And below is the final ‘practice’ story that Rhonda Jackson and I wrote in preparation for the NYC Short Story Challenge. This time the prompts were: Subject: Luck; Character: Lead Singer; and Genre: Historical Fiction: Length: 1500 words. So, what do you think about our effort?
“John, what are you doing here?” Abigail Winston, lead singer in a quartet whose performances preceded the plays here at Ford’s Theater, as she entered the back stage area.
“I would prefer it if you called me JW, please.” John said as he hastily pocketed a small pick. “I was just leaving. You’re not performing tonight, are you?”
“No, we were told that we weren’t needed tonight. I guess the President won’t be here before the play starts. I came by to pick up my reticule. You aren’t playing in Our American Cousin are you?”
“What’s that you say? The President isn’t coming?” He fingered the pick in his pocket, wondering if the peephole he had just drilled in the door to the President’s box was for naught.
“No, I didn’t say that. He’s going to be late this evening. What do you care? You’re not performing are you?” Abigail asked again.
“You’re right, I’m not performing tonight. I just came by to make sure everything was set for the actors. It is an important night, what with the President coming and all.” Abigail didn’t miss the sarcasm in his voice.
“It’s no secret you don’t like Lincoln, JW. Why do you care what he sees?”
“I don’t, really. In fact, I think it is a bit of luck that neither of us will be performing tonight. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Miss Abigail, I have an appointment I must keep.” JW hurried out the back door. Abigail stared thoughtfully after him.
The next morning, the news was all over the city. The President had been assassinated! At first, Abigail breathed a quick sign of relief when she heard the news – relief that she was not performing last night. Of course, she was horrified for Mrs. Lincoln and hurried over to the theater to find out what had happened.
“You’re sure? It was JW?” Abigail remembered the odd conversation she’d had with JW the previous morning. “Poor Lucy! She must be devastated!” Although supposedly a secret, the engagement of JW Booth and Lucy Hale was known throughout the theater community. It was a recent development, but had not been formally announced.
“I’m sure she wasn’t aware of JW’s feelings about the President.” Joseph played the role of Asa in the play. He’d worked with Booth in the past and was well aware of the rancor JW held for the President. Joseph and Abigail were standing beyond the lines of soldiers blocking the theater, away from the crowds circling around, quietly discussing the assassination.
“It’s lucky the engagement hadn’t been announced, so she should be spared any embarrassment or ill treatment.” Abigail didn’t mention her encounter with Booth the day before. “Where do you suppose he is? He certainly can’t get too far; I heard he broke his leg when he jumped off the balcony onto the stage before making his escape.”
“Hasn’t been found yet,” Joseph said. “I heard that the girl is devastated but she’s leaving soon for Spain with her parents. I doubt Booth told her anything. She’d have turned him in were that the case. Or told Robert Lincoln, at least. They’re pretty thick.”
“I wonder where JW is?” Abigail mused.
At that moment Booth was at the Surratt tavern, gathering his things. He had heard of Mrs. Surratt’s arrest and, despite his injured leg, he and his friend, David Herold needed to get away. Herold, after leading Lewis Powell to Secretary Seward’s home, now joined Booth in a mad dash to avoid capture.
Booth’s leg hurt. He didn’t want to stop, fearing Herold would leave him and report Booth’s whereabouts to the Cavalry. But Herold talked him into visiting a nearby doctor, a man named Mudd, who set Booth’s leg. Herold bragged that Booth had killed the President. Mudd was appalled, making them leave at once, fearing for his own life.
They were turned away everywhere. Booth, who thought he’d be welcomed as a hero, was becoming depressed. No one was willing to risk sheltering him.
“Let’s try the old Garrett place,” Herold suggested as they rode away from Mudd’s establishment.
“We’ll need a boat and a guide,” Booth decided.
They moved through Maryland, hiding in a pine forest. Herold talked of giving up because the Union cavalry was everywhere. Booth threatened to shoot him if he tried to leave. Herold found some Confederate friends who provided food and a boat. They informed him that one of Booth’s friends had been arrested in a small village nearby. He’d talked. Booth became agitated, insisting that they move on.
Herold and Booth took the small boat and rowed across the river without the guide, who refused to go any further. As the river twisted and turned on itself in the inky blackness of night, they lost their way, landing back on the Maryland side. Booth railed at Herold’s incompetence but wouldn’t let him leave. He knew too much about Booth’s plans.
Herold took them across the river at daylight. Booth, angry now and suspicious, took Herold’s weapons away from him, making Herold walk in front of him. They reached a home owned by Confederate sympathizers. Surely they would get help there.
Herold knocked on the door, “Greetings, Ma’am. I fear we’re a bit early for our appointment with your husband. Might we rest inside while we wait?” She took them to parlor.
Her old hired man told her that these were strangers. He didn’t think her husband knew them. He suspected they might be the fugitives the Cavalry was looking for.
Returning to the parlor, she said, “My husband will be back in an hour. It’s not proper for a married woman to be alone with two gentlemen in the parlor. I believe that propriety forces me to ask you to leave the house and wait elsewhere.”
“Ma’am. We need to rest and eat. My friend’s hurt his leg. I’m sure your husband will understand,” Herold pleaded.
“My husband’s a jealous man. The Garrett farm’s just down the road. Only men live there. My servants have packed you food. Good luck on your travels. You’ll be most welcome here when my husband returns,” she said.
“But, ma’am,” Herold pleaded.
“She is right. Propriety is the thing,” Booth intervened, afraid Herold would say who they were. He hustled Herold out of the house and down the road.
The woman sent her servant to find the Cavalry. She’d heard rumors of arrests of all who aided the fugitives and she wasn’t going to run that risk. Her servant found the cavalry almost immediately, pointing out where the fugitives were.
Garrett didn’t want Booth and Herold in the house, but hid them in the barn. He and his boys went about their business, telling Booth to be gone before daylight. Garrett didn’t want any Union Cavalry messing around his place.
The Cavalry squad moved through the woods, encircling Garrett’s house and barn, materializing quickly in the yard. Garrett greeted them from the porch. It was late at night but Garrett was still dressed.
“Yeah. You can search my place. Ain’t nobody here but me. Check the house if you wanna,” Garret said.
The soldiers searched the house and outbuildings. They found a young lad hiding in the corn crib. Garrett ran forward. “Don’t hurt him. He’s my son.”
“Where’re the men you’re hiding?” the lieutenant demanded.
“Ain’t nobody here but us,” the lad said. “I never mustered of the Confederate army. I thought you was coming to fetch me back.”
“War’s over. Been over. Where are they hiding?” the lieutenant demanded putting his pistol to the lad’s head.
“Over in the barn,” the lad caved.
As the cavalry squad surrounded the barn, they heard a heated argument; Herold begging Booth to surrender to save them both.
“We can’t get away. They’ve got us. I don’t want to die. Just let me go!” Herold begged.
“We’re as good as dead anyhow. Might as well go out fighting for the glorious cause,” Booth remonstrated.
“Let me go!” Herold howled.
Booth called out to the lieutenant derisively, “Someone’s comin’ out.” He shoved Herold toward the barn door.
The lieutenant made Herold show his hands. Booth said, “I have all the weapons. I’ll be using them on you boys.”
Herold ran out of the barn before Booth could shoot him. The lieutenant began negotiating with Booth; hoping he would surrender. Meanwhile, a sergeant started a fire in the back of the barn to drive Booth out. Booth pulled a weapon, ran toward the fire, changed his mind and ran for the barn door. A carbine cracked.
Booth fell forward, a bullet in his brain an inch below the spot where he’d placed one in Lincoln’s head.
The lieutenant searched his body. He found a derringer, a compass, a pocket knife, and pictures of five different women. One was Lucy Hale. The rest were actresses.
“Guess all her tears were for nothing,” the lieutenant sighed. “The curtain certainly dropped quickly on that romance.