After the fact by Fred Saberhagen

The single impressive building of the Smithsonian was close before them now, a dream-castle of reddish stonework rising out of mist, longer than a football field and topped by a profusion of mismatched towers. Here paths had been built up with gravel above the level of the ubiquitous mud. In this area the grass was shorter and better cared for, and spring flowerbeds surrounded the building with early blooms.

A bench loomed out of the fog. Jerry sighed. “No one’s chasing us right now. How about sitting down for a minute? I suspect I’m going to have to do a lot of running yet today.”

“And I suspect you’re right.”

They settled themselves on the park bench, side by side, as any strolling couple might. “Colleen. Why did you think the raid on Bella’s might have something to do with me?”

“Wilkes Booth’s doxy lives there, when he’s not entertaining her at his own hotel. She’s Bella’s sister, by the way. And for some reason he’s also in thick with those folk at Surrat’s boardinghouse. I know you went there, but I don’t know why. Are you going to tell me?”

“You knew I went there? How?”

“I tell you, I can find out things. What were you doing mixed up with those people? Someone in the War Department, I’m told, had a report six weeks ago that they might be up to no good.”

Jerry leaned back on the bench, groaning quietly, trying to think. He could feel the history he was supposed to protect slipping out of his grasp like a handful of water. And he was acutely aware that Colleen was watching him intently.

When he spoke it was without looking at her. “Sorry about running out on you like that.”

“I was wondering when you would get around to an apology. And I’m lookin’ forward to hearing the best story you can come up with to explain what you did.”

“And I don’t know if I can explain something else to you. I mean why I was there at Bella’s—”

“Don’t try to change the subject.” Colleen’s anger was becoming more apparent in her voice. “I know why men go to brothels. I’m tired of lookin’ forward, I’d like to hear the reason now, why you ran out on me.”

He turned his head, hopelessly meeting her accusing stare. He shrugged. “There was another mission that I had to perform,” he said at last.

“Another mission, more important than seeing Stanton, bringing him the facts he needs about Lafe Baker? Come on, now! If it weren’t for several things that identify you as Jim Lockwood, I’d say—but that’s no good, you have to be Jim Lockwood!”

“Yes, I do, don’t I?” He thought again, then said: “All I can tell you is this—there’s something, a job I’m charged with, that even Stanton doesn’t know about. I couldn’t tell you any more than that if you were to pull out a gun and threaten to shoot me for refusing.”

Having said that much, Jerry waited. He had already seen this particular young lady pull out a gun and shoot.

For a long moment Colleen only stared at him, apparently suspended between rage and sympathy. Then the latter, for some reason, won. “Oh, you madman!” she cried out softly. She put out a hand and gripped his right arm—fortunately not his left—where it lay extended along the back of the bench; she squeezed his arm and shook it, as if he were her brother and she was trying to shake some sense back into him.

“You madman! If Stanton hadn’t been so busy that I didn’t have to tell him the whole story, he’d probably have me locked up by now. I told him that I’d got you back to Washington safely, and—he just brushed me off and told me I’d have to make a full report later! With the war ending, he has even more worrisome matters than Colonel Baker on his mind. He’ll be wanting to get back to that problem soon, though. I’m going to bring you to him this morning, before you disappear again.”

“I don’t think I ought to see him,” said Jerry, leaning back again and closing his eyes.

“You’re into something, aren’t you? Something that’s against the law. And you’re going to tell me what it is. You can’t be a Secesh agent. You can’t, not now, when there’s no Secesh government left. What is it, then? Smuggling?”


“Liar. I’m bringing you to Stanton. Unless of course,” said Colleen’s voice, a new thought bringing both hope and alarm, “we’d both be worse off if he did see you.”

Jerry sat up and opened his eyes again. Then he got out his—Pilgrim’s—neatly ticking watch, flipped open the lid, and looked at the position of the hands. Twenty minutes after seven in the morning. The show at Ford’s started at eight in the evening. Some time after that hour—exactly at what moment Jerry had never yet been able to determine—Wilkes Booth would enter Lincoln’s box and kill the President. Promptly at eight, still almost thirteen hours from now, he, Jerry, had to be in his seat at Ford’s, and free of interference.

“Where’s Stanton now?” he asked.

Colleen looked hopeful at so sane a question. “Last night he and General Grant were working together at Stanton’s house. They’re almost busier now that the war is ending than they were when it was going on. I suppose there are a lot of things to be decided—the size of the peacetime army, and so forth.”

“I suppose so.”

“Officially, Stanton is supposed to be at the War Department at nine this morning. If we’re there then we can insist on seeing him. Until then, we’d better keep out of sight.”

“I’ll agree with that last part.” Jerry looked around them. The fog was only beginning to lift. As far as he could see, they had the whole Mall, and the Smithsonian, to themselves. “This looks like about as good a place as any to kill some time.”

In the distance somewhere a military voice was shouting orders; some routine drill, evidently, for Colleen took no notice of it.

“The truth is,” said Jerry, breaking a brief silence, “I can’t see Stanton until tomorrow.”

“Whyever not?”

“I told you I had another mission, that came first.”

“Holy Mary. A mission for the Union?”

“Of course. Who else?”

“And who gave you this other mission?”

“I can’t tell even you that.”

“And where do you do this other job, and when?”

Jerry was silent.

“You’re a stubborn man, James Lockwood. Stubborn as my husband was, God rest his soul, and I suppose it was his stubbornness in not letting himself be captured by the rebels that killed him at the last.” There were tears in Colleen’s brown eyes as she brought her hand out of the pocket of her dress. There was a derringer in it.


“I’ll tell you the truth then,” said Jerry. “I’m not Jim Lockwood.”

Colleen’s gun-hand twitched, but she couldn’t very well shoot him, if that was her intention, with that statement unexplained. Instead she blinked back tears. “Then where is he?”

“You’re crying for him?”

“For you and me, you idiot. Mostly for me. For thinking you and I might… where is he?”

“Oh. Oh. I’m pretty sure he’s dead, back in Missouri, or Illinois. I didn’t kill him, understand. I’m trying to complete the job he started.”

“And your real name is what?”

“Flint. Jeremiah Flint. People who know me usually call me Jerry.”

“People who know you well must call you a good many things. But you are a Union agent? Stanton’s man?’

“I’m Union, yes, all the way. You might even say I’m a strong Abolitionist. The trouble is, though, Stanton will be expecting the real Lockwood and he won’t know me from Adam.”

“Who hired you, then, if you’re not Stanton’s man? Who gave you your orders?”

Jerry was silent.

“The only authority higher than the Secretary of War is the President himself.”

Jerry said nothing.

“Holy Mother. I’m going to take you to Stanton myself, and show you to him. You tell him what you’ve told me.”

“I tell you, as soon as he sees I’m not Jim Lockwood, he’ll lock me up.”

“You’ll tell him the whole story, of how Lockwood died. You can’t refuse to tell him, even if you can’t tell me.”

Jerry, furiously trying and failing to think, looked at her. “I can’t argue with that,” he said at last. That at least was the truth; he was out of arguments and lies, and he would have to settle for getting her to put the gun away if he could.

She did put it away, and Jerry heaved a silent sigh of relief.

“The fog is lifting, we can’t stay here much longer.” She had the tears firmly under control now. “We are going to hide somewhere until a quarter to nine. Then we walk to the War Department. “

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred