This Stage of Fools —
Jason rode into town looking for a place to fresh up. The saloon was closed, and when he heard a commotion coming from in front of the Town Meeting Hall, he decided to go check it out. He didn’t notice the sign that read
“The Famous Shakespearean Actor Mr. Edwin Booth in Readings From the Immortal Bards.”
Suddenly, someone angrily picked up an egg and threw it at the sign, stating he didn’t want Booth around there. Jason turned and saw the busted egg running down the sign. Looking down at the bulletin board, he DID see a help wanted sign asking for body guards. He went to Room 5 to check it out.
When the door opened, he noticed a whole line of men there already. He was informed that the job would be filled before he got to the head of the line. “I’ll take my chances,” Jason replied. The man who was assisting with the interviews told one cowboy he might as well leave. All applicants had to be at least six feet tall. He told another man applicants must be over thirty.
Suddenly, the cowboy inside being interviewed suddenly hurried out. “You know who wants to guard his lousy hide? That actor who’s brother shot Lincoln!”
“Booth,” the man dressed in gold declared. “Edwin Booth! Loafers, Bumpkins, and Sharps.” He smiled. “I have no work for you.” Then he turned and went back into his office.
“Now, who’s he calling names, that dirty Traitor!” the under thirty cowboy declared. “Why, he oughta pay for what his brother done!” All the cowboys left. Suddenly, nobody wanted the job.
The assistant looked at Jason who stood in the doorway. “Six foot six and over thirty,” he declared as he walked into the man’s room. “McCord.” He slammed the door shut. “Jason McCord. He asked Booth if McCord meant anything to him.
“I believe you’re called the coward of Bitter Creek,” Booth answered. “Court marshaled and drummed out of the army.”
“That was two years ago,” Jason informed him. “I came to this town because I was promised work as a mining engineer. They closed up tight. I need a job.”
“You got a job,” Booth informed him. He warned Jason that he wouldn’t be liked, that he would have all kinds of bad things said about him. Jason informed him that was nothing new. “You shall guard this life of mine, this…brief tangle against the winds of scorn and vengeance.”
“Do you have a particular enemy?” Jason asked. He informed Jason he had a mortal enemy, the worst enemy a man could have.
“Who?” Jason asked.
“Who?” Booth drew his sword and pointed it toward Jason, then he bolted around and pointed his sword toward the mirror. “Edwin Booth!”
That night, Jason was on guard just outside the theater room. A man and his girl came in and started to walk right past Jason. “Can’t you read signs?” Jason asked. The cowboy stopped near the sign that said “No firearms allowed” and opened his coat. He laughed at Jason, then went into the theater.
The announcer stepped up onto the stage and introduced Edwin Booth. Some clapped while others booed. Booth came out and began a speech. Suddenly, the “under thirty” cowboy stood up and yelled at Booth, throwing an egg at him. Jason went up to him and grabbed him. “How many times have you been this close to genius? Listen to him.”
Everyone sat in silence and listened to the rest of his speech. Everyone clapped at the end, even the man who was so rude.
After the play, Jason came to inform Booth that everyone had left the theater. He’d wait outside until Booth was ready to return to the hotel. After Jason left, Booth asked Hannibal what he thought about Jason. Hannibal said that he was different than the other body guards. Then Hannibal asked, “I’m lonesome for New York. When are we going back home?”
“When I accomplish my purpose,” Booth answered. Hannibal didn’t feel his purpose was worthwhile. They’ve hunted, but they’ll never find the man he wants to kill. Hannibal didn’t want to hear it.
Later, someone snuck into Jason’s room while he was sleeping. Jason had his gun cocked, and pointed at the intruder. “What’s wrong?” he asked when he realized Hannibal was standing over him.
“Mr. Edwin. He’s gone.”
“Gone?” Jason asked, sitting up. “What time is it?” Hannibal told him it was two o’clock in the morning. Jason said he’d go look for him.
Jason found him. Edwin asked Jason how he goes on. “Well, for one thing Mr. Booth…I don’t feel sorry for myself,” Jason answered.
Booth stared at him, then held up his fists. “You call Booth a weakling? A coward?”
“Your fight isn’t out here, Mr. Booth,” Jason explained. “It’s back East where the audiences have deserted you.”
“I came out West for one thing…blood for blood! Vengeance!” Jason asked who. “A man who could have prevented my brother, Johnny, from doing what he did. A man who went unpunished in a part he played that fateful night. If I…if I ever find him…” Then he burst into laughter. “You see, all the bulls are mad. Our minds have dark, upswept corners.” He turned and walked away.
Booth traveled through towns doing his act, looking for the man he wanted to kill. He traveled
through Aurora, Brewerton, and Gold City. Then, the next town they went to met them with trouble. Men watched Hannibal and Booth get off the stage. The moment Jason got off the stage they started hounding him. “How about that, boys? Booth brought a coward with him. It just goes to show you that rats come in packs!”
Jason fought them. There were three or four of them fighting with Jason while a man named John F. Parker watched. Jason lost the fight and was soon out cold. Guess what Booth did? He decided he needed a more experienced body guard! He assured those listening that the job paid well. He’d accept applications that afternoon at the opera house.
When Jason came to, Hannibal was watching over him. The first thing Jason was told was that Mr. Edwin was sorry for letting him go. He left a twenty dollar gold piece for his expense. Jason sat up in bed and stared at Hannibal. “He fired me???”
“Oh, you don’t need to worry about that, Mr. Jason,” Hannibal assured him. “A man like you knows how to get along.” Jason said he was beginning to like Booth. “Mr. Jason, he’s planning on killing somebody! A man named Parker.”
“John F. Parker…” Jason mumbled. “One of Lincoln’s body guards the night of the assassination.”
“Yes sir. He left his post. Mr. Edwin blames him for not being there and stopping John Wilkes.” Jason asked him if Booth knew who Parker was. Hannibal had hired a detective who traced him out to the mining country. “He came on this tour hoping to find Mr. Parker himself. He hopes to smoke him out by calling for an experienced body guard in some of the places we come to.”
Jason said that could take years. Hannibal said Booth was always showing the picture to bartenders. “Every morning Mr. Edwin wakes up…and he says, ‘Maybe today. Maybe today.’ That’s the only thing that keeps him going.”
“No man can go very far on hate, Hannibal.”
“I don’t know what to do, Mr. Jason. How am I gonna save Mr. Edwin from himself? You don’t got no hate in you, boy. Maybe you know what it would take to get it out of him. Make him go back home where he belongs.” Hannibal’s voice pleaded with Jason.
Jason patted his shoulder and gave him a small smile. “Where is he?” Hannibal told him he was over at the Opera House. After Jason walked out the door, Hannibal pulled out an old newspaper article that had the picture of John F. Parker. Parker had watched the fight earlier.
Over at the Opera House, Booth was calling Parker in for an interview. When asked his name, Parker stated his name was “Dude.”
“Dude…You are a successful body guard? You have protected the lives of other men?” ‘Dude’ nodded. “Who?” He explained he’s served under General
Grant during the war, which was just the same as being a body guard. Then he named a couple more well-named tycoons. “Very impressive,” Booth stated. “You can start work immediately.”
Parker told Booth he didn’t work for less than thirty dollars a week, and Booth agreed with the amount. He asked to see Booth’s pistol. He laughed, stating it was a ‘child’s toy.’ He took the bullets out of the pistol and told Parker he needed a better pistol – maybe a colt. “I can’t buy anything like that!” Parker declared. Booth offered to advance him twenty dollars. Parker agreed as Booth handed him his pistol back. Parker didn’t know he had removed the bullets.
“Before you go running off, let’s inspect the theater. Shall we?” Booth asked. He told Parker to be careful around the stairs. That’s how his brother had pulled off the assassination
Jason was walking to the Opera House when the cowboy from earlier stopped him. “Hey gutless, are you still around?” He took a swing at Jason, who ducked.
Jason took two hard swings at the cowboy, knocking him out cold. “Yeah, I’m still around,” Jason muttered as he hurried into the Opera House.
Parker stepped into the box theater over the stage. Booth shut the door and locked it behind him. Parker started asking Booth about advancing him fifty dollars instead of twenty. He had some obligations. Parker was turned to him. “Hold out your hand.”
Parker immediately turned and held out his hand. But his hand was shaking. “I’m sorry, I got the shakes. If you don’t like it, you can get yourself back that coward!” Parker walked toward the door, but Booth blocked his way. Booth mocked him, telling him he may want to step out for a breath of fresh air like the night his brother shot Lincoln. “What are you talking about?”
“John…F…Parker!” Booth sneered angrily. Parker, suddenly fearful, bolted for the door. But it was locked. He turned to find Booth holding a sword mere inches from his chest. “You are John F. Parker, formally of the Washington Police Force. Who volunteered for White House duty in order to escape the draft. A lazy, insubordinate bully who through some devilish accident stood between Abraham Lincoln and eternity!” Parker told him it was his brother’s doing. “That’s right! If I had been there, he wouldn’t have gotten there alive! Where were you? Where were you in that black hour? Out hoisting a tack of ale?” Parker said it was beer. “That beer cost my brother his life…cost the President his life!”
Jason walked in. “Booth, don’t do it!” That distracted Booth. Parker grabbed the sword and jumped out of the balcony, landing at Jason’s feet. Booth stared at him from above. Then he jumped down onto the stage.
He pulled out a pistol as he stood over Parker. “Booth, put it away,” Jason ordered in a calm voice. Parker declared Booth was crazy just like his brother. Jason asked him if he was.
“Are you? Mad? Or are you so sane, you’d welcome madness to blot out the tragedy of Lincoln’s death? What is it Shakespeare said? ‘The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of Princes.’ What comes next?”
“When beggars die, there are no common see. They must be punished!”
Parker was on his knees. He was crying, begging. “No, please! What did I ever do to you? What did I do to anybody? PLEASE!”
“Look at him,” Jason started as he put a hand on Parker’s shoulder. Booth immediately turned the gun on Jason. “Look at him, Booth! Look at that poor, contemptible excuse for a man. Is he really worth the price of revenge?”
“He must die!” Booth stepped forward and put the barrel of the pistol against Parker’s forehead.
“Is that how you want history to end this story? With a senseless murder?” Jason continued to talk to Booth. “John Wilkes Booth shot down a great man. He’ll go down in infamy. Edwin Booth.” Jason laughed as he said his name. “…Shot down a dog and he went to the gallows for it. Well, what’s it to be…tragedy or some cheap catch-penny melodrama? The last act is up to you, Edwin Booth.”
Edwin knew that was true. He lowered the gun. Parker cried in relief.
It was over and it was time for Jason to once again move on. Hannibal came down the stairs to say goodbye. He was so happy because Edwin was going back to the theater. “This old man’s gonna be remembering you…Mr. McCord.”
Booth came to say goodbye as well. “Jason McCord, I’m free from the fact of my brother, the hand of my brother, the sins of my brother.”
“Shakespeare?” Jason questioned.
“No. The Bible.” He said it was from Genesis. “Thanks to you, I can look forward to a sort of rebirth, my career, and more important, a life full of bitter vengeance. Thank you, good friend.”
“Goodbye, Edwin Booth.”
“Farewell, Jason McCord!”
*Thanks to Michelle Palmer for writing this episode!
around The McCain Ranch