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Too much attention cannot be given to spies....they are as necessary to a general as the eyes are to the head.
—Marshal Saxe, 1756 (Hermann Moritz, comte de Saxe)
It was too quiet.
The abrupt silence, while occurring in a seldom used hallway outside the hotel room, had now lasted far too long to be anything but ominous. Hattie Lawton had been carrying medication across the room and had stopped midway to listen, praying that the footsteps she had heard a minute earlier would continue past the door. The footsteps did not continue, and the silence stretched.
Suddenly, like a clap of thunder, came the bang of a fist striking the door.
"McCubbin, chief of police!" a voice barked.
Hattie drew in her breath and glanced toward the bed where Timothy Webster lay helpless. The pupils of his eyes, long dulled by pain and the small amount of opiates Hattie could smuggle into the hotel, now glittered with alarm when he mouthed at her, "They've found us."
Hattie gathered in her long skirt and rushed to the bed, where she bent over him, whispering, "Tim, we don't know that yet."
Timothy, his once-sturdy frame racked with inflammatory rheumatism, winced as he shook his head, murmuring, "They've come for us. You have to getaway."
Another blow struck the door. "Open up! Now!"
"I won't leave you here," Hattie said, under her breath, grasping the sick man's wrist and lifting his hand to hold it against her cheek.
The Federal government and Chicago detective Allan Pinkerton were dependent on this man forintelligence information from the Confederate capital, but if captured,
Timothy Webster might be abandoned by both.
Two harder thumps rattled the door.
"We won't answer," Hattie said, while Timothy strained to pull himself upright in the bed. "If we don't respond," she told him, her lips pressed to his hair, "they might leave."
He struggled to an awkward, half-seated position, and his voice held despair when he urged, "Getaway, love! Please, leave by the window. Then go to the others."
"I can't, Tim. The two agents Pinkerton sent to contact us have been arrested. And that new man you just hired has disappeared. Unless...oh, God, could he have betrayed us?"
The sick man hesitated before answering, "It's possible, but I checked his background myself. And who could be more loyal than a—"
He was interrupted by a determined battering against the door.
"Those agents might have broken under questioning," Hattie said softly. "And if they did?"
She jumped at a crash of splintering wood. The door burst open, and two uniformed men strode into the room.
Her mind racing over their cover story, Hattie felt a cold thrust of fear when she recognized them. The first one, silver-haired and heavyset, was General John Winder, Richmond's provost marshal and prison commandant. The man behind him was Captain Sam McCubbin, the recently appointed chief of police.
"Well, now," said General Winder, his mouth curving in a smile that did not include his small shrewd eyes. "And what have we here? A love nest?" The smile vanished. "Or more to the truth, a nest of vipers." It was not a question.
"You have no right to break in!" Hattie objected, remaining beside the bed as she faced the Confederate officers. "This is a very sick man, as surely you can see."
"'Fraid he's going to get a whole helluva lot sicker," McCubbin stated, pulling a cigar from his pocket. "What's your pleasure, Webster? You want to tell it to us here, or would you rather do it in a cell? Won't matter none, 'cause one way or t'other you're goin' to swing. We don't much cotton to Yankee spies."
"You're badly mistaken," Hattie said icily. "How could this man be acting as a spy? He's been here in this bed for weeks."
"That won't work," retorted McCubbin, striking a match and waving it in dismissal. "We got word about your two Pinkerton friends. When we picked 'em up, they spilled the beans. All the beans!"
"This is absurd," Hattie protested, desperate to keep his attention from veering to Timothy, who, to protect her, might confirm McCubbin's claim. And when he had said "We got word," did that mean she had been careless and revealed their whereabouts? Or had she and Timothy been betrayed? If the latter were true, no one could help them.
"Funny you don't know those fellas," McCubbin said, lighting the cigar, then tossing the match to the floor, "'cause they sure do know y'all! Now we got ourselves four Pinkerton spies"—he grinned at Hattie, baring tobacco-stained teeth—"and we sure as hell don't have to worry about that fifth one!"
Before she could stop herself, Hattie glanced with dread at Timothy, wondering if he'd caught the insinuation of treachery. His drawn face expressed nothing but resignation. To cover her lapse, Hattie reached down and smoothed his blanket, her fingers lingering on his before she thrust her hand into a skirt pocket.
"Miss Lawton," said General Winder affably, "I'd say you best cooperate. We have enough to keep you in prison for the duration. You follow me? When we picked up your two contacts, one of them was totin' a carpetbag. Guess he was either too dumb or too rattled to get rid of it like a good agent should. And what do you s'pect was in that bag?"
Because Timothy looked as if he were about to reply, Hattie answered quickly, "I have no idea, since I've never met the man."
"No! That won't do," Winder growled. "We know damn well that you Yankees are schemin' to do something down here—maybe even have a mind to try takin' Richmond! And your friends confirmed it."
"That's a lie!" Hattie scoffed.
"It's no lie," Winder replied. "That bag held reports on the whole eastern section of Virginia—fortifications, number of troopshere, the whole shootin' match. Even had the launchin' schedule of our new ironclad ship, which is more'n I had!"
He turned to Timothy Webster. "'Course you knew it, 'cause you're the one snooped 'em out. Now, none of this will reach your Mr. Pinkerton, but you can't be allowed to just saunter off with all that information. You follow me?"
"This whole thing's nonsense!" Hattie insisted, and heard the tremor in her voice giving lie to her protest. She glanced again at Timothy, afraid he would break if he felt she was in danger, and she would have to live with the knowledge that she'd sent him to his death. Her own life would mean nothing then.
"Don't bother denying it," Winder said to her, and his voice held a confidence that terrified Hattie more than his words. "We've got everything we need to hang you. Maybe you didn't know we have our own friends," he went on, the smile back in place. "But you, Webster—and your lady, too—won't be sending anymore reports to Pinkerton or Washington."
Hattie again began to protest, but Timothy stopped her by saying to Winder, "This woman's no threat to you. She's simply been nursing me. Let her go."
"Can't do that," Winder answered, while McCubbin began to randomly search the room. "She's a spy same as you—though not near as dangerous—so's I can't just let her go. You follow me? Besides, you say she's your nurse, and that's fine, 'cause we can't let anything happen to you, Mr. Webster. We need you healthy so's you can make that gallow's walk."
Hattie turned toward the bed to conceal her movements, waiting until she thought McCubbin's attention was occupied with yanking out drawers of a bureau and dumping their contents on the floor. But he must have seen her from the corner of his eye, because he leapt across the room just as she pulled the derringer from her skirt pocket.
He grabbed her wrist, attempting to wrestle the pistol away, and Hattie, struggling in his grasp, could only sink her teeth into his forearm. At the same time, Timothy managed to slide off the bed. Before he could gain his footing, a blow from Winder's fist knocked him to the floor as McCubbin, now yelling in pain, swung his free hand across Hattie's face. Cigar ashes and sparks scattered as the derringer discharged to send the bullet flying into the ceiling. Hattie collapsed to the floor beside Webster, throwing her arm protectively across his shoulders.
"Like I said," McCubbin panted, standing over them and vigorously rubbing his forearm, "you're goin' to hang. Only now maybe it'll be both of y'all swingin' from those gallows!"
A cold winter rain had begun to spatter against the windows of the Monument Hotel and into the large, horse-drawn phaeton awaiting General Winder, when four figures, one of them hunched over and leaning heavily on another, emerged from the lobby onto the cobbled thoroughfare. Street vendors were scrambling to cover their wares as shoppers hurried for shelter, and none seemed to notice the odd little parade crossing to the carriage.
A fifth figure, instrumental in the capture of Timothy Webster, had concealed himself behind a column supporting the hotel porch. He stood observing the scene with narrowed eyes, attempting to overcome his unease by fingering the pouch of silver and gold coins in his frock coat pocket. At that moment the coins weighed heavy, but he assumed he would learn to carry them without a pang of conscience, as this was, after all, only his first payment. He had earned it. Preventing the North from learning the launch schedule of the Confederate's ironclad Merrimack had alone been worth the price.
Some distance below the hotel, the rain joined the James River as it tumbled and frothed in its twisting course to the Chesapeake Bay. The observer remained in place, watching the rain and the river until Winder's carriage rumbled away. Then, forcing a leisurely gait, he ambled down the deserted street toward the Richmond telegraph office. He would wire a report to Washington, and no one there could question that Timothy Webster's illness had caused his uncommon lack of caution. It was close enough to the truth; Webster's undoing had been his uncommon lack of distrust.
The coins in the man's pocket jingled seductively against his thigh, their weight becoming lighter with every step.
Posted December 9, 2008
In the second year of the Civil War, people from all types of lifestyles throughout the divided country contribute to the war effort. In Seneca Falls, New York, Glynis Tyrone tries her best to contain a local typhoid epidemic. Her two nieces, Kathryn and Bronwyn play a more active role to help their beleaguered nation. Washington DC hosts many southern spies while the government includes numerous southern sympathizers. <P>Kathryn becomes a nurse working in the field with the Northern army while Bronwyn serves as an intelligence agent behind enemy lines working for the Treasury Department. In Virginia, Bronwyn breaks into the home of a renowned physician who is a rabid secessionist. She finds incriminating evidence exposing high-level federal officials working for the confederacy, but these conspirators now know Bronwyn needs to be eliminated before she can do any more damage. <P>Anyone who wants to attain a real feel for the early years of the Civil War needs to read SISTERS OF CAIN. The audience will taste petty politics, military maneuvering and posturing not always on the battlefield and surreal Hoover-like expectations of pending victory just around the corner. Miriam Grace Monfredo creates an exciting historical mystery that includes sensational characters with mainstream appeal. Waiting for a Ms. Monfredo novel requires discipline in the art of patience. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 27, 2013
No text was provided for this review.