The President glanced up from his phone.
“What the fuck’s going on? Why aren’t we moving?”
“Apparently there’s a protest or something going on. The Secret Service has it in hand. Do you want me to check personally, sir?”
“Yes. Wait. No. I’m gonna go straighten this out right now. Who the fuck do they think they are, blocking the President’s motorcade? I just wanna get this Arlington bullshit over with.”
“Mr. President, sir! I don’t think that’s a good ide … a.” The aide trailed off as the door of the Beast swung open and the President of the United States stepped out into the street.
There was a loud retort, and something pushed the President to the ground.
“Get the fuck off of me,” he yelled at the aide he assumed was holding him down.
“It’s okay, sir. Here. Let me help you up.” The voice was unfamiliar.
The President turned his head to see a lined but kindly face under a black stovepipe hat, holding out his hand, and with the stranger’s help he lumbered to his feet. Looking more directly into his new friend’s face, he gasped.
“Mr. Lincoln. Is that you? What’s going on here?” Looking around, all he could see was chaos. He thought he heard gunshots. Had someone attempted an assassination? Was that why he thought he saw Abraham Lincoln? Did he have a concussion? He shook his head to clear it, but Old Abe remained steadfastly by his side as together they passed through the crowd and onto the deck of the Arlington Memorial Bridge.
“Lookin’ to cross, are ya?” An old black man dressed in raggedy overalls and a plastic raincoat stood athwart the bridgeway, arms outstretched. “Got the coin for the toll?”
“Coin for the toll?” The President spat the words in disgust. “Who does he think he is? I’m the …”
“Good evening, Charlie,” his escort interrupted. “How’s business?”
“Oh, same as it ever was, sir. A little busier than usual lately, but then I suppose that’s no big surprise.” He peered a little more closely toward the pair requiring passage. “O my goodness gracious Lord God Almighty. Pardon my French. You got a handful to deliver, doncha? I wish I could just let him on through, coin or no coin, but you know the rules”
“Come on. Stop wasting time with this fool. A coin? He’s just another loser looking for a handout. I’m gonna move these con men out of the city, by god. That’s my very next executive order, soon as I get back home.” The President tried to go around the old man, but no matter where he moved, there was Charlie, right there in front of them, his face creased like an old barn door sliced by a sly white grin.
“Cough it up, white boy,” Charlie cackled, waving long bony fingers in front of the President’s face. “Cough it up.”
The President drew away to avoid Charlie’s touch, but as he did so he felt a scratching in his throat and, putting up a hand to cover his mouth, coughed to relieve it. To his immense surprise, he spat a gold coin into his hand.
“Haha!” Charlie cackled. “When the magic works, it really works.” And before the President could do more than stare at the object, Charlie had whisked it away. “Now, what do we have here?” the old man asked, holding the gold piece up as if he were a jeweler appraising its worth. “Hmmm. A gold obol. Very rare. Obols are mostly silver, you know. And I don’t see many of those anymore either. The Boss’ll be glad to get his hands on this one. He’s got quite the collection.” Charlie put the coin to his mouth and bit it. A sliver of gold appeared on his lip. “You old dog.” Charlie looked the President up and down, slipping the coin into his pocket. “Thought you could get something past Mr. Charlie. Why you always think you have to cheat?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the President sputtered. “I never saw that piece of junk before in my life.”
Charlie grinned and made a grand welcoming gesture. “Go right ahead, boys. The way is open.”
The President cast a glance over his shoulder but saw only river mist. “Mr. Lincoln, shouldn’t we wait for my entourage?” he asked.
“They are waiting for us on the other side,” his companion assured him.
And together they went on across the river.
“Make sure he doesn’t try to come back, Bear.” Charlie called to a large black shadow that lay curled up a few feet away.
“Don’t worry. I’ll keep an eye out for that one,” a shadowy head replied.
“He thinks that’s Abraham Lincoln?” said another.
“Must be the hat,” decided the third, as the huge hound pushed to its feet and followed behind the newcomers.
Charlie chuckled. “Old Scratch likes his jokes, and that sucker’s thicker than most,” he called after it. Then he turned back to his post.
“Lookin’ to cross, are ya? Got the coin for the toll?”
Barbara Stoner, 2020