DARKNESS HAD COME to New Orleans. Though the detested Union military governor Benjamin "Beast" Butler had been removed from control over the city, the streets remained quiet by night, as if the residents' hatred of the man were an odor, and that odor still lingered in the air. As he approached the office on Dauphine where he'd been summoned, Cody Fox was surprised by the sudden eruption of men, exiting headquarters and hurrying out to the street, rifles in their hands, faces pale, nervous whispers rather than shouts escaping their lips.
He was curious about what was bothering the men. New Orleans was solidly in Union hands and had been for more than a year. As the others hurried out, barely nodding in his direction, Cody went in, wondering what a Union officer wanted from a recovering Confederate soldier. The sergeant behind the desk took his name and bade him sit, then hurried into what had once been the parlor of Missy Eldin, daughter of Confederate Colonel Elijah Eldin, who had died at Shiloh, but was now a Union military office.
Cody had returned from the front lines nearly a month ago, and as far as he was concerned, he had healed from the wound that had taken him out of the battle and sent him back to the house on Bourbon Street where he had grown up. He was walking fine these days, he had no problem whatsoever leaping up on his horse, and all he had in mind now was getting somewhere far away.
He wasn't afraid of battle; he wasn't even afraid of the enemy, especially since he and his Southern fellows lived side by side with "the enemy" these days. Cody had discovered long before the war that there were good and bad men of every calling, and there were good men and bad on both sides of the present conflict. No, he was simply tired of the carnage, restless, ready to move on.
But he'd been called to the headquarters of Lieutenant William Aldridge, adjunct to Nathaniel Banks, the commander who had replaced "Beast" Butler. Butler had ordered the execution of a man named William Mumford, merely for tearing down the Stars and Stripes when it had been raised over city hall. The act had made him a savage not only in the eyes of the South, but even in the North and among the Europeans. Nathaniel Banks was a decent man, and he was working hard to undo the terrible damage caused by Butler, but it would take time.
"Mr. Fox?" A soldier in a federal uniform, an assistant to an assistant, called him, refusing to acknowledge his rank. He really didn't give a damn. He hadn't wanted to go to war; it had seemed that grown men should have been able to solve their differences without bloodshed. Then again, he had no desire to be a politician, either.
These days...everyone was just waiting. The war would end. Either the Northerners would get sick to death of the toll victory would cost and say good riddance to the South, or the continual onslaught of men and arms-something that could be replenished in the North and not the South-would force the South to her knees. He'd once had occasion to meet Lincoln, and he admired the man. In the end, Lincoln's iron will and determination might be the deciding factor. Lee was definitely one of the finest generals ever to lead a war effort, but no man could fight the odds forever.
"Yes, I'm Fox," Cody said, rising.
"Come in, please. Lieutenant Aldridge is ready to see you in his office," the assistant to the assistant said.
Cody nodded and followed the man.
Lieutenant Aldridge was behind a camp desk neatly installed in the once elegant study. He had clearly been busy with the papers scattered in front of him, but when Cody entered, he stood politely. Aldridge was known as a decent fellow, one of those men who were convinced the North would win and that, when that day came, the nation was going to have to heal itself. It might take decades, because it was going to be damned hard for folks to forgive after Matthew Brady and others following in his footsteps had brought the reality of war home. Brady's photographs of the dead on the field had done more to show mothers what had happened to their sons than any words ever could have. But Aldridge was convinced that healing would come one day, and he intended to work toward that reality.
"Mr. Fox," Aldridge said, shaking Cody's hand and indicating the chair in front of his desk. "Thank you for coming in. Would you like some coffee?" He was tall and lean, probably little more than thirty, but with the ravages of responsibility adding ten years to his features. His eyes were hazel. Kind eyes, though.
"I'm fine, thank you," Cody said. He leaned forward. "May I ask why I'm here?"
Aldridge pulled a file from atop a stack on his desk and flipped it open. "You were with Ryan's Horse Guard, I see. Cavalry. You saw action from the first Battle of Manassas to Antietam Creek, and you nearly had your leg blown off. Doctors said you wouldn't make it, but somehow you survived. You've been back here in New Orleans for a year-got your medical degree up at Harvard, though."
Aldridge paused for a moment, staring at him. "Any corrections thus far?"
"No, sir. None that I can think of," Cody said, still wondering why he was there.
Aldridge dropped the file. "Anything you want to add?"
"Seems like you know a lot about my life, sir."
"Why don't you fill me in on what I'm missing?" Aldridge asked, a fine thread of steel underlying his words.
"What exactly are you asking, Lieutenant?" Cody asked.
"I was hoping you'd be more...forthcoming with the details of your time in the North, Fox," Aldridge said. "Before your state seceded, you were working in Washington. You were actually asked to the White House to converse with Lincoln. You've been involved in solving several...difficulties in and around the capital."
Cody kept his face impassive, but Aldridge's knowledge of his past had taken him by surprise.
"I took part in a number of reconnaissance missions as part of Lee's army, Lieutenant, if that's what you're referring to," he said carefully. "I was given a medical discharge and sent back to New Orleans when I was wounded-initially declared dead, actually. I've been here, helping the wounded of both armies and minding my own business, since my recovery."
Aldridge stared at him and flipped the file shut again. He didn't have to read from it; he apparently knew what it contained. "A series of bizarre murders took place in northern Alexandria in 1859. You were friends with a certain law enforcement officer, Dean Brentford, and you started patrolling with him at night. You apprehended the murderer when no other constable could catch up with him. And when he tore through the force trying to subdue him, you managed to decapitate him with a single one-handed swing of your sword." Aldridge pointed a finger at him. "President Lincoln himself asked you to perform intelligence work for him, but you politely refused, saying your remaining kin were in Louisiana, and you couldn't rightly accept such a position."
Cody lifted his hands. "My mother died the year after the war started, but I'm sure you understand that...I come from here. I was born here. And as to the...incident to which you refer...The brutality of the murders took everyone by surprise, and I'm simply glad I was able to help."
Aldridge leaned forward. "Help? Fox, to all intents and purposes you and you alone stopped them. More to the point, we've just had a similar case here, down on Conti. My officers are at their wits' end, and I don't want this city going mad because the Yanks think the Rebs have gone sick or vice versa. This isn't a battleground anymore, it's a city where people are picking up the pieces of their lives. It may take decades before true peace is achieved, but I'll be damned if I'll allow the citizens to start killing one another because one man is sick in the head."
Cody stared straight across the desk at the man and didn't say a word.
"You got yourself a medical degree, son, then you went off to ride with the cavalry and wound up in intelligence." Aldridge stared back at Cody, hazel eyes intent. "You can help me. I don't give a damn where you came from or what your folks did or whose side you fought on. I just want to catch a killer. Because it sounds like a bloodthirsty madman just like the one you killed is on the loose-in my city-and I want him stopped."
"HOW DID YOU KNOW about the attack?"
Alexandra Gordon was sitting in a hardwood chair, presumably before a desk, but she didn't have any actual idea where she was, since the officers who had come to her house had thrown a canvas bag over her head, and she was still blinded by it. She was stunned by the treatment she had received and continued to receive, especially since she had put herself in great peril to warn the small scouting contingent that there would be bloodshed if they crossed the Potomac.
Apparently she was a deadly spy.
They had tied her hands behind her back, but the officer in charge had whispered furiously to the others, and her hands were once again free. Despite that small courtesy, he seemed to be the descendent of a member of the Spanish Inquisition. He slammed his hands on the table, and his voice rose as he repeated the question. "How did you know? And don't say again that it was a dream. You are a spy, and you will tell me where you're gaining your information!"
She shook her head beneath the canvas bag, praying for the ability to stay calm. "I merely tried to save Union lives, sir, as well as Confederate. What, I ask you, was gained by this raid? Nothing. What was lost? The lives of at least twenty young men. I went to the encampment to speak with the sergeant and tell him that he mustn't make the foray. He ignored my warning, and now he and his men are dead, along with a number of my Southern brothers."
"I have the power to imprison you for the rest of your life-or hang you," her inquisitor warned.
She heard the sound of a door opening. Someone else spoke, a man with a low, well-modulated voice. "Lieutenant Green," he said, "I would like to speak with Ms. Gordon myself."
"But, sir!" Green was shocked.
"Please," the new voice said politely, but there was authority in the tone.
Alex heard a chair scrape back and was aware of the newcomer taking a seat across from her.
"My wife has dreams," he said after a moment. "In fact, I have had dreams. Please, tell me, what did you see in your dream, and how did you know when and where the slaughter would occur?"
"I know the place," she said softly. "I used to play in that hollow when I was a child, when we had a farm there. My father worked in Washington then, but we would steal away to the countryside whenever he was free."
She heard someone snort. Green. "Her father was a traitor," the lieutenant said. "He went out West and was murdered. Indians, I heard. Good riddance."
She stiffened at that. "My father was no traitor. He loved the West and chose to move us there to avoid a war he thought unjust. He went looking for a home where everyone was equal. He didn't care about a man's birth or color. He was a brilliant man," she said passionately. "He worked for the government, for the people."
"It's all right, I know of him, Miss Gordon," the newcomer said softly, soothingly. "And I was deeply sorry to hear about his death. Now, tell me, what did you see?"
"I saw the hollow in the woods. I heard the horses coming, and I saw movement in the trees. And then the men stepped out, thin, haggard, like starving dogs. And starving dogs can be desperate. When the horses came, the men were ready to attack. And then...it was as if a fog suddenly settled over the daylight, but the mist was red, the color of the blood being spilled.... I saw...I saw them die. Some were shot, others skewered through by bayonets. Then I saw the riderless horses cantering away, and I saw the ground, strewn with the dead, one atop another, as if in death enemies had at last made amends."
"Do you dream often?" he asked.
She longed to see the face of the man who had come to speak so kindly to her. "No."
"But you have done so before?"
"And when you have these dreams, what you see comes true?"
"Unless it is somehow stopped," she said. "I tried so hard...but no one would listen."
She was startled, but not frightened, when he took her hands.
His hands were very large, callused and clumsy, but warm, and offering great strength.
"She's a Confederate spy," someone muttered venomously.
"Gentleman, a spy does not warn the enemy in an attempt to prevent death," he said. "A spy would let the enemy march to their doom. Tell me," he said to her, "do you wish to bring us down?"
"No. I am not a spy. I came home to marry-"
"A Reb," the inquisitor interrupted.
"And instead I watched my fiance and what was left here of my family die. But I do not pray for either side. I pray for an end to war. I teach-"
"Sedition," the lieutenant stated.
"Piano," she corrected dryly. "And I run a library and bookshop. My father was a great teacher, and I'm proud to say I learned everything I know from him."
The gentle man spoke to her again. "Do you consort with the enemy?"
"If I do, I have nothing to tell them. And I consort with those who are not your enemy, as well," she said, an edge to her tone.
"I believe you," he said. "But now I would like to return to the subject of your dreams."
"I believe that dreams come to warn us, but that if we learn to heed them, we can change the course of events."
She heard the other man sniggering. "Did your dreams warn you about your father's death, Miss Gordon?" the lieutenant asked, mocking her.
"Dreams do not always tell us what we might most wish to know," she said.
"Tell me, Miss Gordon, have you ever changed the outcome of events after you dreamed them?"
"Yes. I...stopped a young man who was wounded from rejoining his unit. I had seen him lying on the battlefield, staring up at the sky with sightless eyes on the battlefield. He has since been reassigned to communications work."
"Spying!" Lieutenant Green said.
She laughed. "He was a Union soldier, so..."
The quiet man spoke again. "What if we are not intended to change fate," the soft-spoken man said.
"We are creatures of free will," she said. "I believe that God helps those who help themselves. We read books. Perhaps we can learn to read our dreams, as well," she said.
"Perhaps." She heard him move his chair back. "It's my belief, Lieutenant Green, that we are violating the rights of this young woman," he said.
She didn't know what she had said, but she had somehow satisfied him.
"What are your plans, Miss Gordon?" he asked, surprising her.
"I've been planning-to head west, to Texas. I want to find out what happened to my father," she said.
"I think you'd do better to stay here," the man said. "Safer."
"I have to go," she said simply.
"Have you received guidance on that matter in your dreams?" he asked.
"No. But I know in my heart that I must search out the truth," she said.
"I understand. At any rate...Lieutenant Green, get that ridiculous hood off the young lady's head."
"I can manage, sir," she said, shuddering at the thought of Green touching her. She quickly pulled the canvas sack from her head.
She looked up and found herself rising. She had never suspected...She had seen President Lincoln many times, and she had heard that he was haunted by dreams and sometimes driven to distraction by his wife's obsession with the occult. But then, the poor man had lost two sons, and the challenge of keeping a nation together did not lessen a father's grief or a mother's desperation.
He stretched out a hand. She accepted it. "You will be in my prayers, young lady."
"And you, sir, will be in mine."
"That is something for which I will be eternally grateful."
"Sir!" Green protested.
"Please see to it that Miss Gordon is escorted home. And if she needs help in any way, I know that you will be kind enough to see that she receives it. Right, Lieutenant?"
Green looked as if he were about to explode.
"Right, Lieutenant?" Lincoln repeated softly.
"Right, sir," Green said.
Lincoln tipped his hat to her. "I wish you could meet Mary. She might be greatly encouraged by knowing you."
"I am here for another fortnight, sir, and it would be my great pleasure to help you in any way."
"Then I shall make the arrangements. You have my thanks."
MARY LINCOLN DID NOT have her husband's calm disposition.
Alex felt she had to be honest and explain that she had no way to communicate with the dead, but she also found herself desperate to ease the woman's suffering if she could. "Sometimes," she said, "those who have gone before us appear in our dreams, and I believe that is their way of letting us know that they are happy in the next world."
"Has your father, or perhaps your fiance, appeared in your dreams?" Mary asked anxiously.
"No. But I have heard of it happening. Mrs. Lincoln, I know that your little ones are with God. You must find peace here on earth, and know that you will be reunited with them when the time is right."
She saw a peacefulness enter Mary Lincoln's eyes then, and she left feeling that, in some small way, she had helped.
DAYS LATER, WHEN SHE was actually leaving for her long journey, she saw the president again.
He was riding in a carriage with his wife, as he often did on a Sunday. He didn't see her, though. He was leaning back, his eyes closed, his expression that of a man pushed past the point of exhaustion. As she stepped into her own carriage, she wondered what dreams were plaguing the president as he wearily rested his head. Dreams were such unreliable messengers.
No dream had warned her of her father's death, when she had left him to return to her fiance in the East.
And no dream had come to alert her to what lay ahead.