Washington, an able and resourceful and determined man who was no friend of Colonel Baker, or Secretary Stanton either. A man whom Jerry had scarcely met, but of whom he nevertheless had certain, deep, and important knowledge. Not very thorough knowledge, true, but in a sense quite profound…

It was not yet eight o’clock of a cool April evening when Jerry found himself standing in front of the boarding house on H Street. His first impulse on thinking of John Wilkes Booth had been to go directly to the National Hotel, but he had promptly rejected that idea. Any halfway competent counterintelligence system operating in Washington, including Baker’s and/or Stanton’s, must have eyes and ears more or less continually present in each of the major hotels. He thought now that had been foolish to try to stay at Willard’s when those people were looking for him. Not that he had had a whole lot of choice, but it was surprising that he had gotten away with it as long as he had.

Lights were showing in several windows of the rooming house on H Street. The front of the house was dark at ground level, and so Jerry approached the building from the rear, where a couple of saddled horses were tied at a hitching post. Pausing on a walk of loose planks that ran close beside the house, he was able to look at close range into a lighted kitchen where a woman sat doing something at a table. He tapped on the door.

She was only a girl, really, he saw when she came to investigate his knocking. Dark-haired, not bad looking, no more than seventeen or eighteen. She had jumped up eagerly enough to answer the door, but looked warily at the strange man when she saw him. Evidently someone else had been expected.

“What do you want?” she asked in a cautious voice.

Jerry took off his hat, letting the girl get an unshaded look at what he hoped was an innocent, trustworthy face. He said urgently. “I want to talk to John Wilkes Booth. You must help me, it’s very important.”

Her caution increased, her face becoming mask-like. “No one by that name lives here.”

An older woman, small and rather grim-looking, came into the kitchen from the front of the house. Her lined face still bore a notable resemblance to the girl’s. “What’s going on, Annie?”

The girl turned with relief. “Ma, this man says he wants Wilkes Booth.”

Jerry was leaning against the doorframe, letting his weariness and the signs of prison show. He appealed to them both: “Can you let me come in and sit down? I’ve been hurt.” He raised his left forearm slightly, easing his hand out of the coat pocket, then let it hang down at his side.

The older woman studied him for a moment with shrewd calculating eyes. “Come in, then. Annie, get the gentleman a cup of water.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

Seated at the kitchen table, Jerry could hear other voices, men’s voices, coming from the front of the house, where they must be sitting talking in the dark. Annie put a tin cup of water on the table in front of him, and he drank from it thirstily.

Now another young woman appeared from the direction of the front room, to look briefly into the kitchen before retreating. She was succeeded in the doorway by a figure that Jerry somehow recognized—yes, it was the whiskey-marinated carpenter from Ford’s. Tom Ray bold in the auditorium had called this man Ned. The next face in the parade was even more quickly recognizable. It was that of the powerful, sullenly handsome youth who had been visiting Booth in his hotel.

This man shouldered his way forward into the kitchen, to stand close beside the table looking down at Jerry. His voice when he spoke to the visitor was southern-soft, though not as friendly as that of Colonel Baker: “Who are you? And why should you think that Wilkes Booth is here?”

“My name is Jeremiah Flint. I thought he came here sometimes.”

“And if he did?”

“I have reason to think—to think that Mr. Booth might be disposed to help a gentleman who has got himself into some serious trouble with the abolitionists who are now in control of this city.”

There was a silence in the kitchen. But it was not a shocked silence, Jerry thought. Not for nothing he had spent those long days and nights on railroad cars, listening to arguments among people of every shade of political persuasion.

The tall young man leaned forward suddenly, a move not exactly menacing but still pantherish, shot out a hand and extracted the pistol from Jerry’s belt. “You won’t be needin’ that in here,” he explained mildly.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred