In Lincoln’s Bodyguard, an alternative version of American history, President Lincoln is saved from assassination. Though he prophesied his own deaththe only way he believed the South would truly surrenderLincoln never accounted for the heroics of his bodyguard, Joseph Foster. A biracial mix of white and Miami Indian, Joseph makes an enemy of the South by killing John Wilkes Booth and preventing the death of the president. His wife is murdered and his daughter kidnapped, sending Joseph on a revenge-fueled rampage to recover his daughter. When his search fails, he disappears as the nation falls into a simmering insurgency instead of an end to the War. Years later, Joseph is still running from his past when he receives a letter from Lincoln pleading for help. The President has a secret mission. Pursued from the outset, Joseph turns to the only person who might help, the woman he abandoned years earlier. If he can win Molly over, he might just fulfill the President’s urgent request, find his daughter, and maybe even hasten the end of the War.
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By TJ Turner
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2015 TJ Turner
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I approached the White House slowly, my first time back in seven years. I left after saving the Old Man, after things changed. Washington looked as before, but the feel of the place had shifted. No one loitered or met the gaze of fellow citizens on the street. A cold city—scared. There were rumors of attacks in the heart of the Capital, of daring rebel assaults in broad daylight, meant to terrorize. The papers never reported them, but the rumors circulated, passed by word of mouth until truth and myth were intertwined but unreconciled.
As the sun reached higher the fog dissolved around the White House. The building took shape, a gray mass against the pure white of the mist. Something deep nagged that I should ask admittance and let the walls of the palace shield me.
I took the letter from my breast pocket. My fingers traced the outline of my name.
Feb. 22, 1872
I know much time has passed unspoken between us, but there is something important to discuss. Please, I need you.
Please. The word pleaded through the letter. Maybe I assigned it gravity beyond its intent. Please. I tucked the letter back into my breast pocket.
Once inside, my fingers tingled, anticipation mixed with fear. Two soldiers led me down the corridors I knew so well. An air lingered about the place, a scent—musty with the taste of history and power, like the building itself sweat it from the walls. My shoes found the well-worn path, the slight indentation down the middle of the carpet from decades of wear. We walked past closed doorways, behind which my mind could paint every turn in vivid detail. With my eyes shut I could walk to the Old Man's study, take my post along the back wall, and blend into the dark green wallpaper. I was home.
One of the soldiers showed me inside the great wood door. The room was empty. Two windows laid claim to the far wall, spanning from floor to ceiling. The first framed the Washington Monument. It remained partially complete, the sun blinding off the bleached white stone. During the War, maps plastered these walls, obscuring the wallpaper as they tracked battles and the movement of armies. At times they covered the windows. Without the maps the place felt empty, but the walls knew the truth.
I walked to the middle of the room, something I rarely did in my earlier days when I preferred a solid structure at my back. The fire hissed, a few pops betraying overly wet wood placed into the flame. A table stood in front of the fireplace and I ran my fingertips over the edge. It hadn't budged in years, the carpet under it more plush and vividly green than elsewhere.
A map covered the wood tabletop, its corners curled from repeated rolling. It showed the South, the land from Richmond and below. Even though the generals had surrendered their swords, the fighting raged on. The War wouldn't give up. Though no longer the boil of '63, she simmered, nine years later. She still claimed lives, and would until the day she died. The Confederates had disbanded their armies to mold themselves into an efficient enemy—small networks of rebels who attacked and then dissolved into society. Fighting ghosts. Small x's dotted the roads in all directions.
"How are you, Joseph?"
I never heard him coming, one of the things I hated about this carpet. Anything could creep quietly behind you.
"I'm fine, Mr. Lamon."
Ward Hill Lamon, the President's right hand. He had always despised me. His body language betrayed him. I had worked for Allan Pinkerton, the famed detective and forerunner of military intelligence, while Ward Hill Lamon was the President's best friend, advisor, and confidant. They competed for the Old Man's loyalties.
"I see the President's note found you. Mr. Pinkerton told us to expect you today."
I played over his intonation in my head, searching his choice of words. He stood more bent, though he still cut an imposing figure. His suit spoke of wealth and power. How a man composes himself and how he dresses tells an immense amount about his status, both real and self-imagined. In this, Lamon had grown more powerful than last we met.
"Will Mr. Pinkerton be joining us?" I asked.
"Not today. We need to discuss matters of great sensitivity, and discretion will be the priority. There are things he doesn't need to know. Do you understand?"
I lied and nodded. Another political chess match.
"Do you know why you're here, Joseph?"
"I received the President's letter. That's all I know."
"When the President arrives, we'll explain the situation. He insisted on having you. It's only proper we wait for him. I'll go check on things."
He turned to leave but then stopped. "Joseph, I don't want to leave you with the wrong impression about Mr. Pinkerton. Someone is reporting to the enemy—a fox in the henhouse, as the President would say. I have long suspected it to be among Pinkerton's people. These things happen, but what we will discuss cannot be compromised. The very life of our nation depends on that."
"My loyalty belongs to the President alone," I answered.
Lamon considered my reply. "Very well. I will not mention it again. If the President trusts you, that will suffice." This time he turned and left. When the door closed, I stood alone.
I turned to the little marks that littered the map in front of me, filling the roadways from Richmond all the way south. Parts of Louisiana and lower Mississippi had a line drawn across. The country remained divided, the result of a failed surrender. When General Joe Johnston walked from the negotiation table years ago, the Old Man had called it the greatest treason. It surpassed even General Lee or Benedict Arnold. Other rebel leaders followed. Eighty thousand men burned their uniforms and returned to their farms. They melted back into the fabric of the South. But they kept their guns and the country knew no closure.
As I studied the map a younger man entered the room, resplendent in a three-piece suit fashioned from a shimmering cloth. Behind him the Old Man filled the doorframe, pausing to get a good look at me before he walked across the room with the aid of a cane.
"Joseph," he held out a hand after switching the cane. "How we both have changed. I'm afraid that in beauty, neither of us has any more to claim, my friend."
His hand felt frail, the bones barely covered by the tissue paper masquerading as skin. Tall and thin, he towered above me still. I felt like a child. The cane in his hand forced him to stoop—too short for his height. His suit hung loosely, indicating weight lost. His knee-length jacket appeared hollow, his neck gaunt inside the white collar and bow tie. But time had weathered his face the most. The lines were deep and furrowed, as if recently plowed. His beard had grayed, and his hairline retreated. It had only been seven years, but the office had drained him, pulling his very essence from the shell of his suit.
"It has been too long." He motioned for me to sit at the table with him as the younger man circled the room and stood along the back wall, like I had done for years. Lamon entered the room and closed the door behind him. He joined us at the table.
"How is your mother?" The Old Man asked.
The question caught me by surprise, amazed at how far her influence spread. In retirement she had become famous, articles published on her exploits, the newspapers using her story to blot out the little marks on the map.
"She is fine, sir, the last I checked. I haven't seen her in a while."
"She was here once, did you know?"
"No." In my mind some worlds were never meant to mix.
"Many of the conductors came, your mother, Harriet Tubman, a few others who risked so much. I hosted a ceremony and a banquet. Several years back now. She told me a few good stories about you. To think, the things you withheld in our time together."
The event would have been bald-faced propaganda arranged by Lamon to mask the sour reports from down South. My mother would cringe if she heard herself called a distraction.
"I hope we find time to catch up, Joseph. But my schedule is worse than ever, and I am sure you are wondering why you are here." The Old Man nodded toward Lamon.
"As you might suspect, Joseph," Lamon began, "the rebellion has grown." He flattened a curled edge of the map. "Some say we are losing. A fight like this is ugly, and even with our best efforts we have been unable to rid ourselves of it.
"But we have a rare opportunity. A senior member of the resistance wants to end the fighting. The information he has would be devastating for the rebels. We could break them—push the fight out of this stalemate." Lamon swept his hand across the map.
I looked to the President. He held one hand across his chest while the other rubbed his beard.
"Who?" I asked.
Lamon looked to the Old Man before answering. "Norris."
The weight of the name caught me off guard. It made me nauseated. I slouched, grateful for my chair, letting it hold my weight. Col. William Norris had been the head of the Confederate Secret Service during the War, Pinkerton's nemesis. The end of the organized fighting accelerated his rise as leader of a decentralized yet effective resistance. I tried to kill him once and damn near succeeded. His name appeared last on my list—a roster of the men who left my wife for dead and took my daughter to avenge their failed attempt to kill the Old Man.
"He grows tired of the fight," Lamon answered. "I believe his letters and the promises of his envoy to be sincere. He sees the error of this conflict—that nothing will improve until we close this final chapter and move forward."
I looked at the Old Man. He was lost in thought.
"So what do you want from me?"
"He requested you," Lamon's voice was flat.
"Norris did? Why? Last time you sent me to bring back his body," I said.
Lamon provided the list that I had worked from.
"There's symbolism for him. You killed Booth, and Norris planned the attempt on the President. He says he will trust only you."
"Maybe he means to kill me?"
A smile flickered on Lamon's face before he suppressed it. "He's gone to a lot of trouble to convince us he wants to come in. Do you suppose you're so important?"
"No," I lied. But that was exactly what I thought. Years ago I had made a deal with Norris—a deal to spare my daughter. Unable to do what he asked, he would want me dead for my failings. "Even if I agree, how am I to find him?"
"He provided meeting instructions. You will take Baxter with you," Lamon said.
Lamon motioned to the young man standing along the wall. "Mr. Winston Baxter, the President's security advisor."
The suggestion surprised me. I glanced at the man in the shiny suit standing against the bookcase. He was almost ten years my junior and far too confident for his age. Proximity to power can have that effect. The light material of his suit shimmered, the cloth likely from Europe. Polished leather boots extended under the pleats in his trousers, and his slicked-back hair lent an oily appearance.
"I work by myself." I turned toward the Old Man.
"Absolutely not," Lamon answered. "You have a history with Colonel Norris, and we cannot run the risk of that past getting in the way of what needs to be done. You'll forgive me, but the stakes are too high to trust this matter to you alone. You'll take Baxter. He knows the particulars of finding Norris. There is no room for compromise on this."
"Why would I take someone of such little—," I paused, trying to find a word that would somehow diminish Baxter and Lamon alike, "—experience."
Lamon smiled. "You and Baxter are quite alike. He is young, but not green. You will find him a hard customer, with more starch than one his age should lay claim to."
Baxter stood motionless along the bookshelf—a complacent look on his face. A partner would make killing Norris that much harder.
"And if I say no?"
The Old Man reached out and placed his hand on my arm. "Please, Joseph. This is my chance to end this. I had so long planned to leave after my second term, like Washington himself, or Jefferson. But I promised I would not step down until the country was whole. I came in with this mess, and I will see it done right. I fear that with my stubborn disposition and with Congress refusing to impose limits on the office, I may never leave unless something helps us end this war."
I avoided his eyes. They would remind me of my dying wife as I held her, and of Aurora, the little girl stolen from me and, if still alive, old enough that I might not recognize her.
"Good," Lamon said. "You will leave tomorrow morning. Baxter will guide you to the meeting, and then you'll both escort Colonel Norris to Washington. If there are no issues, we'll have his sword this time next week."
"Thank you, Joseph," the Old Man said.
Lamon stood and placed a hand on my shoulder. "We need Norris alive." His voice lingered on that last word. "That's why Baxter goes with you tomorrow."
I nodded, though I would never let Norris speak of our arrangement to save my daughter. Lamon headed toward the door, leaving me with the Old Man, who struggled to rise. I helped him to his feet.
"It is so good to see you, Joseph. I'm afraid I have a cabinet meeting. But you will stay the night." The Old Man looked to the door and Lamon. Baxter held it open, not looking our direction. When they were out of earshot, the Old Man lowered his voice. "We will visit later. There is another purpose for my letter."CHAPTER 2
Baxter escorted me to my old bedroom. It was redecorated as a guest room. Hot water filled a bathtub in the corner, and I stripped, anxious to wash days of travel from my body. The heat penetrated to my core. I fell asleep, only waking when the water cooled beyond comfort. A set of fresh clothes hung in the small closet, nothing extravagant like Baxter's suit, but better than what I had relied on to get me to Washington. I changed and fell back on the bed, slipping into a deep sleep. I didn't wake until late in the afternoon.
When I stirred, I found a tray perched on the bedside table with a half-filled bottle of whiskey and a glass—Pinkerton's whiskey. Lamon had excluded him from the meeting, but he knew how to look after me. He also meant the bottle as a message. Sooner or later I would have to face him. After Lamon had handed me the list with Norris' name, Pinkerton had counseled a more subtle path. But with my daughter gone and my wife dead, his influence proved of no avail. Revenge robbed my sanity. He would be upset with me still, so it would be best to visit when he least expected it, especially since they had taken my weapons when I entered the White House. I filled the glass and downed my first drink. It had been hours since my last, and my hands were beginning to shake.
To pass the time I unpacked my bag, filling my flask from Pinkerton's bottle to ensure a supply for the road. I refilled the glass and packed a second set of clean clothes. Putting the bag away I pulled out a small black velvet pouch, the only possession other than my knife that I cared about. Living light made life easier. In a hurry, I had little to leave behind. Even as the years passed, I hadn't collected many possessions—or friends. Habits were hard to break.
I dragged a chair to the one small window and pulled at the strings of the velvet bag. I rarely opened it, only in those sparing moments I wished to remember Aurora. Releasing the drawstring, I upended the bag into my hand. A silver necklace fell out—the evening sunlight caught the polished edges. A small pendant dangled on the chain, a tiny and amazingly detailed eagle's feather. My stepfather had been a silversmith, an incredible artisan. He tried teaching me his craft, but my hands were better for coarser tools, like a Bowie knife. He was a progressive man who took in a pregnant Indian woman, and after I was born, he molded me with his fiery dinner table orations. He preached extreme abolitionist views that he kept none too hidden. They would eventually account for his death. But he drilled me on my lessons every day, and ensured my education was second to none across the Kansas plains. He intended me to return as a great chief to my mother's people. How wrong he had predicted my destiny.
The feather nearly floated in my palm, as if it might catch the draft from the fireplace and take flight. I never had that kind of skill, to make something of such fine beauty. If I could, the world would be a different place. I struggled to hold it still as the whiskey had yet to drown the shakes. At one time the feather had a twin, a pair of earrings made for my mother—a reminder of her Miami Indian ancestors. With the birth of my daughter, my mother split them up, one for my wife and one for the baby. I only recovered the one around my wife's neck.
Excerpted from Lincoln's Bodyguard by TJ Turner. Copyright © 2015 TJ Turner. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
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