It is March 4, 1861, the day of Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration, and the president-elect’s trusted entourage is on their guard. Allan Pinkerton, head of security, is wary of potential assassins. And Lincoln’s oldest friend, Joshua Speed, is by his side, along with Speed’s nephew, Adam Quinn—called back from the Kansas frontier to serve as the president’s assistant and jack-of-all-trades.
Despite the tight security, trouble comes nonetheless. A man is found stabbed to death in a nearby room, only yards from the president. Not wishing to cause alarm, Lincoln dispatches young Quinn to discreetly investigate. Though he is new to Washington, DC, he must navigate through high society, political personages, and a city preparing for war in order to solve the crime. Quinn finds unexpected allies in a determined female journalist named Sophie Gates, and Dr. Hilton, a free man of color. Together they must make haste to apprehend a killer. Nothing less than the fate of the nation is at stake.
“Adam is an honorable investigator who makes this mystery compelling historical fiction.” —Historical Novel Society
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The day to which all have looked with so much anxiety and interest has come and passed. Abraham Lincoln has been inaugurated, and "all's well."
— New York Times, March 5, 1861
Inauguration ballroom, March 4, 1861,10:45 p.m.
"PLEASE WELCOME ... AT LAST ... THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED States. Mr. Abraham Lincoln!"
The five-piece Union Band slid swiftly into the tune of "Hail Columbia" as nearly three thousand people stood, applauded, and cheered the entrance of the newly inaugurated president.
The grave, imposing man stepped up onto a dais and into the hall. The building had been erected as a temporary structure behind City Hall and was crafted with fine yellow pine flooring perfectly suitable for dancing. Lincoln, who removed his stovepipe hat to give a brief bow amid thunderous applause and violent cheering, was flanked by his vice president, Mr. Hamlin, and Senator Stephen Douglas — the man with whom he'd argued politically for years, as well as being a former suitor of Mr. Lincoln's wife, Mary. A low murmur of appreciation and surprise swept the room when the attendees realized the president's escort also included Mr. Seward, one of the men he'd beat out for his party's nomination.
Though many of the ball attendees had seen the swearing-in earlier today in front of the half-completed dome of the Capitol Building, and still others had waited in long lines at the Executive Mansion to personally congratulate him afterward, there was still an arresting sort of sigh that overtook the room when he came into full view.
Taller than nearly every man in the area, with a head of incorrigibly thick walnut hair, a long, carved face, and heavy beard, Lincoln should have appeared austere and homely. Perhaps even off-putting. But to a man, those who met or spoke with him since his election in November registered not the angularity of his face nor the prominence of his forehead but the intelligence, warmth, and compassion in his eyes. They felt the intensity of his personality and the personal connection he made with most everyone he met.
As Mr. Lincoln and his wife, who'd entered with Senator Douglas and now walked holding her husband's arm, promenaded down one side of the hall, the sense of hope that had simmered among the Republicans since his election swelled into something almost tangible. Despite the ugliness between the Northern and the Southern states, and the almost certainty of war, the people who filled the hall tonight — and, indeed, most of those 30,000 people who'd thronged the streets of the District of Columbia earlier to witness the inauguration — were relieved that the day had gone off without a hitch; that the man they hoped would somehow keep the Union intact had been installed in the highest office in the land; and that he, now here in the flesh, was the humble, friendly, and calm individual they wanted him to be.
While Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln took their time greeting and shaking the hands of everyone possible as they made their way along the length of the hall, chatter and laughter buoyed the air. The band moved into a new piece, continuing to play the schedule of songs listed on the dance cards. Though the presidential couple had not officially "opened" the dancing, many couples eased onto the floor and began to waltz as the Lincolns greeted their admirers.
The enthusiasm and activity of those in the room were vigorous enough to cause the buntings and flags decorating the walls to shift and billow and flutter. It was as if the decor itself, along with the dancing gaslights studding the ceiling, was celebrating this new president as a new hope. A last chance for unity.
Beneath all of the celebration, however, was an underlying nervousness. A sense of stark awareness of how easily things could go wrong — not only here tonight, but beyond the limits of this capital city that represented a Union threatening to shatter.
In silent acknowledgment of this, most of the guests had pinned ornate blue and white cockades to their evening dress. The flower-like ornament with trailing ribbons indicated loyalty to the Union and was a response to the growing number of secessionist cockades being sported on coats and bodices throughout Washington.
Adam Speed Quinn, recently from the frontier city of Lawrence, Kansas, and now installed in what he understood to be a temporary role on Mr. Lincoln's staff, had brought up the very rear of the inaugural party as it made its way into the ballroom. He stood on the entry dais next to his uncle, Joshua Speed, who was the new president's oldest and most trusted friend. Along with them was the aged and withered General Winfield Scott, commander of the military, and Allan Pinkerton, the head of the president's security team. The four watched as the crowd parted below to allow the Lincolns to make their way in a sort of promenade along the edge of the hall.
This making way for the inaugurated couple was easier said than done, for the room was crowded enough with mere individuals but was made even more of a crush because of the wide, inverted teacup skirts worn by every woman present. Each skirt, held to its shape by a cage-like frame, created a circle around its wearer that made her take up a space three to four times wider than she was without her gown. The ladies in their skirts looked like a mad collection of handbells in pink, yellow, blue, and white.
Adam, who'd come from the rough and bloody Kansas frontier, hadn't ever seen this many hoopskirts in a room — and certainly not packed in as closely as they were now. He watched with both amusement and amazement as whenever a woman attempted to move or was jostled a few steps in one direction or another she was forced to tame her stiff, willful skirt. The hoops tipped, tilted, swayed, and required the pressure and direction of her hands to keep it from revealing too much ankle, or from being crushed between other skirts, persons, or, even worse and less yielding, a table or doorway.
"How the hell do they manage it in the outhouse?" he muttered. "How do they even get through the door?"
Unfortunately, Pinkerton heard him and bellowed out a great laugh as Adam grinned with chagrin at being overheard. Fortunately, his uncle and the general were engaged in their own conversation and hadn't seemed to notice.
"Still carryin' on with frontier manners I see," Pinkerton said, clapping him on the back even as his eyes continued to survey the room. "Not too many outhouses here in the city anymore — except for those for the slaves. The indoor necessary's a luxury you'll get used to, Quinn, and I reckon you won't complain about not having your stones froze off in the middle of winter."
Now that the inauguration was concluded and the party had begun, Pinkerton's tension had eased considerably from earlier today when they had been outside — in gunshot range, with people crowded elbow to elbow for streets on end. Nevertheless, there'd been a barricade constructed between the Capitol Building and the street to put distance between the president and his admirers, and any detractors that might also be in the area. General Scott had even ordered watchful sharpshooters onto rooftops to be at the ready.
All of this had been done in light of the many death threats Lincoln had received since his election. The platform on which Lincoln had taken his oath had been guarded since the night before, due to a rumor that secessionists planned to wire explosives to it.
In fact, the president-elect's arrival in Washington had been a day early and unexpectedly furtive because Pinkerton had been alerted to a well-planned assassination attempt in Baltimore. With difficulty, he'd convinced Mr. Lincoln to circumvent his route and come into town two days early on a midnight train. The press had gleefully latched onto the story that Lincoln slinked secretly into town out of fear, instead of boldly and in the midst of great fanfare — but today's festivities had certainly put those criticisms to rest.
"Well, Honest Abe's a frontier man himself, which I reckon explains a whole hell of a lot about your connection," Pinkerton commented to Adam.
Actually, it explained only a small portion of the reason Adam Quinn had been suggested by Joshua Speed to become an aide to the new president. Adam's uncle had pointed out that Lincoln could employ the thirty-year-old Adam to act as a "jack-of-all-trades" during the travel from the Lincoln home in Springfield to Washington. And that Adam, who had recently recovered from a tragic injury sustained on the Kansas frontier, could use something to "do."
"One only knows what tasks or eventualities might cross your path," Speed had said to his good friend Abraham Lincoln. "You've never been president-elect before; therefore, how can you know everything that must be done? And after what happened in Kansas ... well, I need say no more, do I, Abe?"
Lincoln obviously had concurred, for he'd offered Adam a job — but likely for a number of considerations he kept to himself.
The fact that his duties had not been particularly well defined caused Adam no small concern, though he had a number of excellent motivations of his own for accepting such a position. He was relieved Lincoln hadn't expected him to be his social and correspondence secretary, for though Adam was well educated, writing anything was no longer his strong suit. Thus, he happily left the president's letter writing, social engagements, and documentation organization to the organized and enthusiastic Misters Nicolay and Hay.
Adam was about to reply to Pinkerton when he noticed a person — a man — edging along the side of the hall behind the crowd. Something about the figure struck a false chord with Adam. The way he moved, the way his attention fixed on the president. The furtive way he seemed to scan the room.
"Excuse me," Adam said, as the same instinct that had once saved a man's life — though cost Adam an arm — propelled him to act. That time, he'd dove to push his best friend out of the way of a pro-slavery thug, just as the man raised his rifle to shoot. The bullet had missed Adam's torso, but lodged in his left forearm, shattering the bone.
This time, a sense of foreboding about the man edging along the side of the room lifted the hair along Adam's remaining arm in a warning, prickling sensation.
He stepped off the dais, right hand moving smoothly to touch the pistol he'd been allowed to wear beneath his open coat. The heavy, tailored dress coat, which was a cutaway and worn unbuttoned and open, was a formality he found unpleasantly restrictive in the shoulders and chest after the soft, loose buckskin jacket he'd worn out west. His new black shoes were tight and shiny, and they reminded him of their virginity as he pushed his way through the field of hoopskirts and stray walking sticks — which were prevalent and nearly as much an obstacle as the framework skirts.
Down here among the crush of revelers, it smelled of tobacco and flowers, for the women not only seemed to bathe in floral scents, but most of them wore elaborate headbands decorated with roses, lilies, and other blossoms. It was also uncomfortably warm and very loud. Despite the crush, because he was nearly the tallest person in the room (besides Lincoln), Adam was able to keep his eye on the suspicious-looking gent who had paused at the edge of the crowd.
The man was slight and wiry and sported a large golden-brown mustache and generous sideburns that met at his chin in a neat beard. It was only as Adam drew closer — with a mere two dozen people between them now, instead of the hundred when he'd stepped off the dais — that he realized why the figure had caught his attention. It was his attire. Every other man in the room was wearing the requisite white shirt, dark neckcloth and waistcoat, topped by a black, cut-away dress coat with long tails. Each wore or carried a top hat of varying heights as well as a walking stick. They also wore gloves.
And if a male wasn't dressed in the stark black of formal wear, he was a servant or slave, hatless and wearing a white coat. Or he was a man in military uniform.
This man who'd drawn Adam from his bird's-eye view was none of the above. In a sea of formal finery, he wore a daytime derby hat of brown, a white shirt, plain dark waistcoat and neckcloth, but no dress coat. Instead, he was garbed in an informal topper — such as the coats worn by the office seekers and well-wishers who had been calling on Mr. Lincoln during the days leading up to the inauguration.
And there was something else: the way his eyes darted around, the way he seemed to be trying to stay out of sight of someone. Yes, the man's movements were furtive, as if he were constantly repositioning himself to stay unnoticed by someone.
Or someone near him?
Now there was a clear path of sight, if not mobility, from Adam to his quarry, thanks to a sea of hoopskirts lined up so that he could see between the shoulders of their wearers, all the way to the wall. His remaining five fingers tightened as he saw the man sliding a hand beneath his coat, eyes fixed in the area of the president. Behind his mustache and sideburns, the man's face was shiny and flushed with determination.
Adam's heart surged. He squeezed past two ladies in pale pink and yellow, stepping over their companion's walking stick as he eased his own pistol free, while doing his best to keep it out of sight. He didn't want to cause a scene, but he'd do whatever he deemed necessary.
The man's arm moved and he withdrew it from beneath his coat. Adam halted in midstride.
It was a notebook. The man had retrieved an innocent notebook, and as Adam watched, the strange gent slipped out a pencil from beneath his hat. Even as his eyes continued to dart about, he began to write feverishly. A journalist.
Feeling more than a little foolish, Adam took a side step and suddenly realized he was at the edge of the dancing floor, surrounded by people who only a moment earlier had been nothing but obstacles in his path to be avoided. Now, as if he'd been dropped back onto the earth after an abrupt ascent into a dream, he looked around and discerned individuals. Faces.
One of them — right there, suddenly close — was looking at him with a bemused expression even as she forced her wide, stiff skirt into demure submission when a couple passed by. "Why, and here I thought you were rushing your way through the crowd to get to little ol' me before the next song," she said with a delightful southern lilt. "But apparently I must be mistaken, for you haven't so much as asked to see my dance card, let alone introduced yourself."
As Adam reckoned he'd never actually seen a dance card and could only guess at its purpose, he found himself at a momentary loss. But he recovered immediately, discreetly shoving his pistol back into place before taking the slender gloved hand the belle offered in a smooth motion. "That is simply because I intend to ignore whatever might be on the card and invite you to dance with me nonetheless," he replied.
Her smile sparkled, reaching blue eyes as he bowed briefly. At least he'd learned formal manners in his mother's home before rushing off to the wilderness where no one carried walking sticks or wore gloves, and any woman on the frontier would laugh at the sight of a hoopskirt.
Not that there were any women to speak of on the frontier.
"Adam Quinn," he added as he lifted his head from the bow, then brought the young woman's hand to his lips for a brief kiss. "May I have this dance, then, ma'am?"
She was a pretty one, without a doubt the sort of young woman who normally had reams of men clustered about, clamoring for a smile, a personal word, a dance. Beneath a fancy headdress of pink roses and blue ribbons, her hair was the color of whisky — somewhere between honey and the chestnut of a horse — and she had fair, slightly flushed skin with a fascinating mark near the corner of her mouth. Her gown was white and had a low neckline decorated with blue and pink flowers. The bell-like skirt that nudged his knee had been trimmed with pink and blue ruffles — or maybe they were called flounces. Some frilly and wavy pieces of fabric that went around the skirt in several rows near the hem, and were anchored by more flowers. Jet black earrings of tiny beads dangled and glittered as she moved.
Excerpted from "Murder in the Lincoln White House"
Copyright © 2017 C.M. Gleason.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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