The Thackery Journal
By John Holt
Synopsis: On the night of April 14th 1865 President Abraham Lincoln was attending a performance at The Ford Theatre, in Washington. A single shot fired by John Wilkes Booth hit the President in the back of the head. He slumped to the floor, and died a few hours later without recovering consciousness. Was Booth a lone assassin? Or was he part of a wider conspiracy? What if Booth had merely been a willing party to a plot to replace Lincoln with General Ulysees S. Grant. Let us suppose that Booth had been set up by a group of men, a group of Lincoln’s own Army Generals; Generals who had wanted Ulysees S Grant for their President, and not Lincoln. And let us also suppose that the funding for the assassination had come from gold stolen by the Confederate Army.
John says: “TheThackery Journal” is a ‘What If’ story set at the time of the American Civil War. It concerns the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and is told through the pages of the journal of Captain Jacob Thackery of the Confederate Army.
The following excerpt is taken from the first chapter of the book. It is set after the war, and after the President has been assassinated. The elderly man is Jacob’s father, and he is reading through the journal, and sets the scene for the story to unfold.
The challenge for me was to establish the time period, and the events that occurred very quickly, and very dramatically. My normal genre is Crime, and I have written four novels featuring my private detective Tom Kendall. ‘The Thackery Journal’ took me way outside my comfort zone. So why did I write it you may ask. The answer isn’t that simple. My first novel “The Kammersee Affair” is about the search for hidden nazi gold. When researching I came across an article regarding confederate gold bullion going missing just as the Civil War was coming to an end.
I imagined a scene where the perpetrators had finally been tracked down and their pursuers were closing in – this was to become the final chapter of “Thackery”. That gave me a lead in to chapter one. And there it came to an abrupt stop. I started to write my Kendall novels, occasionally adding something to “Thackery”. I got to the stage where I had three or four good chapters to start, a couple at the end, but very little in the middle. Then about six months ago it all became very clear, and after four years I finished the book in about four months.
Seated close to the fireside, in the large high back chair, was an elderly man. He sat hunched forward, his head hung down, his white hair shimmering in the firelight. Billows of smoke, from his pipe, rose into the air and disappeared into the darkness. Curled up on the rug next to him was an elderly dog fast asleep, its head resting on its front paws. The man looked down at the dog for a few moments, and then slowly turned to the last page of the handwritten document that he was reading. He gasped audibly.
Although he had read the small faded document several times already, he was still shocked to notice that the handwriting on that last page had become quite shaky, and he had some difficulty in actually reading the words.
“I can hear them coming,” the document read. “They are coming up the staircase.” He had read the document so many times that he actually knew the words by heart. “They are outside now,” he whispered. “Banging on the door, they are coming for me.”
The man looked up, staring into the darkness. He shook his head. “Banging on the door,” he repeated slowly, in a hushed voice. He could almost see them, running up the stairs, their boots echoing loudly on the timber treads. Then they were there, standing outside by the door to the boy’s room. He could hear their breathing, their hearts beating fast. He could imagine them calling excitedly to each other.
“Here,” one would cry out.
“In there,” said another.
“We have him now,” cries a third.
“He cannot get away, not this time,” from a fourth.
The elderly man could hear the heavy thud as they smashed on the door, first with their fists, then with their shoulders, and finally with a battering ram hurriedly brought in from outside.
“Open up,” they scream, as they strike the door over and over again. “Open up, you can’t get away.”
He could almost hear the timber doorframe splitting, as the door was being wrenched from the hinges, the frame being torn from the wall.
“They are coming for me,” the document continued. “There is no way out. There is no escape.”
The man could only imagine the torment, and the fear that the young man must have felt at that precise moment. His situation was completely hopeless. He was completely alone. Capture was inevitable. Did he call out for me, the man wondered, or perhaps he had called for his mother? Did he pray? He shook his head sadly. There was no way of knowing. But what he did know was that the young man must have been frantic, desperate. What could he do? There was nowhere to turn. There was no one to help. He was trapped. “No way out,” the man murmured. Then there came that last cry for help. “May God have mercy on my soul.” Then the document came to an abrupt ending. It was all over.
What had happened next could only be guessed, but the elderly man did not need to guess. The blood staining on the last few pages of the document gave a small clue. But he did not need clues. He did not need hints. He knew precisely what had happened. The report of the public inquiry had been quite detailed in that respect. No detail had been omitted. Nothing had been left out. He had been told everything.
It would haunt him for the rest of his life.