In the second year of the Civil War, a secret Confederate organization has been formed to sabotage the Union war effort. This group, based in New Orleans, is working to stop the Union Navy from reaching the city. Union operative J.B. Carver is dispatched to New Orleans to infiltrate and expose the plot, which includes befriending a seemingly trustworthy shipping clerk. But being alone in Confederate territory means that there are enemies around every corner. No one can be trusted, and nobody betrays the Trust.
BOOK EXCERPT 1
The afternoon had turned to a rainy, cold night when the operatives returned to Old Capitol Prison once more. J.B. Carver was bundled beneath his overcoat, hat brim turned down to deflect the freezing rain and collar upturned against his ears. He sniffled and felt a cold coming on. In contrast Gables was bareheaded with no overcoat, sitting in the cold carriage robust and ready for action. Carver silently resented Gables’s youth; he remembered when he was in such fine condition himself, but that was long gone now.
The Bureau coachman dropped the operatives at the same spot they’d been dropped earlier that day. As the horses hurried off to the warm stables down the block, Carver blew into his cold hands. Gables wore no gloves and apparently felt no need to warm them in his pockets.
“Think this’ll work?” Gables asked as they approached the guards outside the prison gates.
Carver shrugged. “We’ll see soon enough.” His breath formed a huge cloud in the cold, thick air.
“What if it doesn’t?”
“Then I suppose we’ll have to go about things the hard way.”
The guards hurried to accommodate the operatives, giving the password through the gates and stepping aside when they opened. As the operatives entered, Carver glanced over and noticed Gables clenching and unclenching his fist around his brass knuckles. While Carver should’ve been alarmed at the idea of using brass knuckles on the prisoner, all he could think of was how cold that metal must’ve been in Gables’s hand.
Inside the prison, the operatives were met by a different guard who would escort them into the cellar. Apparently the original escort was off duty.
“Any noise come from down there?” Carver asked the escort as they headed downstairs.
“None,” the escort replied. “’Course I just got here an hour ago. The guard I spelled didn’t mention anything unusual. I just finished making my rounds and hadn’t checked down here yet.”
“The prisoner didn’t make any sounds?” Carver asked.
“Haven’t heard anything.”
“When was the last time he was checked on?” Gables asked.
“Don’t know. Like I said, the guard I spelled didn’t say anything. All I know is I haven’t checked since I got here an hour ago. As far as I know, the cell guard and the prisoner are the only two down here.”
The escorting guard led them down the murky stairs. The odors were especially pungent. At the end of the corridor, Carver saw in the flickering candlelight that the guard wasn’t seated on his stool beside the iron door. He was laying next to it.
The operatives raced to the scene. Carver immediately saw the guard was dead, his neck slashed from ear to ear. Underneath his body was a thick pool of blood. The escorting guard moaned. “Good God!” he exclaimed. “Good God Almighty!”
Carver searched through the guard’s pockets for the door key but found nothing. He nudged Gables aside and looked through the small, barred opening in the iron door. Archibald Leonard hung from a rusty ceiling pipe.
Carver stepped aside to let Gables see the hanging body in the cell. The escorting guard yelled and raced back upstairs for help. As the operatives watched, Leonard’s corpse slowly turned toward them. Beneath the bulging eyes and purple tongue was a sign posted to the body: “DEATH TO ALL TRAITORS.”
The escorting guard returned with two others. They hurried to their dead comrade and immediately knew there was nothing they could to save him.
“What in hell could’ve happened?” the escorting guard asked to nobody in particular. “Could a prisoner have gotten down here to do this?”
One of the guards tending to the corpse on the floor said, “Highly unlikely. There are guards at every entrance and stairwell in the building.”
Saying nothing, Carver quietly wondered how many guards would look the other way if the sufficient amount of currency changed hands.
The escorting guard said, “Whoever did this must still be in the building. No prisoners have been transferred in or out since yesterday.”
“Were there any deliveries today?” Carver asked.
One of the guards standing over the bloody corpse shrugged as he rose back to his feet. “Just the usual provisions that come in the afternoon wagons.”
Carver looked at Gables. “Let’s get out of here.”
The escorting guard protested. “Now wait, you. This was your prisoner. We lost a guard looking after your prisoner. Shouldn’t you stay and try to help us ascertain what happened?”
Carver answered, “I know what happened. They were murdered. Let’s go.”
Gables looked puzzled but said nothing as he dutifully followed Carver out of the cellar. As far as Carver was concerned, there was nothing more he and Gables could do. Both men ignored the shouts and pleas from the escorting guard as they left the building. Carver overheard him instructing a guard to summon a constable to sort through the mess. Once outside the gates of Old Capitol Prison, Carver explained to Gables.
“The culprit is gone. Most likely hitched a ride with that provision wagon. Money was most likely exchanged for some of the guards to make sure the job was done properly.”
“How can you be so sure?” Gables asked. They didn’t wait for their carriage, but instead headed down the block toward the stables.
Carver replied, “I don’t profess to be certain of anything, but I’m guessing there was someone on the inside who was given the means to do this and allowed to escape. Of course this is predicated on taking the late spy at his word. If whatever group he referred to is as powerful and as ruthless as he purported, then this is surely possible.”
Gables thought a moment. Then he waved his hand and said, “Ah, I don’t know if any of that is valid.”
Carver shrugged and suddenly noticed he wasn’t cold anymore. “I could be wrong,” he said. “But one thing seems clear.”
“And that is?”
“We’ll certainly have to go about things the hard way.”
BOOK EXCERPT 2
J.B. Carver and Gables met outside the stationery shop before going in together to see Colonel Eastwick. It was Sunday and the shop was closed. The operatives went around to the back door, gave a special knock, delivered a password to an adjutant, and then were led to the little back room that served as the colonel’s office.
Colonel Eastwick rested his big hands on the desktop. “Based on the report you submitted last night, and the fact that I anticipated receiving no new information from you this morning, I have reached a decision on how to proceed. Number Thirty-Seven—” he pointed at Gables “—You shall assist the local constabulary in assessing the nature of these murders. You must determine if they are related and if so, who the culprit or culprits are. Here are details that I prepared earlier this morning.” Eastwick handed Gables a folder that had been resting on the desk. “Memorize this dossier’s contents, proceed according to its instructions, then burn it. If you have no questions, you are dismissed.”
“Thank you, Colonel,” Gables said. He gave a rigid salute which Eastwick returned. As Gables marched out of the room, Carver turned to follow him, hoping that Eastwick would have no assignment for him. That didn’t happen.
“Number Twenty-One!” Eastwick called. “I prepared a dossier for you as well.”
Carver turned back and returned to the spot on which he was originally standing. He should’ve known. “Of course,” Carver muttered. Eastwick glared at him. Carver smiled and said, “What’s ailing you, Colonel? You haven’t been yourself lately.”
Eastwick’s harsh demeanor didn’t change. “What’s ailing me is that there is a damned depressing war tearing our country apart. What’s ailing me is that people are needlessly dying as a result of the incompetence of others. What’s ailing me are operatives who question my well-being when they should be more inclined to executing the tasks they are given.”
Carver stood at attention. “Understood, sir.” There was nothing more to say.
Eastwick handed Carver the folder. “You will go to New Orleans and investigate Delta Exporting. The details are in here.”
“What?” Carver couldn’t help but shout. “New Orleans? In Louisiana? In the Confederacy?”
The colonel allowed the outburst. Like an agitated parent, he shook his head and corrected Carver. “There is no Confederacy, Captain. Louisiana is simply a state of the Union in rebellion.”
Carver said nothing. He was in no mood to argue whether the South was a separate nation or just a band of rebellious states. Eastwick went on. “By your testimony, Leonard was formerly employed by Delta Exporting in New Orleans. Thus far we’ve found nobody else in the capital linked to Leonard, and we can no longer afford to waste time by continuing to look. We must go straight to the source. I trust you will do what’s needed to find the necessary answers.”
Carver’s shoulders slumped. “You fished me out of New York to get me killed in the South?”
“I haven’t a choice,” Eastwick answered. “I must use my finest operatives for the harshest assignments. No one else would have as fine a chance of success as yourself.”
“You’re sending me there alone?” Carver asked, still incredulous.
“The details are in the dossier, Captain,” Eastwick said sternly. He was through explaining himself to his subordinate. Carver kept quiet but wanted to say more. Not only had Eastwick turned cold but now he was sending his friend to die. Eastwick must have sensed Carver’s despondency so he shook his head and explained further.
“Captain, our government is planning a major military offensive and we cannot afford to be lacking in intelligence. This could mean another disaster if we were to be denied because of this spy operation. And not only would people face dismissal, the government would be disgraced and the war may even be lost. No, we must act now and we must act boldly. That is why I am sending my best operative to New Orleans to find out who put this man up to robbing the Navy Department. You will leave in the morning. Memorize the folder contents, then burn them. If no questions, then dismissed.”
Carver had many questions but knew it was futile to ask them. Colonel Eastwick was not the man he once was, and his orders were not debatable. Carver had no choice. Going to New Orleans was his duty, as dangerous as it would be. To send a Union spy into the Deep South seemed certain death, and Carver resented Eastwick for sending him so readily. Carver had hoped that Eastwick would show more compassion or concern for Carver’s well-being, but the colonel’s military guise prevented that. Without a hint of emotion, Eastwick dispatched Carver into enemy territory where death would wait around every corner.
Carver turned and marched out the door without saluting. There was no farewell, even though it could have been the last time Carver would see his friend. Carver blamed the war as much as he blamed Eastwick. This was no time for emotion. Work needed to be done. Eastwick didn’t call his subordinate back to salute. He granted Carver that much before sending him to his doom.