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"Lincoln, Lincoln, Lincoln," Richard Anderson said, shaking his head sadly. "Frankly, I don't understand your obsession with the man."
Richard pointed out beyond the sand dunes and the scattered pines to the seaand over the causeway to Fort Zachary Taylor where the North was in control, and had been in control since the beginning of the war, despite Florida being the third state to secede from the Union. He sat down in the pine-laden sand next to Tara, confusion lacing his gray eyes.
"You're at the southernmost tip of the southernmost state. A Confederate state. I don't see you gnawing your lip and chewing down your nails to the nub over Jefferson Davis, who has certainly had his share of trouble, too. Seriously," he said, scooting closer to her, "Tara Fox, if you're not careful, you're going to get yourself killed."
"Getting myself killed is highly unlikely," she murmured. She smiled at Richard, her friend since childhood. They were seated on the small dunes on the edge of the island, away from the homes on the main streets of the town, and far to the east of the fort and any of its troops that might be about. Tara loved to come here. The pines made a soft seat of the sand, and the breeze always seemed to come in gently from the ocean, unless a storm was nearing, and even then she loved it equally. There was something about the sea when the sky turned gray and the wind began to pick up with a soft evil moan that promised of the tempest to come.
"Hardly likely? More than possible!" Richard said hoarsely. "My dearest friend, your passions make you a whirlwind!"
"Honestly, please. This is a war between human beings. The Northern soldiers don't run around killing womenfrom what I understand, they're only locking up spies when they're women, and not doing a great job keeping any of them in prison at that."
"There's nothing human about war at all."
"But, Richard, I'm not a spy, and I'm not trying to do anything evil. I just keep dreaming about Abraham Lincoln."
"My dear girl, he's not the usual man to fulfill a lass's dreams of fantasy and romance," Richard said, grinning widely.
She cast him a glare in which her effort to control her patience was entirely obvious. "Richard, that's not what I mean at all and you know it."
"It was worth a try," he said wearily. "You are like a dog with a bone when you start on something, and it terrifies me."
Tara ignored that. "I've already gone north once, Richard." She said the words flatly, as if they proved that she could well manage herself. Yet, even as she spoke with such assurance to him, she was startled to feel a chill of fear.
Yes, she had gone north, and, yes, she had been accosted. By an idiot citizen who seemed to think that she was about to offer harm to President Lincoln. Idiot, yes, but
Canny and observant, he had watched herstalked her practically!and stopped her from getting near Lincoln. If she hadn't been wary
No, she could take care of herself. If forced into a fighting position, she could take care of herself. And, while highly unlikely, she could be killed, especially if someone really knew or understood just who she was.
What she was.
That was then, long ago now. The man could be dead now, such was the war.
Somehow, she doubted it. She could too easily remember him. Though far shorter than the president, he was well over six feet tall, built of brick, so it appeared, with sharp dark eyes that seemed to rip right through flesh and blood. She remembered his touch all too well. He was a dangerous enemy.
"I've been north before," she repeated to Richard. "I'm not a soldier and I'm not a spy. I'm a traveler. I'm just trying to find a place to live, to find work
I've been there, I've done it before."
"Yes, I know, and I didn't think that it was a good idea then, and I think it's a worse idea now."
She touched his hand gently. She couldn't be afraid, and she couldn't let others be afraid for her. If she could only make her friends understand that it was almost as if she was being called to help. "Richard, it's as if he knows me, as if he's communicating with me through his mind. I don't know how to explain, but I dream that we're walking through the White Houseand he's talking to me."
Richard stood, paced the soft ground and paused again to look at her. "If you want to go, you know that I'll help you. I just want you to realize what a grave mistake you're makingabsolutely no pun intended." He hesitated. "This is home. This is Key West. This is where your mother came, and where you are accepted, and where you have friends. It's where I'm based."
Tara lifted her chin. "It's where you're based. Half of the time, you 're offtrying to slip through the blockade. Speak of dangerous."
"It's what I'm supposed to do," he said quietly.
"You never wanted the war," she reminded him. "You said from the beginning that there had to be a way to compromise, that we just needed to realize that slavery was archaic and the great plantation owners could begin a system of payments and schooling and"
"I was an idiot," he said flatly. "In one thing, the world will never change. Men will be blind when a systemeven an evil onecreates their way of life, their riches and their survival. John Brown might have been a murdering fanatic, but in this, he could have been right." He gazed off into the distance, a bemused look on his face. "The state of Vermont abolished slavery long before your Mr. Lincoln thought of his emancipation proclamation. But do you think that rich farmers anywhere were thinking that they'd have to pick their own cotton if such a law existed? Yes, it can happen, it will happen, but
"You're saying the war is over, that we've lostbut you keep going out, running the blockade."
He lifted his hands. "It's what I have to do
. But! You don't have to. You are in a dangerous situation when you leave this place."
"Richard! I don't walk around with a sign on my back with large printed letters that spell out b-a-s-t-a-r-d!" she said indignantly.
"Nor do you have a sign that says Be Wary! Half Vampire!" Richard warned.
Tara was silence a minute. "And you're my friend," she murmured dryly.
He knelt back down by her in the bracken by the pines near the tiny spit of beach that stretched out along the causeway to the fort. "I am your friend. That's why I'm telling you this. You know I'll take you aboard the Peace when you wish
you know that. What I'm trying to tell you is that every journey we make grows more dangerous. The South started the war with no navy, had to scrounge around and build like crazybeg, borrow and steal other shipsand then count on blockade runners to carry supplies. My ship is good, but the noose is tightening on us, Tara."
He was quiet for a minute, looking downward, and then he looked up at her again. "Tara, I'm saying this to you now, here alone. If I were heard, it might well be construed as that I was speaking as a traitor, and God help me, I'd fight for my state, no matter what. Yet, every word we've spoken here is the truth of it. The war is ending. And we are on our knees, dying. The Confederacy can't hold out much longer, and who knows, maybe God Himself is speaking. General Sherman ripped Atlanta apart, and thankfully Savannah surrendered before being burned to the ground, as well. Since Gettysburg, our victories have been small and sadly sparse."
Tara drew her knees to her chest and hugged them. "Yes," she said softly. "I can read very well," she assured him.
"The death toll is ungodly." He might well have been sadly informing himself.
" She waved a hand in the air. "I know the tragedy of the whole situation, and all the logic. Grant is grabbing immigrants right off the ships and throwing them into the Union forces. The North has the manufacturingand what they didn't have, they seized. They're in control of the railroads, and when the South rips them up, they have the money and supplies to repair them, and we don't. Lee's army is threadbare, shoeless, down on ammunition and, half the time, scrounging desperately for food. I know all that, Richard. Like you, I'd hoped that there wouldn't be a war, and that most people with any sense would realize that it wouldn't simply be a massive cost in life for all of us."
She looked at Richard, pain and passion in her eyes. "I think about you, and my friends fighting for the South. And I think about Hank Manner, the kind young Yankee at the fort who helped old Mrs. Bartley when her carriage fell over. Richard, the concept of any of you shot and torn and bleeding is horrible. North and South, we're all human beings." She winced. "Well, you know what I mean. Hank is a good man, a really good man." She was quiet for a moment, and then added softly, "I think I'm just grateful. It really is all over. I just don't know why we keep fighting."
"Human beings. Yes, as you saidit's the human beast," Richard said, shaking his head as he looked out to the sea. "Men can't accept defeat. It hits us at some primal level, and we just about have to destroy everything, including ourselves
"So, it may go on. Please, Richard
"The war will go on," he said harshly. "And it will be chaos while it's still being settled, and, God knows, far worse after!"
"You can't understand this urgency I feel," she told him.
He gripped her hands. "Tara, it makes no sense! Why in hell are you worried about Abraham Lincoln? He's been elected, again. He'll be inaugurated soon, again. He'll be the conquering hero of the United States. What, are you crazy? There are professional military guards who worry about his safety, friends who watch over him. And Pinkerton guards."
"He surely can't imagine the amount of enemies he must have."
"But, Tara" Richard began, and then he just shook his head and went silent with frustration.
She smiled, touching his face tenderly. They'd known each other so long. She almost smiled, thinking about how most of the people they knew couldn't understand why they hadn't married. But, of course, they could never marry. They were closer than a sister and a brother. They had grown up as outcasts who'd had to prove themselves, even to survive in the bawdy, salvaging, raw world of Key West, where nationalities mingled with the nationless pirates, and, yes, where the War of Northern Aggression went on, though most often as idle threats and fists raised to the sky. At Fort Zachary Taylor, the Union troops died far more frequently from disease than from battle, though Union ships ever tightened their grip on the blockade. Beer, wine, rum, Scottish whiskey and all manner of alcohol ran rich at the taverns. Fishermen mingled with the architects of the fine new houses, and only at night, behind the wooden walls of their housespoor or splendiddid the system of class mean much in Key West.