- Published: 1 June 2021
- ISBN: 9780241464533
- Imprint: Michael Joseph
- Format: Trade Paperback
- Pages: 400
- RRP: $32.99
October 14, 1912
They gave him the gun in New York, he was pretty certain, and he thought some money too. That had allowed him to stalk his prey across eight states, often staying in the same hotels and riding the same train. Most importantly, though, they’d helped him hear the ghost once again. And the ghost gave the same command he’d given eleven years earlier, only John hadn’t the strength to act then. Today was different.
John Flammang Schrank spent most of the afternoon in a bar across from the Gilpatrick Hotel where he knew his target would eat dinner before motoring to the Milwaukee Auditorium to deliver a speech to further his unholy quest. A former bar owner himself, the Bavarian-borne Schrank downed six schooners of beer but felt nothing but calm as the crowds outside the nearby hotel swelled in anticipation of getting a glimpse of their hero.
Traitor, he thought sullenly, the weight of the gun tugging at his coat pocket. Traitor and murderer.
He paid the barman and crossed the street. It was nearing eight and light spilled from the hotel’s windows. The air was crisp, so people wore long coats and hats pulled low. Shrank was a portly man, round in the belly with a friendly enough face dominated by a large jutting chin. He had little trouble pressing his way through the happy throngs of people.
How could they show such adoration, he wondered. Didn’t they know the truth?
That truth had come to him shortly after his target had taken office. It was the ghost’s first appearance in a dream, a vivid dream that he’d never been able to shake. And now, with the help of his new benefactors, the dream had returned, only this time his target had been wearing the robes of a priest, but it made no difference. Schrank recognized the usurper at once.
Shrank looked around. People were practically giddy with the thought of seeing their man. The ghost had said their hero had murdered him by placing the Polish anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, at the Pan-American Expo in Buffalo. The two shots he’d fired to the gut were enough to turn the man into the ghost of John Schrank’s dreams.
Shrank recognized a face in the crowd. It was the nice one, the one who listened to him. The other, the taciturn man who demanded and cajoled and demeaned, wasn’t at his side as he’d been so many times before when he’d tried to carry out the assassination. This was the omen that tonight it would happen. He moved even closer to the front of the crowd, ignoring the sour looks of people who’d waited some time for their coveted positions.
He felt the hard rubber grip of the .38 caliber Colt revolver deep in his overcoat pocket. He was near the front row of people. The hotel’s door was only a few paces away and the open-topped automobile with its long hood and sweeping running boards idled at the curb.“I can’t believe I’m about to see the hero of San Juan Hill,” a woman said to her husband a little breathlessly.
“I hear he doesn’t like to be called Teddy, but rather TR,” said another voice in the crowd.
Schrank fingered the pistol. He couldn’t allow him to have a third term. No president had ever had one. George Washington himself had refused, fearing it would turn the presidency into a monarchy like the one America had fought to free herself from. John Schrank saw himself as a patriot, like one of the Minutemen, fighting against the tyranny of a man wishing to become king.
The crowd suddenly erupted in a roar of wild cheering. Teddy Roosevelt came down the handful of steps outside the Gilpatrick and waved to the people who’d waited to see him, envious of the nine thousand awaiting his speech a short distance away at the Auditorium. Roosevelt gave a big-toothed smile, his eyes behind his rimless glasses alight with joy. His walrus moustache twitched.
He mounted the car’s running board and lowered himself into the rear seat next to his stenographer, Elbert Martin. Opposite them on the rear-facing seat was another aide, Harry Cochems. The crowd continued to roar and shake the air with their applause. TR gave Harry a knowing smile and got back onto his feet, his tall hat in hand to wave once again at the people. They loved him for the gesture, and he loved them for their loyalty and support.
John Flammang Schrank saw his opportunity and lurched a step closer to his target. Without a change in expression, with no real malice at all since he didn’t hate the former president but needed to stop him from retaking the Oval Office, he raised the pistol and took aim at Roosevelt’s head, just a few feet away.
He squeezed the trigger at the same time someone behind him jostled his arm. The gun went off, a single clap of thunder loud enough to silence the crowd. The smell of burnt powder turned the air acrid.
Teddy Roosevelt staggered just slightly, bending at the knee before straightening up once again, his hat still raised. Elbert Martin was the first to react. He’d played collegiate football and had lightening reflexes. He dove out of the car and crashed into Schrank before he could fire again. Both men fell to the sidewalk, Martin using his superior size to pin Schrank to the ground while he clamped his hands around the assassin’s wrists. A. O. Girard, a bodyguard from the Van Dorn detective agency, and a former member of TR’s Rough Rider’s, moved in and scooped up the pistol while two of Milwalkee’s finest piled onto the scrum.
Harry Cochems jumped to his feet and asked, “Were you hit Mr. President?”
“He pinked me, Harry,” Roosevelt replied.
The crowd was shouting for blood. Cries of “Lynch the fiend.” And kill him” rang out.
TR waved his hat and bellowed, “Stop. All of you. Don’t hurt him. Bring him to me. I want to see him.” The mob could hardly believe their hero was unharmed and cheers rose up. “Yes. I’m all right. I’m all right.”
The cops yanked Schrank to his feet.
“Bring him over,” Roosevelt demanded and the would-be assassin was frog-marched to the side of the idling saloon car.
Roosevelt studied the man’s face, placing his hands on his head and tried to recall if he’d ever seen the dull-looking creature before. There was no spark of recognition. “What did you do it for?”
Shrank just looked at him, working his jaw but saying nothing.
“Oh, what’s the use,” Roosevelt said, pain beginning to hone his voice. “Officers, take charge of him and see no violence is done to him.”
He sat back into his seat as Schrank was led into the hotel and the crowds booed.
The car pulled from the curb. Once out of sight of his supporters, Roosevelt opened his topcoat and suit jacket. The fine white linen of his shirt was stained crimson over his right side. His aides stared slack-jawed at the amount of blood.
“Driver,” Harry Cochems practically shouted. “Get us to the nearest hospital.”
“Ignore that. Keep true for the auditorium,” Roosevelt countered and accepted a fresh handkerchief from Elbert to press into the wound. Roosevelt held a hand over his mouth and coughed. He showed his white palm to his assistants. “If I were lung-shot there’d be blood. I’m going to be fine.”
He fished two items from the inside pocket of his jacket. One was the fifty-page speech he planned to deliver neatly folded in two. The bullet had torn a ragged hole through the sheaf of paper. The second item was his leather-covered metal glasses case. It too had been pierced. The bullet had lost enough of its energy that by the time it struck Roosevelt’s chest it merely punctured the skin and lodged against his rib cage.
“Gentlemen, that Colt is a fine gun, but it takes more than a single bullet to kill a Bull Moose.”
A vast armada of freighters lined the city’s busy waterfront, tucked bow to stern like a war-time convoy. Over them stood the massive grain silos, multi-storied wooden structures with movable spouts from which cascades of golden wheat thundered into their holds. Farther down the quay, special refrigerated ships were being loaded with great slabs of Pampas-raised beef destined for homes and restaurants across the breadth of Europe. Other ships were being unloaded with goods from Europe and North America, mostly manufactured items that Argentina couldn’t produce herself.
Otto Dreissen hadn’t been back in BA, as nearly everyone called the Argentine capital, in six months and it seemed the port was even more hectic than before. Steam tugs were at the ready to tow out a laden ship the instant its holds were filled so another waiting vessel could take its place. Stevedores and longshoremen swarmed like an army of ants, trundling bound bundles of native wool up gangways or swung barrels of vegetable oils in cargo nets up to the ships where waiting hands were ready to guide the cargo belowdecks.
His steamship passed what had to have been a mile of busy docks before reaching the passenger pier, its horn finally blaring a welcoming blast. There were only a handful of well-wishers waiting on the dock. Like so many ships arriving in South America, the Hamburg Sud-Amerika line’s venerable Sao Paulo was mostly transporting immigrants hoping to find a better life far from the strict social confines of their home countries. Here in Argentina, most were Spaniards or Italians while Brazil to the north had always been popular with the Portuguese.
Dreissen hadn’t made the full trans-Atlantic crossing, himself. He normally based out of Panama and had just concluded some business in Brazil and had boarded when the ship put in for coal at Belem on the Amazon River’s southern bank. It had been a short cruise for he and his major domo/bodyguard, Heinz Kohl.
The Pratt & Whitney radial engines rasped and hunted as they struggled to inhale the high-altitude air.
Captain Omar Rahal tracked the small boat racing across the placid waters of the narrow strait.
Heat shimmered in waves across the Valley of the Kings as the merciless sun baked the desert sands into clay.
Through his periscope, Kapitän Hans Schultz watched the chaos aboard the schooner Carroll A. Deering and smiled.
Wails of grief drifted over the city like a black aria. The mud brick dwellings burst with anguish, as the sorrow swirled into the night desert.