Chapter 20

After four weeks of careful preparation, they went to the Mayor of Chicago’s soiree.  Things had went well, as they successfully played the part of the Matheson’s, a couple very much in love. After the celebration, they went at McClure’s home that he owned in Chicago.  Their plan had been to enjoy the party in its entirety while gaining information.  After which, they would discuss what information each of them had gathered.  Having done these things, they were now creating a plan that had to be executed within a few hours time.

They would have to steal the letter a few days sooner than they had originally planned.  While Matheson had discovered the whereabouts of the letter containing the assassination plot, Shae had found out from the mayor’s wife that she had overheard her husband talking to a strange man about “doing the deed” the next day.  Over the past couple of weeks, Shae had gained the confidence of the Mayor’s wife, at dinners, tea and balls, all throughout Chicago.  Mrs. Mayor believed that her husband was filing for divorce, and that she would find out by tomorrow morning that he was planning on doing away with her.  Shae saw it for what it was, a date and time for the Senator’s possible assassination.  With their help, hopefully the Mayor would get exposed for his deeds and a man’s life could be saved.

“This is a most undesirable circumstance,” growled McClure.

Matheson nodded his assent, while Shae stayed silent.  She was by far the least experienced of the spies there.  She’d let them work out the plan.  The men discussed for about 30 minutes and came up with a good, sensible one.  However, Shae felt that something was off.

“Doesn’t this seem too easy?” she asked.

The men looked at her, as if they had forgotten she was there. In truth, they had. At least, McClure had the sense to blush.  Not so, Matheson.

“What do you mean?” Rand inquired.

“Everything fell into place so easily,” she said.  “It doesn’t seem right.”

“Well, we’ve been infiltrating the political scene here for years, just in case this situation arose.  The seeming ease is just the result of meticulous planning. Are you seeing any holes?” McClure asked her.

“No, I’m not seeing any, but something doesn’t feel right.”

McClure patted her on the shoulder.

“There, there.  It’s just your first big mission.  It’s just the nerves getting to you.”

Shae wasn’t completely convinced, but being rather green in spywork, she let the subject drop.  McClure then laid out the plan.  Shae, dressed in menswear for ease of movement, along with Matheson would sneak into the study window, that McClure had went in and unlocked earlier that evening at the party.  Then while Matheson was on watch, Shae would unlock the drawer that held the incriminating letter.  McClure would be waiting a block down with horses for them to escape with.  They would each go separate ways down the streets of Chicago, looping around until Shae and Matheson reached McClure’s home.  McClure would be along later, because the letter needed to be sent to the authorities immediately.

“It is too dangerous for Shae to go inside the house,” Matheson argued. “She did her part by garnering information from the Mayor’s wife. Why does she need to do more?  Surely, you and I could do it ourselves.”

“True, we could, but neither of us can pick a lock as quickly as your wife.  She has picked every training lock, and otherwise, that I brought to her.  And once she got the hang of it, she could do it thrice as fast as anyone I’ve seen.”

Shae felt herself blushing from the compliments.  Matheson looked skeptical about her involvement still.

“Matheson,” McClure demanded, “you know that time is of the utmost. Every second counts.”

With that, Matheson reluctantly acquiesced.  And they went to ready themselves.

They got into the Mayor’s home with ease.  Matheson kept a look-out by the door, while Shae went to work picking the lock.  It was harder this time, because her gut kept telling her that they were in danger.  This was the first mission she felt that way.  Trying to concentrate, she picked the lock on the desk drawer.  It was a fairly easy one, but once she opened the drawer, she found it empty.  She felt under the drawer, but there was nothing there.  It seems that her husband had been given false information.

She looked at him, and shook her head.  Matheson began to feel uneasy himself.  Shae started going through the other drawers, but once again didn’t find the letter.  As her eyes were looking around the room for possible hiding places, they heard strident steps coming down the hall towards the study.  Matheson jerked his head towards the window, telling her by the gesture to get out.  As she was starting to, she noticed a box on a table with a particularly complicated lock.  She froze, and Matheson ran into her.

“We need to go,” he whispered sternly.

“It’s in that box,” she countered.  “I know it.”

“We don’t have time, Wren.”

“We have to complete the mission,” she insisted.

“There will be other chances,” he said nudging her towards the window.

The steps in the hallways were growing louder and closer.  Shae grabbed the box, and tucked it under her arm.

“I’ll unlock it at Dragon’s.”     

She made it through the window easily, but as Matheson was getting out the window a shot rang out from behind them.

“Hurry!” Matheson growled.

With that they forgot about stealth and ran as fast as they could towards the meeting point, where McClure was waiting.  Two more shots rang out from behind them.  One landed near her feet, and the other made a dull noise, as her husband growled out in pain.

“You’ve been shot,” she said running back to him.

“Get out of here, Wren,” he demanded.

Then he shot the man who was climbing out of the study window.  The man cried out and fell to the ground.  Turning back to Matheson, Shae saw how pale he was even in the moonlight.  She put her arm around his waist to help him to where McClure was waiting.

“Woman, get out of here.”

“Never.  I’ll help you.  Let’s go.”

Grunting, Matheson got to his feet, and they stumbled their way down the block.  Fifty yards away, McClure saw them, and ran to them.

“What happened?”

“Wolf was given false information.  The letter wasn’t where the informant said it was.  Wolf was shot by a co-conspirator who had been waiting for us.  I’m not sure why he wasn’t waiting in the study.  If that had been the case, I’m not sure what would have happened.”

McClure wrapped his arm around the other side of Matheson’s waist and helped Shae hold up her husband.  They were almost to the horses.

“You are a great beast of a man, Wolf.  Don’t pass out on me. I don’t want to carry you.”

“I won’t,” said Matheson, weakly.

“There is a change of plans.  Wren, you go your planned route.  I’ll have to ride with Wolf, to make sure he doesn’t pass out on the way back.  It’s riskier, but it has to be done.”

McClure grunted as he pushed Matheson onto his horse.   Then he helped Shae up.

“Stay safe,” he told her, as he smacked her horse on the rump.

The last sight she saw when she looked back was McClure alighting his horse, and Matheson barely sitting up, slumped over the saddle. She dug into her horses flanks with the box tucked under her arm.  It was because of her insistence on finding the evidence that Matheson was shot.  She had to make something of that mistake.  She had to get the box safely to McClure’s.

When she got to McClure’s stables, she asked the stable hand whether the men had returned.

“No, Ma’am.  You’re the first to arrive.”

Shae ran inside and informed the butler of the circumstances.  He paled, but nodded.

“I’ll summon the doctor.  Clyde, the stablehand, will help the men in.”

As he rushed off, Shae walked briskly to the study, where McClure kept special tools for cracking difficult locks.  This one was probably the most complicated that Shae had seen.  A hairpin wouldn’t do.  She’d been working on it for ten minutes when there was a commotion at the door.  McClure and Matheson must be back.

She stopped what she was doing and ran to the hallway.  McClure and Clyde were holding up Matheson, who was barely conscious, and very pale.  There was blood all over him which came from a bullet wound in his left shoulder near his heart. It took every bit of Shae’s fortitude to not cry out.  She looked at McClure.

“Yes, it’s bad,” he said, not sparing the truth. “He is lucky that it came out the other side.  He’s lost a lot of blood though, and it was very close to his heart.”

“What should I do?”

“Have you ever dressed a bullet wound?”

“No,” she admitted.

“Then leave it to me.  It’s a shame that he was shot for nothing. I wonder who tipped them off to us.”

“No!”, Shae exclaimed.  “It wasn’t for nothing, perhaps.  I grabbed a box that might contain the letter.  It’s a complicated lock, and the letter might be in there.”

McClure breathed out a sigh of relief.

“Well, there’s that.  Let’s hope the evidence is in there.”

“I’ll go work on the lock.”

She walked up to her husband.  She touched his face with her hand.  It was cold and clammy to the touch.

“Don’t die, Rand,” she whispered.

He looked at her with eyes that were dull, and barely coherent.

“Highly unlikely, Little Wren,” he ground out from clenched teeth.

Then they took him up the stairs to his room.  Shae made her way back to the study to work on the wooden box.  She supposed that she could just shoot the blasted thing, but she would give herself 10 more minutes to figure it out before doing so.  It was too good of a learning experience, plus McClure couldn’t go deliver the contents until the doctor arrived.

Five minutes into it, Shae heard a satisfying click and the lid cracked open slightly.  With a happy chirrup concerning her success, she started looking at the contents.  A huge smile spread all over her face, while she perused.  She read it over and over for twenty minutes.  It looked like the box not only contained the one incriminating letter, but several of them, with more names of men who were co-conspirators in the plot.  McClure would know for sure.  He happened to make his way into the room right then.

“You got it open!” he blurted, relieved. “And the contents?”

“First, how is Matheson?”

“The doctor thinks that he’ll pull through.  He lost a lot of blood, but not enough to snuff him out.  He did say if the bullet was a half an inch closer to his heart, he would have died almost immediately.  Rand is very lucky in that regards, but still has a lot of recovering to do.  He needs to rest in bed for a few days.  He’s never followed the doctor’s orders before now, so I doubt that will happen.  I fear he needs to though this time, with as much blood as he lost.”

“I feel it is my fault.  I should have left when Matheson wanted me to.”

“We are all at fault in someway.  I should have seen that we’d been found out.  My work in Chicago is ruined.  And worst of all, my best friend almost died, leaving you a widow. I should have listened to your gut instinct tonight.  Women have intuition in spades.  Well, what have you found out? Tell me, and then make your way to your husband.  Maybe you’ll be able to keep the beast in his rest bed.”

Shae told him her findings.  After rifling through the stack of letters, McClure smiled hugely.  He put down the letters, grabbed her shoulders and gave her a resounding kiss on the forehead.

“The smartest thing Matheson’s ever done was marry you. Not only did we find the plot and more names, but also more plots against political leaders throughout the state of Illinois.”

Shae expressed her relief.  McClure headed to the authorities he had been working with.  She made her way upstairs to the bedroom where her husband lay.  McClure was right, he was a beast of a man.  Broad-shouldered, thick-chested, and well-muscled, she took him in, along with the tell-tale bandage of his near miss with death.  He was sleeping.

She got a stuffed chair and placed it beside the bed.  It gave her time to contemplate her feelings for Matheson.  How deeply did she feel for him?  She really didn’t believe that she was in love with him.  She loved him, like a friend, at least.  She thought he was attractive, but was sensible enough to understand that attraction and love were very different things.  She definitely didn’t want him to die.  When he wasn’t putting up walls or running away, he made a personable companion.  She admired him more than any other man she had met.  However, she didn’t love him. She didn’t think she did anyway, but she didn’t really know what love looked or felt like.

Things were complicated.  She just wasn’t sure if they could erase the pain of Lucy’s death, as well as Claire’s.  Could she trust him after he abandoned her for six months while she was grieving for Lucy?  She forgave him, but she wasn’t sure that she could trust him. She felt betrayed still. Pondering these things she fell asleep.

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