Into the Game
by Pam and Del

PART THIRTEEN

 

January 1803

 

"Ireland," Kilcarron informed the agents now assembled in the library of the
main house.

"It would appear that this is once more our concern, ladies and gentlemen."

Seated with the others around the library table, Archie listened in attentive
silence. Enough time had passed that he could hear that cool, incisive voice
with some degree of equilibrium and composure - he no longer had to fight the
urge to run away screaming. It helped, as well, that since last summer there
had been no need for the earl to single Archie out; all their encounters had
taken place in the company of others. With the potentially abrasive element
of an individual meeting removed - or at least in abeyance - Archie found it much
easier to concentrate on his work, deriving some comfort from the business of
acquiring and mastering skills.

And - always a boost to confidence - he had been drawing pay for the last four
months. Not as much as a commissioned lieutenant in active service, but
certainly more than that same lieutenant's peacetime half-pay. Adequate and
appropriate for - what would be his designation? Agent-in-training? Fledgling
spy? Apprentice? But it was sufficient for now, given that he was also
received room and board, plus clothing and equipment.

Equipment. One knife in his boot--on Carmichael's advice - and another in a
sheath strapped to his left forearm. And a wire picklock tucked into the
cuff of his right shirtsleeve, courtesy of Rory. He had not had occasion to
use them often - though there had been a tense period this past autumn after
Kilcarron had learned of a brewing conspiracy by a Colonel Despard to seize
control of the Tower of London and the Bank of England. For several weeks,
the Edinburgh division had been put on notice, preparing itself to be on the
move at a moment's word. Fortunately, the London authorities had apprehended
Despard in November, before his plans could come to fruition.

Still alarming, nonetheless. Despard had apparently sought aid from the
French and the Irish - and if this most recent problem had also arisen in
Ireland . . .

"Before God," Kilcarron said suddenly, and from any other man it might have
been an explosion, "I cannot tell which is worse--an old fool who fails to
learn from his previous mistakes, or a young fool who fails to think things
through to their logical conclusion!" Fair brows drew together in a faint
frown as his gaze swept the table. "Many of you will remember the rising
five years ago - and its outcome. Since the Act of Union, however, I regret to
say that the Crown has relaxed its vigilance in this matter, with the result
that several survivors of that incident now appear to be fomenting another
rebellion and attempting to enlist French support on their behalf.

"For this information, I am indebted to the efforts of Agents Bonnard and
Fontaine who, shortly after their *own* return to France, discovered the
activities of the man who seems to be serving as the rebels' secret
representative on the Continent. His name, ladies and gentlemen, is Robert
Emmet."

"Emmet, my lord?" It was Jamieson who spoke. "Any relation to Thomas Emmet?"

"His younger brother, Agent Jamieson," Kilcarron confirmed. His frown
deepened. "For a time Thomas Emmet was imprisoned in Scotland - in Fort St.
George, for his own involvement in the rising of 98. Since his release
during the peace, however, he has lived abroad, in France, with many of his
fellow conspirators. It was a condition of their release that they can never
return to Ireland. However, Ireland has now come to *them* in the person of
this younger Emmet. Bonnard and Fontaine's investigations revealed that he
has been traveling throughout Europe for the last two years, chiefly France,
Spain, and Belgium. And this past summer, just before he returned home . . .
he met with Talleyrand and Bonaparte, personally."

Archie felt the galvanizing shock run through those assembled, sensed several
of the other agents leaning forward in their seats.

"The exact details of that meeting are not known. However, your colleagues
overseas have gleaned enough evidence to conclude that the subject of an
Irish rising was broached and the possibility of French aid not discounted.
Indeed, Bonaparte has reportedly given the order for the formation of an
Irish regiment. Further than that, however, he has not yet committed himself.

"As of last October and his return to Ireland, Emmet's scheme appeared to
have been delayed indefinitely. Moreover, he has not been seen to engage in
what could be described as subversive activities. Agent Fleming, however,"
Kilcarron indicated the tall, fortyish man with the graying sandy hair
sitting on his left, "has brought news that might indicate the rising is once
more in the planning stages."

"Emmet's father died last month," Fleming reported, "and left him a legacy of
£3,000. More than enough to finance a rising, at least at the start." He
paused, as though for dramatic effect, Archie thought. "At least until the
Frogs get here."

"And it is the threat of French involvement that I wish to curtail,"
Kilcarron resumed. "Especially if - as may prove to be the case - the Irish
rising is set to coincide with a French landing."

Again Archie felt the heightening tension around him; there was likely not a
single person in the room who could not envision the consequences to England
of a true Franco-Irish alliance.

"I have placed this matter before my colleagues in London. Alas, they have
proved somewhat . . . less than receptive to my theories, and I'm told we
cannot expect further assistance from them in this. However, they have not
precluded the likelihood of someone - possessed of sufficient
means - investigating the situation, nor using whatever resources he has to
hand to deal with . . . whatever problems may arise. And that," again his
penetrating blue stare traveled around the table, "that is where *we* come
in."

*****

For the next hour or so, Kilcarron outlined the basic parameters of the plan:
intense surveillance while they identified all of Emmet's contacts. They
would need to find the channels through which Emmet communicated with the
French, and penetrate those until all messages could either be blocked
entirely or replaced by false information. The agents currently posted in
Dublin had already managed to infiltrate one agent into Emmet's household and
another into that of his closest associate to date.

"We should be joining the Irish division after the beginning of next month,"
Kilcarron sounded as if he was drawing to a conclusion. "Some names are still
under discussion. Most of you in the Edinburgh division will be going,
however, and some from others, who may have seen duty in Ireland in '98. Up
to twenty-five agents, in all, I think."

"That seems a large detachment, my lord," Carmichael spoke from Archie's left.

"We may need to send people overseas as we identify the French contacts,"
Kilcarron replied. "Better to have an excess of personnel for this, rather
than a lack. If anyone seems redundant, they can be sent on to other
operations, but it's far too early to trim our resources until we know the
depth of the conspiracy."

Carmichael nodded and fell silent. Kilcarron consulted his papers. "These
people, at least, should begin preparations for our departure: Carmichael,
Erskine, Jamieson, Dunbar, Fleming, Ferguson, Grant. And for observing
briefs, MacCrimmon and Stewart."

With that statement, the meeting appeared to be at an end. As the agents rose
to depart, Archie looked curiously at Carmichael "Observing brief? What's
that mean?"

The senior agent grinned. "It means you're coming along to see how it's done!"

He clipped Archie lightly on the shoulder, turned at Kilcarron's voice.
"Commander Carmichael? A word with you, if you please?"

Finding himself dismissed, Archie left the library with the others.

*****

 

"Oh, my name it is Jack Hall
And I've robbed both great and small
And my neck shall pay for all
When I die, when I die,
And my neck shall pay for all
When I die."

 

 

Agent Fleming, who had a fine baritone voice along with his gadfly manner,
had started the song, with a sidelong glance at Rory. Scowling, the boy had
stalked out of the wardroom five minutes later. Archie had followed him
silently out and up to the deck.

Caledonia was a comparatively small ship, but trim and well run. Archie felt
a brief pang as he glanced towards the helm - he was only a passenger now,
sailing her wasn't his business anymore - then looked around for Rory, and
found him leaning against the bulkhead. Somewhat uncharacteristically, the
youth remained silent as Archie approached.

"Does he bother you?" Archie asked, a little suspiciously. Fleming's
abrasive, slightly overbearing demeanor stirred too many of Archie's own
unpleasant memories; he avoided the other agent when possible, thankful that
the man belonged to another division.

Green eyes blinked in faint surprise. "Who? Oh - Fleming? No, he's just a
bloody old sod." Rory shrugged, then added a gesture from the Edinburgh
gutters that Archie could now recognize. "He thinks better of himself than
the rest of us do. And he's sniffing after Miss Dunbar, but she won't give
him the time of day." For once, Rory's tone sounded mildly approving with
regard to the lady.

Archie blinked; that piece of by-play among his colleagues had escaped him
entirely. Before an apposite remark could occur to him, Rory's face twisted
in discomfort.

"No, what *I* don't like," the boy swallowed briefly but audibly, "is this
bloody boat!"

"Ship," Archie corrected automatically, then, abruptly, he noticed Rory's
pallor under the freckles. Comprehension and memory struck at once. *Oh.* A
brief pang - he wanted to laugh, cry, or both, but for the sake of his own
dignity and Rory's, managed to refrain from doing either.

"I - see. Here - if you can stand up, this might help." He guided the boy to the
leeward side of the ship.

"If the wind is not too cold, just stay here. Fresh air helps. And, if worst
comes to worst, there's just - over the rail."

Rory nodded, still tight-lipped. Archie clapped him lightly on the shoulder,
tried to think of something reassuring to say.

"At least we're truly at sea. I knew someone once - " memory returned,
half-painful, half-humorous, "who was sick when the ship was at anchor, in
Spithead. Now, *that's* embarrassing!"

Rory nodded again, but did not venture further comment. Remembering Horatio's
preference for solitude when he was in this condition, Archie asked if Rory
wanted anything else or simply to be left alone. Receiving an affirmative
reply to the latter, he went below, to his own quarters.

In the passage, though, he encountered another of his colleagues. "Oh - good
evening, Mistress Grant."

"Mr. Stewart." Laura Grant, a short, comfortably rounded woman with the dark
coloring of her Portuguese mother, nodded a greeting. Their acquaintance was
still comparatively brief, but Archie had already noted her placid, equable
demeanor - a marked contrast to that of her tall, bluff, somewhat fidgety
husband, Ferguson.

Archie plucked up his courage. "I wonder if - I might trouble you for a small
favor?"

*****

"He wanted *what*?" Ferguson asked, amused.

"He wanted to trade his mirror for the one in our cabin," Laura Grant
repeated. "He said he needed a slightly larger one for a special reason so I
let him have ours."

"Wonder what he wanted it for," her husband speculated.

"To admire his beauty?" Agent Fleming suggested, with a snicker

"No," Grant said thoughtfully. "He's really not that sort. I've known
plenty of vain men," she poked her husband lightly in the ribs, "and he's not
like them."

"He *is* a pretty fellow." Ferguson sounded contemplative.

Fleming snickered again. "Dunbar certainly thinks so!"

"Oh?" Grant's brows rose.

"She set her cap for him a while back. Nothing came of it then. She still
trails her coat from time to time, just to keep her hand in."

"Caillean?" Grant mused. "If it was a serious campaign I would have said
she'd have caught him in a fortnight."

"This is *Stewart* we're talking about," Jamieson spoke up for the first
time. "The man lives like a monk. Goes to bed alone every night, as far as
anyone knows. Well--maybe with a book."

"Ah, but what kind of book?" Fleming jibed. "Has anyone seen them?"

"I don't think anyone's tried looking, not even Dunbar," Jamieson remarked.
He caught Ferguson's eye, drew his brows down in a slight signal. The taller
man sighed.

"This may be entertaining for all you lot, but it still doesn't tell me what
he's doing with our mirror."

*****

Archie studied his face carefully--the larger mirror allowed him to view his
entire countenance.

What had Old James - his actor friend - once said, in the small Portsmouth
theater where Archie had so often taken refuge on liberty days, as a
midshipman?

//Look at your face when you're happy--then when you're not. Watch the
muscles. See what your eyes show. Change your expression again. Are you
angry? Sleepy? Sick? Bored? What happens each time? What changes? Does
anything stay the same?//

Far too many people--colleagues--had been able to read the expressions on his
face, anticipate his thoughts. A serious shortcoming, for a spy. He tried a
smile, then a frown, then a yawn, following James's instructions.

What about the other expression he had used before? He flinched a little,
but let the memories come.

//Rum. On the forenoon watch.//

//I was merely observing, sir, that he was busy only because I told him to be
so.//

Oh. Oh, *no*. Archie considered his own face with dismay. The expression
he'd used then might have deceived a madman, or a stranger, but not a
division full of trained observers. *Something is troubling you and you're
hiding it.* No, he wasn't even succeeding in hiding his dissatisfaction,
only refusing to speak of it publicly. All of which showed only too well.
He had to find a better mask.

Who else had talked of it? Kitty Cobham, long ago, at that supper with
himself and Horatio. //All the card sharps know it. Deal yourself a good
hand, then a losing one, and practice until your face is the same for both.//

//Very well, let's try that.// What kind of face should it be? Not a
perfect blank, but something more unreadable: bland, civil, mildly pleasant.
A diplomat's face. When might he have tried that? . . . oh.

//Mr. Kennedy was merely making conversation, weren't you, Mr. Kennedy?//

Another painful twinge of memory. He tried on the same small smile he had
used to disguise his thoughts then, and shuffled the cards.

Better - though not yet perfect. And it would have to be perfect or even *more
* than perfect if the circumstances required that he deceive his enemies. Or
even - the thought niggled at him - his allies. One day.

Archie's eyes flicked in the direction of the sea chest. He had bought it
used from a shop in Edinburgh; the detachment had spent a few weeks there,
making preparations, before departing for Ireland.

A street boasting several secondhand garment shops had been a place where
many agents had made purchases; slightly worn, mended, or nearly threadbare
clothes attracted far less attention than new ones. After familiarizing
himself with the location, Archie went back several times alone, buying
certain items he had quietly kept concealed from his colleagues.

Nondescript, extra clothes, wrapped up in a canvas sack and stowed at the
bottom of his chest. Extra money, in a drawstring bag. Four bottles of hair
dye - one brown, one black, two red. *Carmichael said I could pass for Irish.*
Trying to find a lone redhead in Ireland might challenge even Kilcarron's
ingenuity.

How hard would they look for him? In the Service, desertion was a crime. But
in reality - there were truly insufficient resources to hunt down every soldier
or sailor who disappeared. Would Kilcarron bother? Might he not simply
balance his accounts and let the bad penny go? Would he really divert his
resources and send the others after him? Archie felt a slight pang at the
thought. It was also possible, he conceded, that Kilcarron might decide he
could not afford to let a trained agent, no matter how reluctant or junior,
slip the chain and turn rogue.

Then there was still the danger to Horatio to consider. Yet it seemed
unlikely that Kilcarron would be able to make good on his original threat.
Even that twisty mind could not use the testimony Archie had given
unwittingly while under sedation, if Archie himself was not there to
corroborate it. The word of a not-quite-dead naval officer was one thing,
the word of a not-quite-dead *missing* naval officer quite another. Hearsay
and nothing more - and damnably hard to explain to the authorities.

Archie frowned. Better not to rely on that argument, after all - he could
imagine that cool, contained voice presenting an effective counter response,
"Suspecting his account was not entirely truthful, I took the steps necessary
to preserve his life in order to discover more."

No - he could not afford to underestimate the earl in that regard. Kilcarron
might still use whatever incriminating evidence he had against Horatio to
pressure Archie into returning. But - would he? Would he truly believe that
one reluctant recruit was worth the powder, and spend his energies that
recklessly?

Ireland. He would have a clearer idea of what to do once they'd reached their
destination, once he had a chance to study their surroundings. Only
then - then - would he devise a more definite plan.

Turning back to the mirror, he dealt himself another hand of cards, studying
his reflection - and refusing to think further about what lay at the very
bottom of his sea chest . . .