After the fact by Fred Saberhagen

Colleen ignored them all, and marched right in with Jerry following. But just inside they had to stop. The aged doorkeeper, addressed familiarly by Colleen as “Edward”, informed her that Mr. Stan ton was in a Cabinet meeting upstairs. Edward could not, he said, allow her and her companion to go up the office stairs to the upper floor, and Mr. Stanton would be unable to see them anyway.

“We’ll wait,” said Colleen, though that did not appear to be a promising course of action, judging by the numbers of people who were already doing it. Once more Jerry allowed himself to relax a little.

Edward’s attention was soon engaged with what appeared to be a group of tourists, come like their twentieth-century descendants, but very much more casually, to see what they could of the old house. As soon as the doorkeeper had turned away, Colleen, who evidently knew her way around in here, quietly gestured to Jerry to follow her. She led him down a wide hall toward the western end of the ground floor. At the end of the hall a broad staircase went up.

At a landing whose window gave a magnificent view of the distant Potomac, entrenched among spring-clad hills, the stairs reversed direction west to east. A moment later Jerry and Colleen were at the top of the processional stairs, at the west end of a hallway just as broad and even longer than the one downstairs.

They were getting closer to the business center of the Executive Mansion; there were twice as many loungers here as outside the front door. Here the men standing about and leaning against the walls tried to look busy and important, even as they waited in hope of being able to talk to those who truly were.

But the style of management here was not quite as casual and informal as it looked at first sight. When they reached a gate in a low wooden railing near the eastern end of the hall, Colleen was recognized by a guard and allowed to proceed a little farther; Jerry had to wait for her among the office-seekers and other petitioners.

He leaned against the wall, obscured for the moment in the cigar smoke and chuckling conversation of a knot of idlers. The pendulum of his fear was starting to swing back. Colleen was one resourceful and determined woman, and he would not be at all surprised if she did somehow get herself and Jerry ushered into the Cabinet meeting. Suppose she did return in a moment, take him by the sleeve, and march him in to see Stanton, maybe with Lincoln himself sitting in the same room. Maybe it wasn’t really rational to think she could break in on a cabinet meeting like that, but just suppose…

Jerry was sweating. Colleen might be turning her head to look for him as before, but she couldn’t see him; there were too many bodies in between. Now was his chance, if he was truly going to do what he had to do. There was really no choice—and in the long run she’d be better off as well.

Lounging nonchalantly along the hall in the direction away from the crowded office, he noticed a black servant open a door and pass through, and he also noticed, beyond the door, what must be a service stairway, going down.

In a moment Jerry had slipped through the door himself and was on his way downstairs. Blessing the sloppy security he came out at ground level, and soon regained the main hall, where he could hear old Edward the doorkeeper shouting at some other difficult visitor. A moment after that, Jerry had successfully attached himself to one of the groups of gawking tourists, just as they began to file into the huge East Room, directly under the offices above.

A few minutes later, the tourist contingent was outside again, back on the Avenue, where Jerry bid them a fond though quiet farewell.


In getting away from the White House, Jerry walked side streets in a loop that brought him back to the Avenue just opposite Willard’s. From that point he headed east, under an overcast sky. The atmosphere felt clammy and somehow oppressive. He had no better plan than to get back to where a concentration of markets, stores, and hotels promise throngs of people. It was not quite noon yet, and he still had to avoid capture for more than eight hours before the curtain rose at Ford’s.

He bought a newspaper and went into a tavern for something to eat. With a fatalistic lack of surprise he read the front-page notice announcing that General Grant was expected to attend Ford’s with the President tonight. Pilgrim had said there’d be a party of four. Again it was the unfamiliar General and not the President who was really the big news.

Without knowing why Jerry turned his head and glanced toward the window. An expressionless black face was looking in through the glass at him. He recognized Colleen’s companion Mose.

The man seemed to be in no particular hurry to rush off and report Jerry’s whereabouts to Colleen, or Stanton, or whoever. Jerry finished his lunch and paid his bill—Colleen had either not noticed or not cared about the denomination of the bill she had given him earlier—by which time Mose’s face had disappeared from the window. Putting the paper under his arm, Jerry walked unhurriedly, but very alertly, out into the street.

As he walked east again, a glance over his shoulder told him that Mose was following, ten steps or so behind.

In an open-air market just off the Avenue, Jerry turned aside and stopped, as if he were considering some seafood. In front of a group of noisy men who were busily cleaning fish he stopped to talk with Mose, who approached to stand before him in the attitude of a servant receiving instructions.

“Mose, why are you following me?”

The black man’s voice was too low for anyone else to hear. His accent was not gone, but greatly modified. “I had thought, Mistah Lockwood, that you were to be speaking to Mistah Stanton at this hour. I wish to see to it that no harm comes to you before you have the chance to do so.” There, his look seemed to say to Jerry. Damn me if you will for speaking like a human being, but I have gained the power, and I intend to use it.

“Mose. I’m going to have to trust you.”

“Yes, sah?”

Jerry looked about him, like a man about to take a plunge. Which indeed he was. He said: “I have just come from the White House. There is something I must do that even Miss Monahan must not know about. Not just yet.”

Mose waited, silent, watching, judging. He was bigger than Jerry.

Jerry did his best. “She has probably told you how important my work is, though not exactly what it is.”

“Yes sah. She has said something to that effect.”

“I was supposed to meet someone here—near here. But something has gone wrong. Miss Monahan will be putting herself in danger if she tries to help me directly now, and… the fact is I would much rather that she not.”

Mose nodded slowly, reserving judgment; anyone watching would see only a servant painfully trying to make sure he had his instructions right.

Jerry pressed on. “The problem is that I must hide somewhere until dark. Somewhere where Baker’s men, in particular, will not be able to find me. Several of them know what I look like.”

“That could well be a problem, Mistah Lockwood.”

“Mose, will you help? Do you know someplace where I can hide? I must have until midnight tonight.”

The black youth confronted what was evidently a new level of responsibility for him in the Secret Service game. Finally he grappled with it. “Lord God, Mistah Lockwood. Follow me. We gone out this market by the back way.’

Jerry followed Mose north, with alternations east and west, along one side street after another. At intervals Jerry nervously checked his pockets, making sure that his theater tickets and his watch were still secure.

He wondered hopefully if Pilgrim might be looking for a chance to contact him as well. There was still an enormous amount of information that Jerry needed for tonight but did not have. He might have to be alone for Pilgrim to be able to get through… there was no use worrying about it.

Mose led him up an alley near Tenth Street, right past the rear of Ford’s Theater. Jerry observed this without surprise. There were black-inhabited shacks here; Jerry could deduce the color of the inhabitants before he saw them, from the mere intensity of the squalor.

Mose came to a stop in front of one shack, of a size that would have made an ample children’s play-hut back in twentieth-century suburban Illinois. The youth took a quick look around then tapped on the unpainted wall beside the heavy curtain that did duty as a front door. A moment later he stuck his head inside, and Jerry heard words exchanged. A moment after that, he was bidden to enter.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred