Read Fates and Traitors Online

Authors: Jennifer Chiaverini

Fates and Traitors

ALSO BY JENNIFER CHIAVERINI

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DUTTON

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Copyright © 2016 by Jennifer Chiaverini

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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-
IN-PUBLICATION DATA

Names: Chiaverini, Jennifer, author.

Title: Fates and traitors : a novel of John Wilkes Booth / Jennifer Chiaverini.

Description: New York : Dutton, [2016]

Identifiers: LCCN 2016005262 (print) | LCCN 2016009184 (ebook) | ISBN 9780525954309 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780698404137 (ebook)

Subjects: LCSH: Booth, John Wilkes, 1838–1865—Fiction. | Conspiracies—Fiction. | Assassins—Fiction. | BISAC: FICTION / Historical. | FICTION / Romance / Historical. | GSAFD: Biographical fiction. | Historical fiction.

Classification: LCC PS3553.H473 F38 2016 (print) | LCC PS3553.H473 (ebook) | DDC 813/.54—dc23

LC record available at http://lccn.loc.gov/2016005262

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author's use of names of historical figures, places, or events are not intended to change the entirely fictional character of the work. In all other respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

To Marty, Nicholas, and Michael, with love and gratitude

“There is but one mind in all these men,

and it is bent against Caesar. If thou beest not

immortal, look about you. Security gives way to

conspiracy. The mighty gods defend thee!

Thy lover,

Artemidorus”

 

Here will I stand till Caesar pass along,

And as a suitor will I give him this.

My heart laments that virtue cannot live

Out of the teeth of emulation.

If thou read this, O Caesar, thou mayst live.

If not, the Fates with traitors do contrive.

—William Shakespeare,
Julius Caesar
, Act 2, Scene 3

PROLOGUE
JOHN
1865

If it be aught toward the general good,

Set honor in one eye and death i' th' other,

And I will look on both indifferently,

For let the gods so speed me as I love

The name of honor more than I fear death.

—William Shakespeare,
Julius Caesar
, Act 1, Scene 2

A
sound in the darkness outside the barn—a furtive whisper, the careless snap of a dry twig underfoot—woke him from a fitful doze. His left leg throbbed painfully, not only the tender, swollen tissue nearest the fracture in the bone but everything from ankle to knee, the muscles sore from too many days in stirrups, the skin chafed raw from the reluctant doctor's hasty splint. Grimacing, every movement a new torment, he propped himself up on his elbows and strained his ears to listen.

There—a low whisper, quick footfalls, and, more distant, the jingle of spurs. And then, incautiously, two men arguing in hushed voices, one commanding, one pleading. A flicker of candlelight illuminated the shallow depression beneath the door of the tobacco barn, and—he jerked his head sharply when a sudden gleam caught the corner of his
eye—the glint of a lantern appeared between the slats on the opposite side.

The barn was surrounded.

Blood pounded in his ears as he inched closer to his companion, grimacing in pain as he dragged himself from his makeshift bed on the hay-strewn floor. Covering the younger man's mouth with one hand, with the other he grasped him by the shoulder and shook him awake. “Herold,” he murmured, his gaze darting from the door to the four walls. “Wake up.”

David Herold woke with a start. “What is it, John?” he whispered hoarsely. “Is Garrett running us off after all?”

Richard Garrett, the lean, grim-faced farmer who had welcomed them into his home earlier that day, had banished them to the barn upon discovering their true identities. Adding to the insult, he had locked them in to ensure that they wouldn't run off with the family's horses in the night. Had Garrett betrayed them to the men now drawing the cordon tight around their refuge? When put to the test, had the Virginia farmer's Southern sympathies given way to craven fear?

Rage flared up within John, hot and searing, only to sputter and die out, extinguished by hard, cold truth. It mattered not how their pursuers had found them, only that they had.

“Our pursuers are upon us,” he told Herold, his voice preternaturally calm.

Muttering an oath, Herold scrambled to sit up, his short stature and fine wisps of facial hair making him seem even younger than his almost twenty-three years. “Should we surrender before they open fire?”

“I'll suffer death first.” John pulled Herold close and added in a voice scarcely more than a breath, “Don't make a sound. Maybe they'll think we aren't here and go away.”

At that moment, the plaintive creak of hinges drew their attention to the door, which was slowly, cautiously opening. A figure stepped into the doorway, thrown into silhouette by a distant lantern. “Gentlemen, the cavalry are after you.” It was Jack Garrett, the farmer's eldest son, recently returned from the war. He had been clad in a gray Confederate uniform when they first met—had it really been only the previous afternoon?

“You're the ones they seek.” Jack Garrett's voice gathered strength as it probed the darkness. “You'd better give yourselves up.”

“John Wilkes Booth,” another man proclaimed, emerging in the doorway behind Jack Garrett, a candle in his fist. “I want you to surrender. If you don't, in fifteen minutes I'll burn the barn down around you.”

Grasping his injured leg, John drew himself up as tall as he could sit. “And who are you, sir?” he demanded, his voice ringing as it had from the stage of Grover's Theatre, the Arch Street Theatre, the National, the Marshall, Ford's—the scenes of his greatest triumphs. He could triumph here yet. “This is a hard case. It may be that I am to be taken by my friends.”

“I'm Lieutenant Luther Byron Baker, detective, United States Department of War, and I order you to turn your weapons over to Garrett and give yourself up.”

Herold, trembling and sweating despite the cold, took his head in his hands, moaning softly through clenched teeth. “You don't choose to give yourself up,” he told John shakily. “But I do. Let me go out.”

“No.” John forced his voice to remain steady, his heart thudding in time with the throbbing of his injured leg. “You shall not.”

As they argued, their voices low and heated, John's mouth went dry and a fearful tremor seized him. He was aware of Garrett speaking over his shoulder to the other men as he backed away from the doorway, and of Herold slipping from his control. Another ten minutes and the boy's terror would overcome him entirely. Before that moment came, John must sow enough confusion to conceal their escape, or all would be lost.

He seized Herold by the shoulder—to restrain his companion as well as to brace himself against his own rising panic. “Surely we can come to an understanding between gentlemen,” he called grandly, projecting his voice through the doorway to the officer lurking outside. “If I had been inclined to shoot my way to freedom, your candle would have made you an easy target.”

Silence followed his declaration, and as he watched, the thin light wavered, shadows shifting as Baker carried the candle away and planted it on some hillock in the yard. Boots scraping on hard packed earth alerted him to the officer's return. “Give up your arms or the barn will
be set on fire,” the lieutenant commanded. A low growl of assent revealed his companions' numbers—a dozen at least, fully armed, no doubt, filled with misguided, righteous anger, panting to avenge their slain leader. John knew nothing would convince them that he had saved them from a tyrant.

In the diminished light, his gaze traveled the length and width of the barn, searching, hoping. There must be an escape, even now. He and young Herold could flee to Mexico, where Emperor Maximilian was offering refuge and substantial bounties to steadfast Confederates. There he would at last be proclaimed a hero, as he had not been in Maryland, Virginia, or anywhere in the ungrateful South. There, Lucy's studies of the Spanish tongue would serve them well.

Lucy, he thought, picturing her as he had last seen her, smiling and beautiful in the dining room of the National Hotel. Sweet Lucy. What did she think of him now? Would her love remain true, or did she too abhor him? Surely he could make her understand that the fractured nation owed all her troubles to Lincoln. The country had groaned beneath his tyranny and had prayed for this end, and God had made John the instrument of His perfect wrath. How bewildering it was, in the aftermath of the deed that should have made him great, to find himself abandoned by the very people he served, in desperate flight with the mark of Cain upon him, but if the world knew his heart, if Lucy knew his heart—

His courage faltering, he forced thoughts of his beloved aside. “My good sir,” he called out, stalling for time, thoughts racing, “that's rather rough. I'm nothing but a cripple. I have but one leg, and you ought to give me a chance for a fair fight.”

“We're not here to argue,” Baker shouted back, anger and impatience whetting the edge of his voice. “You've got five minutes left to consider the matter.”

“I don't need five minutes, Booth,” said Herold, rising, clenching his hands, pacing, his anxious gaze fixed upon the doorway. “They got us cornered. We got no choice but to give up. Don't you see? We've gone as far as we can.”

John would not concede that they had, not while breath remained in his body. Again and again he tried to engage Baker in conversation, but the Yankee lieutenant would neither negotiate nor be distracted,
insisting that the fugitives consider their circumstances and make their choices. Increasingly frustrated, John looked to Herold, who paced and gnawed his fingernails to the quick and would clearly be no help at all.

“Well, then,” John called to Baker almost cheerfully, “throw open the door, draw up your men in line, and let's have a fair fight.”

“Garrett,” said another man, whose voice John had not yet heard, “gather some of those pine twigs and pile them up by the sides of the barn.”

“What does he mean?” Herold asked, panic infiltrating his voice. “What are they doing?”

“Calm yourself.” John strained his ears to detect Garrett's retreat, and soon thereafter, returning footfalls and the sound of an armload of pine boughs falling in a pile near the door. Alarmed, he shouted, “Put no more brush there or someone will get hurt.”

“Booth.” Herold backed into the center of the barn, gaze darting wildly, hands spread as if to ward off an invisible foe. “Booth—”

“Herold, I told you—” A whiff of smoke in the air silenced him, the crackle of new flame. Quickly he discovered the source—someone had twisted hay into a makeshift wick, set it on fire, and shoved it through a crack between the boards of the barn wall. He watched, thunderstruck, as flames licked greedily at the wooden planks, steadily climbing, cutting through the shadows with garish light.

“I'm going,” Herold croaked, pale with terror. “I don't intend to be burnt alive.”

As the younger man strode toward the door, John quickly reached out and seized the cuff of his trousers, gasping as stabbing pains shot up his broken leg. “Take another step and I'll kill you.”

Herold gaped at him, his mouth open in silent protest, his pouchy cheeks quivering, his face eerily young in the rising light of the blaze. Suddenly John recalled how obediently Herold had served the conspiracy over the past year, how faithfully he had served John throughout their flight from Washington—guiding him through the backwoods and swamps of Maryland and Virginia, finding them safe havens with sympathetic civilians along the way, risking his life in dangerous river crossings, tending John in his infirmity. John remembered, and he regretted his cruel threat.

He must save the boy, if he could not save them both.

“Get away from me, you damned coward,” he snarled loudly for the audience outside. As Herold pulled away, John yanked him back again and added in a whisper, “When you get out, don't tell them what arms I carry.”

Bewildered, Herold mutely nodded, stumbling backward when John released him.

“Lieutenant Baker,” John called out, “there is a man in here who wants to surrender. He is innocent of any crime.”

After a moment's pause, Baker called back, “Pass your weapons through the door and come out with your hands in the air.”

“He has no weapons.” John coughed and waved away a tendril of smoke scented with wood and tobacco and straw. A trickle of sweat ran from his temple to his jaw. “All the arms here are mine.”

In a panic, Herold sprinted to the door, only to find it barred against him. “Let me out,” he shrieked, pounding on the door. “Let me out!”

The door swung open. A soldier ordered Herold to extend his hands, one at a time, and the moment he obeyed, someone seized his wrists and yanked him out of sight. Before the door swung shut again, John glimpsed rifles and pistols trained upon the entrance, gleaming in the light from the burning barn.

The blaze had scaled the walls and spread to the rafters, roaring and crackling and filling the air with choking smoke. Scooting away from the walls, dragging his injured leg after him, John looked about for something, anything, to put out the fire. Instead through the cracks between the wooden planks he glimpsed the pale faces of Union soldiers outside, angry and curious, emboldened by Herold's surrender. They watched him with hungry avarice, like a vicious pack of dogs studying a cornered stag.

Resolute, he took his Spencer carbine in hand and reached for his crutch. If these were to be his last moments, he would not spend them lying in the dirty straw, helpless and despairing, so his enemies might watch him roast alive. As quickly as he dared, he pushed himself to his feet and steadied himself on the crutch.

He had nowhere to go but into the arms of his vengeful enemies.

Supporting his weight on the crutch, he made his way to the door, wincing as a shower of sparks flew too close before his face. The crutch
slipped from beneath his outstretched arm as he reached for the latch, but he let it fall. He would face the soldiers standing, defiant and proud on his own two feet.

He drew himself up as he shuffled into the doorway, and raised his carbine—

And then he was lying on his face in the dirt, his head spinning, his neck trembling electrically as if in the aftermath of a lightning strike, his strong body strangely limp and heavy. He could not open his eyes, or dared not try.

He heard the faint thunder of quick footfalls, felt the strike of the soldiers' boots on the earth transmitted through the ground to his forehead. Something warm and liquid trickled from his neck down his collar past his clavicle, over the old scar he boasted as a war wound, but when he reached up to brush the irritant away, his hand and arm did not respond. Dimly he puzzled over this oddity as the men gathered around him.

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