This historical thriller is an equal-parts cocktail of action, adventure, science-fiction and comedy. The book follows a globe-trotting President Taft and Robert Todd Lincoln in a race to solve a mystery stretching back to the Civil War and the Lincoln assassination. Based on true events, readers will find themselves swept into a vast conspiracy spanning four continents and three oceans during the turn of the century. Fascinating technologies will be harnessed, dark secrets revealed, true villains exposed, and some of the most famous figures in history will take the stage. With surprises lurking around every corner, and a vast cast of characters to root for, Jacopo della Quercia's The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy is a heart-pounding adventure that only history could have made possible.
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About the Author
JACOPO DELLA QUERCIA is an educator and history writer who has authored more than 100 articles for the comedy website Cracked.com. His work has been featured in the New York Times bestseller You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News, BBC America, CNN Money, The Huffington Post, "The Takeaway" public radio program, Ripley's Believe It Or Not!, Playboy's The Smoking Jacket, CBS's Man Cave Daily, Georgetown University professor John Brown's Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review, among others.
JACOPO DELLA QUERCIA is an educator and history writer who has authored more than 100 articles for the comedy website Cracked.com. His work has been featured in the New York Times bestseller You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News, BBC America, CNN Money, The Huffington Post, "The Takeaway" public radio program, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, Playboy’s The Smoking Jacket, CBS’s Man Cave Daily, Georgetown University professor John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review, among others.
Read an Excerpt
The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy
By Jacopo della Quercia
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Jacopo della Quercia
All rights reserved.
"Taft! Taft! Taft!"
"... Taft! Taft! Taft! Taft!"
The enthusiastic crowd was on their feet, heralding the man's arrival like a howl of banshees. The atmosphere was a thundercloud of smoke, sweat, and shouts. Tickets were clutched tightly in every fist around the ramshackle arena. Secret Service agents cleared a path for their fighter. Women rushed forward to touch him. An unabating London crowd simultaneously cheered, cursed, and chanted his name. In a darkened corner, one surreptitious spectator casually smoked a cigar, while next to him stood a transfixed Robert Todd Lincoln.
It was Friday night, July 15, one minute to midnight, which translated to high noon in the Bucket of Blood. Its four fighters, all champions, stirred anxiously on their sawdust-covered canvas as their enormous opponent thudded toward them. He was six feet, two inches tall, three hundred fifty pounds, and endowed with both the build and the grace of a bear. His torso was a medical atlas of stretch marks and scars. His boxing trunks, though frayed with age, were an unmistakable Stars and Stripes. A vast entourage of staffers and secretaries studied his every move. Spectators screamed, the brazen hearts of four challengers pounded, and every eye in the arena focused like spotlights on the fight's main attraction: William Howard Taft, the twenty-seventh president of the United States of America.
The man-mountain moved slowly, but not lazily. In his fifty-two years of living and thirty-five years of fighting, he had long ago mastered how to steer his huge frame. He entered the ring like a toddler who had outgrown his crib, and his baby blue eyes greeted his adversaries as if they were playmates. His opponents, from left to right, were an Irishman with a checkered past, an Englishman who hated America, a Welshman who hated everyone, and a Scotsman who had once killed a man over haggis. All were tested, seasoned fighters, battle-hardened and spoiling for a fight with the single greatest underground boxing champion the world would never know of. There were no reporters, no policemen, no referees, and no rules. For the challengers, this was a fight for personal glory, a last-ditch attempt by the British Isles to put America back in her place. For Will "Big Bill" Taft, this was exercise.
The president twitched his blond mustache.
The audience froze.
The fight started.
The first man to move was the Englishman, who instinctively took a step back to study his foe. The Irishman feinted to Taft's left and the Scot charged in from the right. As effortlessly as a gentleman tipping his hat, Taft seized the screaming Scotsman and tossed him into the Irishman like a bag of potatoes. With Taft's right flank exposed, the wiry Welshman made his move. He rushed in and struck the president hard and fast to the chest, ribs, and head. Despite the echoing smack of the Welshman's fists against Taft's ample flesh, the president was not even tickled. He locked eyes with his aggressor and felled him with a single, openhanded smack upside the head. A quarter of the audience groaned as the Welshman slipped out of consciousness. The fight had barely started and there was already a man on the floor.
With the president's right flank secured, he revisited his remaining foes. As Taft considered his next move, the unsporting Englishman interrupted him by kicking sawdust in his face. The crowd roared with laughter as the president stumbled backward. The Englishman knew this would be his only opening: He leaped onto Taft with all his weight and wrestled him to the ground. Cheers erupted as the Irishman and Scotsman piled onto the president. As the presidential entourage watched intently, a female aide covered her mouth with her hand. For a brief moment in the Bucket of Blood, it appeared to be a good day to have been born an Englishman.
But then he got Tafted.
A deafening, bloodcurdling scream rang through the building as Taft unleashed an old favorite from his Yale days: the dreaded "Skull and Bones." He gripped the Englishman's face like a bowling ball, digging into his eye sockets with one hand while his other hand crushed the man's genitals between his thick fingers. The Irishman and the Scotsman backed away as Taft slowly rose to his feet, lifting the Englishman over his head in a towering clean and jerk. It was a harrowing sight that left much of the audience in tears, some out of pain and others out of disbelief. The president hurled his maimed opponent into the English section of the crowd, but was careful not to hurt anyone. The defeated Englishman landed face-first on a piano. Taft then brushed the sawdust from his shoulders and turned to face the two remaining fighters.
Now that the Irishman and Scotsman understood the unstoppable beast facing them, they agreed with a nod to take down their foe as a team. The Scot came at Taft from his left and delivered a powerful kick to his knee. The mob cheered wildly as the seemingly invincible warrior nearly collapsed under his own weight. The Irishman, tasting victory, dashed in from the right to deliver a potentially fatal kick to Taft's skull. That is, if only the Irish were so lucky. Taft caught the fighter by the leg and swung him into the air as if he were showing the Scot how to tee off at St Andrews. The president hopped back onto his feet and let the flying, screaming Irishman out of his grip. The Irish section groaned painfully as their prizefighter hit a beam on the ceiling and landed facedown in the sawdust.
Taft turned his back on the dizzied Irishman to confront the last fighter standing. The enraged Scotsman put up his dukes and challenged Taft to fisticuffs, which the president graciously accepted. Taft glided across the floor like a dancer, throwing several punches that the young Scot was quick enough to dodge. However, the skirmish came to a quick end when Taft landed a right cross that would have staggered a Pamplona bull. The Scotsman was stunned and barely able to stand. After consulting the vast library of wrestling moves in his head, Taft threw his arms around his opponent for a finisher that no one of Scottish descent at the Bucket of Blood would forget. The president heaved his hapless foe in the air and suplexed him against the pub's hardwood floor. The Scotsman, much like the Scottish section of the crowd, was no longer moving.
The battle was all but over until one sore gambler raised the stakes. A puukko knife was thrown toward the Irishman as the dazed fighter regained consciousness. Once he saw the weapon, the irate Irishman grabbed the knife and made a final, screaming lunge toward the president. The room gasped. Several Secret Service agents reached for their pistols, including an otherwise indifferent Chief Wilkie, but only Taft knew how little danger he was in. The president turned, met his screaming adversary with a smile, and sent him flying across the sawdust circle with a solid kick to the chest. The response from the crowd was deafening. The fight was over, the president had won fairly, and he claimed the Irishman's puukko knife as a souvenir.
Taft studied the weapon with curiosity before turning to his staff. "Ready the flying machine," he requested.CHAPTER 2
The Flying Machine
Airship One, President Taft's personal aircraft and floating headquarters, was a marvel of engineering unlike anything the world had seen. Originally envisioned by Theodore Roosevelt as an "airborne hunting lodge," President Taft's wife, Nellie, ballooned the project into its ultimate incarnation. It had promenades, lounges, full course gourmet banquets, a vast selection of champagnes and sparkling wines, a humidor room, hardwood floors, Persian rugs, posh furniture, patriotic artwork, and a near-perfect replica of the recently remodeled West Wing built into it. The elegant vessel was a flying fortress that any president could rule the nation from, capable of traveling more than three times faster than any steamship and virtually unassailable from land or sea. The sky liner stretched more than eight hundred feet from bow to stern, had a top speed of nearly ninety miles per hour, and was reportedly capable of reaching altitudes in excess of twenty thousand feet. The ship was also rumored to contain a few surprises known only to Robert Todd Lincoln, president of the Pullman Company that built the vessel, and Captain Archibald Willingham Butt, President Taft's chief military aide and trusted skipper aboard Airship One.
Technically, the titanic zeppelin was a generation ahead of its peers in every way. Its wireless telegraph room alone boasted more than forty patentable inventions from Nikola Telsa. Its pressurized cabins could accommodate well over one hundred passengers and crew in comfort. Environmental controls permitted smoking anywhere on the airship, from its dining hall to its exercise room to its seldom-used ladies' lounge. Diesel engines propelled the vessel as quietly as a cloud across oceans. And according to Captain Butt, the aircraft handled like the gloves his dear mother used to knit him every Christmas.
Inside and out, Airship One was a soaring triumph of modern technology. A Renaissance masterpiece of ingenuity proudly made in America. A flying sanctuary for President Taft from the endless worries of Washington. A floating palace so steady you could play billiards in its game room — which, incidentally, was where the president blithely abandoned his star-spangled boxing trunks. He left them behind the eight ball.
Taft walked out of his private washroom in a presidential bathrobe, moving with a comfortable gait that clashed noticeably with the swarm of secretaries around him.
"Mr. President," hurried one staffer, "we received an urgent message from Postmaster Hitchcock. Your decoy is stuck in the bathtub again."
"Confound it! I keep telling them its exhaust port is not submersible! Someone get Nikola Tesla on the telegraph. Tell him I'm tired of plugging holes in the backside of Thomas Edison's engines!"
"Yes, Mr. President."
"I really hate Edison," Taft whispered loudly to Butt, who followed closely alongside in a dashing blue uniform. "We need an automaton that works, Archie. Not the goddamn Tik-Tok of Oz."
"I disagree, Mr. President," the airship captain replied. "I've been told that even Tik-Tok worked on occasion."
"What was it doing in the bathtub anyway?" Taft asked his staffers.
"It was melting, sir. Mrs. Taft wanted it readied and shipped to the summer home in Beverly. She's concerned you won't arrive in time for her departure on Monday."
"I guess we'll have to contact Madame Tussauds as well," Taft sighed. "Also, please tell my wife not to worry. I intend to take her on our vacation as fast as we can fly there."
"Yessir ..." the staffer responded uneasily.
"Bully!" Taft brightened, clapping his hands. "So, what's going on in the rest of the world?"
"Mr. President, the German zeppelin Erbslöh exploded over Leichlingen," a different staffer reported. "Five people were killed, including its aeronaut, Oskar Erbslöh."
"Did we do this, Archie?"
"No," Butt assured.
Taft nodded and turned to the staffer. "Very well. Have Ambassador Hill offer our condolences to the German people. And send a basket of cheese and sausages to the embassy."
"Yes, Mr. President."
"And send some flowers," Taft added. "German cornflowers."
"Excellent choice, Mr. President."
"And some chocolates," Taft continued, his eyes glistening like fine pastries. "And an assortment of Bavarian pastries to go with them. The fluffy puff kind with cream on the inside. And I want them all in a basket on my desk within the next fifteen minutes."
"Yes, Mr. President." The staffer bowed his head and rushed to the kitchen.
"I think we handled that well," Taft confided to his captain. "So, what else happened these last few days?"
"Mr. President, the Portuguese clashed with pirates on Colowan Island this week. The fighting lasted from Wednesday until yesterday," said Captain Butt.
"Co-lo-wan?" Taft mouthed.
"Macau. It's in the Orient, sir."
"By jingo, that's close to the Philippines! Archie, I want you to find out who wins and what this piracy means for our friends in the Pacific."
"Mr. President, the Portuguese won," the captain replied. "And I'd say the fewer pirates in the area, the safer it will be for everyone."
"Oh. Well, good work, Archie!" The president slapped Butt on his back, jingling his medals and shoulder cords. "Well, is there anything else you have for me?" Taft asked the assembled.
"Yes, Mr. President." The heavily mustached Attorney General George W. Wickersham stepped forward. "U.S. Marshal William Henkel of the Southern New York District secured those four-point-five million ice-cream cones we discussed. The FDA raid was a success."
Taft's eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. "I don't believe it. That's fantastic news, George! As soon as we get home, I'm treating you to ice cream!"
The attorney general moved within whisper range of the president. "Will, are you sure this is the best use of our resources? I have top men — top men — out there impounding ice-cream cones by the millions."
Taft put his hand on the attorney general's shoulder, bringing the entourage to a halt in the West Wing's main corridor. "George," Taft said softly, "I received a letter the other day from a little boy in New York. He told me the first thing he did this summer was buy an ice-cream cone with a penny his mother gave him. After he bit into the cone, he spit out a piece of newspaper with my name on it. As he shared the cone with his brothers, one of them coughed up the vice president, and another hacked on William Jennings Bryan's long name. As long as I'm president, I will not let factories produce ice-cream cones out of pencil shavings and shredded newspapers. Inaction would almost certainly come back to bite us worse than these poor children did. But thanks to you, Georgie" — Taft shook the man proudly — "every little boy and girl in New York will be enjoying their ice cream this summer, and I am confident their parents will remember which party made that possible: the Republican Party! The Grand Old Party! The Party of Lincoln! Huzzah!"
"Huzzah!" All but one staffer cheered. She had fair skin, blue-gray eyes, and voluminous auburn hair put up in a pompadour like a Gibson girl. She stood a little over five feet in a blue women's suit with black high-heeled shoes. She was scribbling away in a black leather notebook in shorthand, but lifted her eyes once she realized everyone on the airship had fallen silent. Waving her pencil like a small pennant, she gave the president a belated "Huzzah."
The president grinned brightly. "Who is she?" Taft whispered to Captain Butt through his teeth.
"Miss Knox, sir," the captain replied. "One of Wilkie's men — uh, women." Truth be told, Miss Knox was the first and only female agent in the United States Secret Service, never mind the only woman on the airship in months. Out of modesty, Taft secured the enormous belt on his bathrobe and straightened its lapels like a jacket. Had he known there would be a lady present, he would at the very least have put on some pants.
"Miss Knox ..." Taft pondered. "Any relation to Secretary Knox, young lady?" Philander Knox was the president's secretary of state.
"He's my uncle, Mr. President."
"Ah, then you're already part of the family!" Taft chuckled. "That spares me some embarrassment! Welcome aboard Airship One, Miss Knox. You are a most welcome addition." Taft's handlebar whiskers curled into a cheery smile.
"Thank you, Mr. President."
One of the airship's cartel clocks chimed, reminding Taft that it was long past midnight. "Well, if that's everything, I'd like to meet with my cabinet. Excellent work this week, everyone. You may disperse." Taft's secretaries scattered like partridges throughout the airship, leaving only Captain Butt with the president in the hallway.
"Is there anything else I can do for you, Mr. President?" The tall captain looked like he was posing for a statue with his gloved hand on the hilt of his saber.
"Yes, Archie. I was hoping you could join me for a Surprise cabinet meeting." The president had a playful twinkle in his eye.
"Only water when I'm on duty, sir. Same as every night."
"Then take the night off!" Taft insisted.
Excerpted from The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy by Jacopo della Quercia. Copyright © 2014 Jacopo della Quercia. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. "Taft! Taft! Taft!",
2. The Flying Machine,
3. The Surprise,
4. Meanwhile ...,
5. "Hail to the Chief!",
6. "So, What Do We Know About Aliens?",
7. "Mr. President! Thank God You're Here.",
8. Taft vs. Taft,
9. "Madam President.",
10. Up in the Air,
11. [Written in Shorthand],
13. The House of Morgan,
15. Theodore Rex,
18. Wide Awake,
19. "Till death do us part, my dear.",
20. The Family Plot,
21. The Skull,
23. "He's in.",
24. The Tomb,
25. The Secret Passage,
26. The Gentleman,
27. The Universe of Battle,
28. Skull and Bones,
29. "That's my cue.",
30. The Pullman Conference,
31. The Airship Logbook of Major Archibald W. Butt,
32. "Ye Olde Cock Tavern.",
33. The Colossus,
34. April 14, 1912,
35. "Welcome aboard.",
36. "What the bloody hell is this?",
38. "Bob ...",
39. "Major Butt!",
42. Taft and Roosevelt,
43. In Memoriam,
For further reading ...,
Praise for the Author,
About the Author,