After the fact by Fred Saberhagen

A middle-aged woman elaborately gowned and made up, greeted Booth as an honored old friend. On second glance the proprietress was considerably younger than a first impression indicated, the cosmetics being evidently a kind of badge of office deliberately intended to add years.

Booth squeezed the lady’s right hand in both of his. “Bella, I would be happy if you could do something for a friend of mine, Mr. Smith here. He finds himself for one reason and another—it is altogether too long and tedious a story to tell it now—he finds himself, I say, temporarily but drastically bereft of lodging. It would be a fine and Christian act if you were to provide him with a bed for the night—on my account, of course.”

Jerry, increasingly dead on his feet after a day of imprisonment, fight and flight, had taken off his hat and stood looking around him numbly. On a sideboard nearby lilacs, in a crystal bowl with other flowers, helped to fight off the presence of the nearby canal.

“Only a bed?” Bella wondered aloud, looking Jerry over and automatically taking a professional attitude. She could hardly have failed to notice that Mr. Smith and Mr. Booth had switched coats, but she was not going to say anything about it.

Booth was lighting a cigar, forgetting his manners so far as not to offer Jerry—or Bella—one. “A bed,” said the actor, “is a minimum requirement. You will have to ask Mr. Smith what else he might enjoy. All on my account, as I have said.”

“Of course.” Bella, having come to a decision, smiled at them both, and patted an arm of each. “Leave everything to me.”

They were still in the entry hall. A stair with a gilded rail ascended gracefully in candlelight nearby, and now someone, a blond young woman in a silvery gown, was coming down that stair. The actor’s eyes lighted, and he bowed gravely at her approach.

“I thought I heard a voice I recognized,” the blond woman almost whispered, resting a hand familiarly on Booth’s shoulder. Then she brushed at the shoulder, frowning as a wife might frown at some domestic disaster. “Wilkes, what’s happened to your coat?”

“Later we can discuss that, my dear Ella.” Booth patted her hand in an almost domestic way. “Mr. Smith, I shall call for you in the morning, when you have rested.” He gave Jerry a meaningful look, and a hard, parting handgrip upon the shoulder—thoughtfully remembering that the right arm was the good one. “There is much that we have to discuss.”

Jerry mumbled something in the way of thanks. Then the proprietress had him by the arm and was steering him away toward the rear of the house, giving orders to black servants as she passed them, in the way that someone of the late twentieth century might punch buttons on a computer.

Now he was given into the care of the servants, who sized him up, welcomed him with professional sweetness, and worked on him efficiently, without ever seeming to look at him directly. In a matter of seconds they were leading him into a room where a hot bath waited, that seemed to have been prepared for him on miraculously short notice. He wondered if they kept a steaming tub ready at all times, in case a customer should feel the need of cleansing.

Two teenaged black girls wearing only voluminous white undergarments—voluminous at least by twentieth-century standards—introduced themselves as Rose and Lily. The pair, who looked enough alike to be twins, helped Jerry get his clothes off, and saw him installed in the tub. Lily, who helped him ease off his coat and shirtsleeves, shook her head at the sight of his arm. Frowning at Anna Surrat’s amateurish poultice, she peeled it off and threw it into a slop jar. The lump on his wrist was bigger and uglier than ever, and the arm still pained him all the way down into the fingers, but Jerry was beginning to hope that it wasn’t really getting worse; the injury might not be all that much worse, really, than some batterings his forearms had received in practice.

With a show of modest smiles and giggles his attendants helped him—he didn’t need help but he was too tired to argue—into the tub, where he sat soaking his hurts away, along with the smell and feel of prison. Presently Lily went out, she said, to get some medicine. Meanwhile Rose dispatched another servitor with orders to bring Jerry a platter of cold chicken and asparagus spears, along with a glass of wine.

Waiting for food and medicine, he leaned back in the tub, eyes closed.

Delicate fingers moved across his shoulder and his chest. Rose evidently viewed him as a professional challenge. “Like me t’ get in the tub and scrub you back? Bet ah could fit right in there with you. Might be jes’ a little tight.”

He opened his eyes again. “Ordinarily I would like nothing better. Tonight… I think not.”

She rubbed his shoulders therapeutically. “If you change yoah mind, honey, just say the word.”

Jerry closed his eyes again. All he could think about was what was going to happen tomorrow night, when someone was very likely to get killed.

If he looked at it realistically, he himself was a good candidate. Probably the best, besides Lincoln himself. Perhaps the best of all. Oh, of course, he had been assured that he had his special powers. What had Pilgrim said? Not ordinary danger, even of the degree that you confronted on the train. It might be more accurate to say that only death itself can activate them. Getting killed would be hardly more than a tonic stimulus. He wished he could believe that.

He ducked his head under the water and began to wash his face and hair. Lily, back again, giggling, rinsed his head with warm water from a pitcher. Then Jerry’s food arrived, the tray set down on a small table right beside the tub, and he nibbled and sipped. His spirits rose a little.

After a little while, when the water had begun to cool, he made motions toward getting out of the tub. The two girls, who were still hovering as caretakers, surrounded him with a huge towel. When they were sure he was dry, the one playing nurse anointed his arm again, with something that at least smelled much better than the previous ointment.

Having put on the most essential half of his clothing, Jerry gathered the rest under his arm, making sure as unobtrusively as possible that he still had his watch and theater tickets with him. He bowed slightly to his two attendants. “And now, if you would be so kind as to show me where I might get some rest?”

It was nearly midnight by Pilgrim’s watch when they escorted him to a small room, with a small bed. There was some tentative posing in the doorway by his attendants on their way out, but he let his eyelids sag closed and shook his head. When the door had closed he opened his eyes and found himself alone.

There was the bed. Jerry lay down with his boots on, meaning to rest for just a moment before he undressed. Somewhere the violin was playing, almost sadly now.

He awoke in pale gray dawn to the sound of distant battering upon a heavy door and angry voices shouting that the police were here.


Jerry rolled out of bed, looking groggily for his boots. Only when his feet hit the floor did he realize that he still had the boots on; hastily he donned shirt and coat—Booth’s coat. He had slept through most of the night without taking off anything that he had put on after his bath. He picked up his hat now from where it had fallen on the floor, and put it on his head.

The banging and the shouting from below continued, augmented now by several octaves of screaming female voices. Jerry thought he could recognize Lily’s generous contralto. Most of the noise was coming from the front of the house.

Taking stock of the situation, Jerry decided that if he were in charge of conducting a police raid, he’d surely have people at the back door before he started banging on the front. Dimly realizing that he was somehow not quite the same Jeremiah Flint who had driven into Springfield looking for a job, he concluded that with a house as tall as this one, and with so many trees around it, quite possibly all was not lost. Jerry was already opening the single window of his room. A moment later he had stepped out over the low sill, onto a sloping section of shingled roof, his appearance startling a pair of frightened robins into flight. Peering over the edge of the roof at shrubs and grass below, he confirmed that he was about three stories over the back yard.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred