Wednesday, April 18, 2012

T. E. Story #37

"Uhhh, Yes Sr," I replied,  standing stiffly at attention, I saluted as crisp a salute as I could manage.  I could feel a drop of sweat trickling down my neck. 'here it comes, I thought!'

"Oh, Sit down and be comfortable Major," said Col. Abert, extending his hand to me, and be at ease.

'This was a change I thought, normally being invited to sit in a senior;s presence in the military is a sign that you are not in trouble '
"Uhhh, Yes Sir," I said shaking his hand and I then took a seat in the chair that he indicated at the side of his desk.  The Provost Officer took a seat on the leather divan next to the wall.  The Provost NCO's were outside in the hallway, guarding the door I suspected.  I wondered how the Sgt. at the desk felt about that!

"Now let's get down to it Major,"  said Col. Abert, looking over my shoulder at the Provost Officer.

The Provost Officer stood, and came around the other side of the desk.  He was holding in his hand a notebook.  He began reading, " As you already know, the man who was following you was Gether Agnane, and his partner who was killed at the trolley car was Aaron Doolittle.  Both were hirees of a secret group here in Washington City known as "Copperheads."  This group has some very influential men in it that are opposed to any interference with the South and whatever it is that they intend.  You have surely heard the word "secession" discussed about of late,"  the Provost looked over at me for confirmation.  I nodded m head and said, "Even in the West on the Mississippi River," and Col. Abert smiled in that particular straight-lipped smile of his, and nodded his head as well.

The Provost continued, " These two men had been hired to follow you in secret simply because you are the first indication that the North was doing anything about this talk of leaving the Union.  There is some sort of "Star Chamber" here in Washington City, associated with these "Copperheads" which we have not managed to find and infiltrate as yet, but it is surmised that both of these men were under some kind of oath, to their death, and one of them at least believed it to the extent that he shot his partner.  Both men are recent immigrants from the Balkan States and both seem to have a somewhat shady background, even in Europe.  By the way, Captain Lewis seems to have a real disliking for you.  He was furious when we took him into custody and blamed you for everything!"

Col. Abert took up the story, " Apparently, one of the congressmen who were here investigating the change of command on the River, mentioned something about it to one of his companions.  Capt Lewis it turns out is a very determined Copperhead, and is now in the custody of the Provost.  However, we have no idea how far up this information goes in the organization, and neither the Lt. Col. nor I believe for a moment that Capt. Lewis is the 'man at the top" of this affair.  He is much to volatile to be entrusted with something like this, so, it would appear that perhaps we had better scrap this whole idea!"

"If I may sir, " I said leaning slightly toward the Col.

"Go ahead," he answered slowly, "Please speak freely."

"Well, Sir, " I began choosing my words very carefully, "I disagree.  The reasons that I disagree, are several.  First, even I have not fully completed the route I intended to follow into the South to map the roads and affiliated features of the terrain, so whoever it is that is "at the top" as you say," I looked at the Provost, "still only has a partial Idea of where I intend to go.  Secondly, I have set up, or rather my Sgt. Major has set up a very secure and determined team for these forays into the South.  Lastly, I know how badly this information is needed."  I looked askance at Col. Abert.

The Col. shifted in his chair indicating his discomfort with my last comment.  He coughed once behind his hand and nodded, saying, "Well you've got that right. "

"Well, then, sirs, would it not be a prudent idea, "I said," For a two man team from the Provost to leave Washington City, after having a set of maps copied in the Map Office of another route completely, sometime in the next two days.  This team should be on horseback and have enough equipment to indicate a long trip.  The Pinkertons could track these two men and take into custody anyone who follows this two man team.  Meanwhile I and my team will stay hidden at this place that we have selected, and wait to be contacted at the result of this make-believe team of two.  After a period of two days, my team will leave Washington City by night and simply reverse the order of my selected route starting from where I had originally planned to end the trip."

Col. Abert pinched is lower lip and looked up at the Provost, "It could work,  What do you think Lt. Col.?"  There was just the slightest emphasis on the term Lt. Col.

The Provost Col. looked somewhat uncertain, "Uh well, I suppose it would work except that the two man team who are decoys, at least one of them has to be a Topog Engr., as it is probable that the people watching will know the faces of all the engrs. in the city."

Col. Abert stood, and said ," And, the two men who knew the face of the Major here and the Sg, Major are both dead.  I believe you owe me a dollar Col. as our wager that the major here would have an alternate plan has been revealed."  The Provost reached into a pocket and pulled out a crumpled dollar bill that had been hidden there.  As he handed it to Col. Abert, he said with relief in his voice, "I have never paid a bet with such appreciation.  I admire your spunk Major, and I have already heard some stories about your new Sgt. Major.  I think that you are in good hands, my friend."  He saluted the Col. saying, "I believe our business here is completed for the moment.  Now I need to determine just who is in this "Star Chamber" here in Washington City, and keep them under surveillance.  I have a suspicion that we will hear from them again."

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