Chapter 17

Over the next 6 weeks, John McClure snuck into the Matheson’s library every night at midnight to teach Shae the set of skills necessary to be a successful spy.  From exercises meant to strengthen her muscles, to secret coding, to picking locks, he worked her for 3 hours a night.

A couple of times Canton or Mrs. Klein noticed a light on in the library, and checked on it.  Mr. McClure would hide behind the curtains, while Shae pretended to be engrossed in a book.  The ruse worked both times.  Neither Canton or Mrs. Klein suspected what she was really doing in the library.

During the day, Shae would do extra exercises in her closet.  In the evening after dinner, she would practice picking the lock on her own door.  She poured over the codes, memorizing them quickly.  She practiced walking stealthily in the shadows of her room.  The room was carpeted, so she really couldn’t tell if she was doing it properly.  It gave her something to do, and being a perfectionist, she wanted to do it right.

On the last week, she moved the entire staff out to the farm in the countryside, so that she could to learn to shoot a gun.  She gave the excuse that she wanted to learn to protect herself, which was mostly true.  She left out the “because I’m going to be a spy” portion of it.  Mr. McClure and Beatrice came out to stay with them.

The first midnight meeting in the farmhouse study, McClure informed her that they would meet outside at the stand of trees 200 yards from the house. For the next four nights, she was going to learn to climb, both trees and ropes. She also would learn to balance on narrow boards that McClure had secretly placed in the woods. Having a fear of heights, Shae wasn’t looking forward to it.  When she told McClure that she was afraid, he told her that she would have to get past it.

Those last four nights of training were the hardest ones for her.  Overcoming her fear was not an easy task, and she didn’t quite get past it.  She got better at climbing though, and conquered at least some of her fear.  She also had a fear of close spaces.  She didn’t want to be locked into a trunk or spend time with McClure trapped in a closet, so she kept that information to herself.

When they returned to Davies, she met with McClure one last time, to lay out final plans.

“With every piano performance date you have, you will more than likely also have a mission.  Sometimes, it is just information passed on through gossip that you will obtain by talking to women at soirees, or whatever social function you are playing at.  Other times, you will be going to a book store in the area, and asking for a specific book title.  Inside two of pages pasted together will be a message with our instructions for our mission.  We will decipher the code, and follow it’s instructions. Then we either head back to Davies or head out on another performance date, where we will do the same thing. Do you think you are ready?”

“I will never feel fully prepared.”

“That’s a common feeling amongst our trade. Payments will be made on percentages.  We will get 50% commission to split.  Expenses will be paid by the agency.  They get the other 50% to cover that, plus agency costs.”

“I see.  I don’t care about the money.”

“I know,” he said. “Also, we each have a code name of our own choosing.  Most spies don’t know each other’s real name, unless under special circumstance, like ours.  Within the network, I am known as “Dragon”.  Care to know why I chose that name?”

“Not really,” she remarked, smartly.

He pretended to scowl, looking at her broodingly and crossing his arms over his chest.  As he did so, she thought of the perfect code name for herself.  She laughed at him.

“Is the code name “Wren” taken?”

His smile was devilish.

“No, it isn’t.  It’s yours.”

Her training ended with that.  Tomorrow night was her first performance.  It  was in Davies. McClure wanted her to get her feet wet in a familiar place before sending her out into unfamiliar territory.

The next morning, she headed to the local bookstore, where she had been a regular customer.  The clerk greeted her happily, as he knew her well.  She asked for the title that McClure told her to.  The clerk stiffened for the minutest moment, before graciously getting her the volume.  She paid for it, and then headed for home.

In the privacy of her own room, she retrieved the message from the pages and deciphered the code.  She was to recover a stolen brooch, so it could be returned to the rightful owner.  It was a good mission to start out with.  McClure would be on the lookout for trouble, but she was to do this mission on her own.

She mentally prepared in the morning for the spy activities that night.  In the afternoon, she practiced the 3 compositions that she would be performing.  Then she let Maggie work on her hair for the evening.  She wore a maize-colored taffeta gown with a modest neckline, and off-the-shoulder sleeves.  Her hair was pulled low, in a demure bun at the nape of her neck.  While her hair was being done, she was memorizing her plan of action.

After an agonizingly long day, it was finally time to head to the soiree held at the Garrett household.  It was believed that the oldest Garrett daughter, Mariah, had stolen a pink diamond brooch of Mrs. Hopkins, a lifelong friend of Mrs. Garrett.  According to Mrs. Hopkins, she didn’t want to lose her friendship with Mrs. Garrett because her daughter was a greedy ninny.  The brooch was her grandmother’s, priceless to her.  She just wanted it back with as little fuss as possible.

Shae’s plan was to perform, then slip away later on the in the evening to Mariah’s room and steal back the diamond brooch. Once the brooch was obtained, they would leave the soiree whenever a few other people left.  The next morning, she would pay for another book at the bookstore with a velvet bag of coins, which also contained the brooch.  Once she did that, the brooch would change hands until it was in Mrs. Hopkins’s hands.

McClure picked her up first in his carriage, followed by Beatrice.  Shae gave a stunning musical performance, and received a standing ovation.  Afterwards, she meandered about the room, talking to an admirer or two.  Finally, after a couple of hours of socializing, she slipped into the shadows to sneak upstairs.  She planned on using the servant’s staircase, as it was less used and closed-off.  The main stairwell was too open.  She wished she hadn’t worn her gold-colored gown now that she was here. Taffeta was a loud fabric.  A lesson learned, she supposed, if she didn’t get caught.  She had been so enveloped in her plan of action that the more feminine details escaped her.

Slipping out of the room where everyone was gathered hadn’t been too hard. She also had no trouble slipping up the servant’s stairs when no one was around.  Finding her way to the living quarters of the Garrett family was a bit harder.  The old house meandered a lot, having been built onto a few times.  Finally she found what she thought were the bedrooms.

She had found out through eavesdropping on conversation, that Mariah’s room was one facing the garden. Mariah had mentioned that she enjoyed her view from her window, especially on a moonlit night.  She had said this to a boy she was interested in. Shae thought it had been said in hope of some secret rendezvous.  The boy was either oblivious or quite clever, as he mentioned he thought it would be hard to sleep with the moon shining so brightly into his room.  Mariah had pouted, and then also complained that in the winter her room was the coldest because it being on the northwest corner of the house. The boy told her if she would shut her drapes, to shut out the moon, she could also shut out more of the wind.  Trying to not giggle at the youthful antics, she moved away and got some punch.

As for now, she was looking for the northwest corner bedroom.  She thought she had found the right one, but had gotten turned around because the house was so strangely put together.  However, looking through a keyhole, she discovered that the rooms drapes were open and the moonlight was pouring through.  She pulled a hair pin out of her hair, and picked the lock.  It was a little different than her own, but she because she had practiced so much, she had unlocked it in a matter of seconds.

She shut the door behind her, and took a look about the room.  There was a bureau where she knew the girl couldn’t be so daft as to put the stolen brooch.  Where would the girl hide it?  Mariah had seemed the romantic, self-centered sort.  She’d want to find some sort of fanciful nook or cranny to keep the brooch hidden in.  Under her mattress wouldn’t be fantastical enough for her. She probably would want to keep it near a mirror where she could pin it on and look at herself with it on, as well as take it off quickly and hide it if someone should want to enter her room.

There were two mirrors in Mariah’s room.  One was on the bureau.  Too easy, thought Shae.  She had to be more clever of a girl than that to successfully swipe such a precious brooch from its owner. The other mirror was above the washstand.  She searched the back of the washstand, and came up empty-handed.  The drawer didn’t have a false bottom or a fake back. She didn’t even bother with the wash basin or pitcher, because those were touched by servants too often.

She took a step back and looked at the mirror.  It was quite ornate, and on the top in the middle there was a wooden medallion intricately carved.  Upon closer inspection, it seemed that the medallion might actually swivel around in a circle. Shae tried to move it.  It wiggled back and forth, but only by a ¼ inch each way.  Looking even closer, she noted that the top was actually a nob which turned.  She turned the nob, giving the medallion freedom to swing back.  This revealed a small cavity in the wooden frame of the mirror.  Inside this cavity was the pink diamond brooch.

Shae smiled in triumph, and placed the brooch in a hidden pocket of her dress.  Now to get off of the Garrett property.  She locked the door back and successfully made her way back to the soiree.  Across the room, McClure met her eyes.  To tell him that she had obtained the item, she was to tap her fan on her hand thrice.

At that signal, McClure went to procure the carriage.  She went to gather Beatrice and say that she was tired and ready to go home.  When a young couple and an old bachelor left the soiree, they also left.  McClure dropped off Beatrice first, and then Shae.  According to agency protocol, they said nothing of their heist.  They merely talked about her performance and the food that the Garrett’s had provided.  As they did so, she retrieved the brooch from her pocket and put it in her satchel.  He dropped her off at the mansion.

The next day, she got the brooch into the bookstore clerk’s hands and finished her part of the mission.  It was said that Mrs. Hopkins was elated to have found her missing brooch.  As for Mariah, she was baffled as to how she lost it, and thought maybe her mother had been involved.  She was too scared to ask, and relieved that she was not in trouble.

Two weeks before his friend was supposed to arrive home, McClure sent a letter to Rand informing him of his idea to have Shae travel from place-to-place to perform concerts. He mentioned how the idea had boosted her spirits, and to not be concerned with appearances.  Beatrice was also accompanying them to keep things proper.

When Rand read it a week later, he showed no emotion, but his fingers were tapping restlessly on the arm of the chair. Things were going splendidly, McClure wrote. Shae was a delight to all of her listeners, he gushed. Rand thought that the next week couldn’t go by fast enough.

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