The Art of Deception #amwriting #mondayblogs

North End of the President's House 1800_cropped

This is a chapter from a book I’m writing. I’ve been presenting sections on Weekend Writing Warriors and I’d like to present the whole chapter as it is difficult to get the flavor in ten-line segments. This is the second chapter in the book, and I can make an ARC available.

Washington

Roderick, Lord Fitzpatrick stretched his legs and tried to make his hard chair somewhat more comfortable. He and Anthony Merry, the new British Minister to the United States were deep in conversation in Mr Merry’s chambers at the British consulate. The consulate was, like most of the rest of the new capitol city, a hastily erected, draughty and uncomfortable structure. While nominally Mr Merry’s social superior, he was from a different branch of the diplomatic corps, one that was less concerned with the social and diplomatic niceties. When it came to normal, above board, diplomacy Mr Merry was by far the more experienced of the two. Mr Merry looked exactly like what he was, the middle-aged son of a wealthy wine merchant, while Roderick displayed his natural athletic build and dark good looks. Despite their apparent difference, the two men were close friends, united against their common adversary.
“I say, Roddy, how did ever you stick it here? All that time you spent here after Sir Robert returned home. It must have been dashed difficult for you. The Jonathan’s.” He shook his head, “Their manners leave much to be desired.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“That Jefferson fellow, didn’t you find him rude? I mean he called my wife a ‘virago’, and Elizabeth, whatever her failings is not that.”
“She’s a lovely woman, well-mannered and gracious. If you want to meet a virago, you need only talk to the Dowager Fitzpatrick.”
“So that’s why you haven’t married? Still, can you imagine inviting us and the French charge de affairs to the same private dinner? We’re at war. It’s just not done.”
Roderick shrugged, “I just ignore the slights. Treat their politics like a spectator sport. It’s almost as much fun as ratting or the cockpit. As for marriage, you know I find these provincials even more tedious than the butterflies and damsels of the London Ton.”
“De gustibus and all that I suppose.”
“Precisely. I have yet to meet a female who doesn’t pale upon further acquaintance, Mrs Merry excepted. Besides, in my line of work, a female attachment could be fatal. Both for her and for me.”
“Ah, I suppose you’re right. Anything you should tell me?”
“From my line of work?”
Anthony nodded, “Any traps for the unwary. I don’t want to know about the rest. Always best to just put it in the diplomatic pouch and be done with it. Can’t lie about what I don’t know.”
“I’d watch that Colonel Burr. Don’t think I’d trust him.”
“It would be good if we could get our hooks into Louisiana. Let the Brother Jonathan’s purchase it from that Corsican and then steal it from them.”
“Great if it works, but I my sources say the Colonel is not reliable. Indeed, dangerously unreliable. Like most of the colonials, more hot air and bluster than substance. You could easily end up adrift at point non plus in deep water.”
A footman knocked on the door and interrupted their discussions. “Sir, an emissary from President Jefferson.”
“Not another invitation to a dreadful dinner?”
“He did not say, Sir. It is Captain Lewis.”
“Ah, then it is serious.” Captain Lewis was a presidential aide, a close confidant of Mr Jefferson. He would not visit an embassy on a mere social call or for something as trivial as an invitation to a state dinner. “Show him in.”
The footman returned with Captain Lewis. He, Captain Lewis that is, carried a jemmy . “I believe this is yours.”
“No,” Lord Fitzpatrick replied, “never seen it before. What is it?”
“A jemmy or crowbar. Are you certain you’ve never seen it?”
“I am a gentleman.”
“That is debatable. However, this jemmy is made in Sheffield, of finest English spring steel. Stamped by its makers.”
“I see. Where did you find it?”
“I didn’t, Mr Jefferson did. In his office.”
“Ah.”
“We can’t understand what it was doing there. You say you are certain it’s not yours.”
“Absolutely.”
“I’m sorry to say we don’t believe you.” Captain Lewis handed Mr Merry a letter. “Lord Fitzpatrick is now a persona non gratia in the United States.” He bowed and turned to leave. “And since this isn’t yours, I’ll keep it. As a souvenir of our acquaintance.”
“As you wish. It’s not mine. I hope it brings you luck. Looks dashed useful, what is it for?”
“You will, of course, be communicating your travel plans.”
“Overland to New York, Packet to Portsmouth or Bristol.”
Captain Lewis nodded. “Sorry to see you leave, but -”
“It’s best.”
After Captain Lewis left, Anthony said to Roderick, “That wasn’t yours was it?”
“No, I don’t do anything as crude as housebreaking. I will need your aid to clean up a few loose ends when I go. My manservant, Thomas.”
“I wish you wouldn’t keep slaves. I won’t sell him for you.”
“He’s not a slave. His wife, Hannah -”
“She is?”
Roderick nodded, “Unfortunately, yes. She’s a maid and housekeeper … in the President’s house. Could you arrange to purchase her? Her freedom was her price, and I should like to think His Majesty’s government lives up to its promises. I told you I don’t use crude methods, and she’s been most helpful to the crown.”
“I wouldn’t know how. Unseemly for the minister to appear at an auction.”
“I’ll drop a hint in Captain Lewis’ ear that you need a new maid when I give him my detailed itinerary tomorrow. He’ll jump at the chance to put a ‘loyal servant’ of his own inside our embassy. Then I think Boston or Canada would be best for them. Much healthier climate, especially if you are of a swarthy hue.”
“I see. You know that I can’t put those expenses on the diplomatic account.”
Roderick passed him an open draft on his bank. “Take what you need. Give them what’s left.”

****

That evening, as he was preparing for bed, Roderick noticed something was bothering his servant. “Thomas, what is wrong?”
“Nothing, sir.”
“You’re not upset that I’m bound for England? I could bring you, but I’ve arranged with the minister to see that Hannah is freed. There should be a decent nest-egg left over for the two of you. I suggest going North, Canada if you don’t mind the cold.”
Thomas grew even quieter, more distant.
“It’s Hannah, isn’t it? What’s happened?”
“Sold.”
“Sold?”
“They’re sending her South.”
“Bugger it! Where, when?”
“Today, she’s in Robey’s warehouse, chained. Auction tomorrow.”
“Robey’s tavern?”
“Either that or the Yellow House next door.”
Roderick paused, while he claimed crude methods were beneath him, there were times, and this was one of them, that they were appropriate. “Thomas, I think a change of garment is in order. Lay out the gentleman’s ken cracking clothes. I’ll need my screws, the phos bottle and … whatever happened to my jemmy, by the way?”
“I was visiting Hannah.”
“Thought as much. That was a tad sloppy of you. If you’d see that our mounts are ready, and I’ll need a light travelling bag packed. Can Hannah ride?”
“She’ll ride with me.”
“Good enough. Avaunt mon ami!”

****

The British Minister was summoned to the President’s House the next morning. Captain Lewis met him. He was not pleased.
“Where is Lord Fitzpatrick?”
“Lord Fitzpatrick, may I enquire why you wish to see him?”
“Someone burned down the slave pens at the Yellow House. Thousands of dollars of property has gone missing, vanished into the night.”
“It has? What possibly could this have to do with him?”
“One of the chattel who disappeared was the wife of his servant. Mr Jefferson wanted her out of the President’s House. We also found the remains of a phosphorus jar. It was used to start the fire.”
“Indeed. I still fail to see how that is relevant.” Mr Merry was a master of obtuseness. It stood him in good stead, especially in times like these.
“Isn’t it obvious?”
Mr Merry stared at him, and completely missed his point. Again he said deliberately, as he was being annoyingly obtuse and enjoying it. “That reminds me, we’re looking for a housekeeper. You wouldn’t know of one who is available?”
“No. Do you know where that man is? I have a few questions for him.”
“Not exactly, but he did leave a note. Apparently, he discovered that if he left last night there was a good chance of catching this month’s packet home. I gather he was in a hurry to sup at Whites. Not sure I blame him. Dreadful food here, simply dreadful.”
“So he’s on his way overland to New York. Wouldn’t the coastal schooner be faster?”
“That’s what he said, and I have no reason to doubt him. I gather he is prone to seasick and in any case the ocean voyage will be enough time on a ship for anyone. His manservant is riding with him. I’m to send his luggage along on a coastal schooner – under diplomatic seal.”

 


There are some very good reasons why Thomas cannot go himself to free his wife. He’d be shot or chained. On the other hand, Roderick would be inconspicuous, simply another potential bidder inspecting the wares.

Author: rharrisonauthor

International man of mystery. Well not really, although I can mangle several languages and even read the occasional hieroglyphic. A computer scientist, an author and one of the very few people who has both an NIH grant and a book contract. A rising author of sweet romantic historical fiction. A booktrope author.