Guys! We made the next milestone goal!!! 50% on Kickstarter with 8 days left to go. How awesome--that made me so happy this afternoon!
In celebration, I am proud to present to you the first scene of War of Loyalties, and the first sighting of the enigmatic Irish doctor, Jaeryn Graham....
A Question of Duty
London, England – March 1917
Doctor Jaeryn Graham stepped out of his cab in front of a shop specializing in window glass exports. Devoid of aesthetic interest, but solid in its way. Inside, a radio droned out the latest war news, and propaganda posters plastered the walls with bloodthirsty red slogans. Samples of various types of glass and frames lined the walls displayed in well ordered cabinets. A young man in waistcoat and shirtsleeves sat behind a reception desk, keeping up the fiction of a clerk ready to show his wares. Only a select few knew the shop had a different purpose.
On his way through to the back hall, Jaeryn tipped a wink at the clerk. “How's business?”
The youth nodded in response. “Oh, just fine, doctor. Mr. Ryson's waiting to see you. He thinks you're late.”
“Let him, then. It's not easy to get from Folkestone to London with the trains delayed as they are in these times.”
The doctor's jaw had a steely look about it as he entered Samuel Ryson's office. Closing the door behind him, the familiar breath of fear ghosted through him.
“Ah, Graham. I've been expecting you.” His gray-haired supervisor motioned him to a seat. “I expect you are sufficiently recovered from your last escapade, hmm?”
“Completely.” Jaeryn flexed his fingers at the mention of what he had just accomplished. They were straight and unblemished, except for two—and those two, crooked as they were, caused a proud lifting of his chin as if he would gladly have them over the other eight, whole ones.
Ryson grunted his approval. “You never take much time to get back on your feet. Did you establish contact with the agents in Folkestone?”
“I did. Our disgust was mutual.”
“None of that. I’m sure they’ll come around in time. Were you able to purchase the medical practices?”
“Both of them, just as you wanted.”
“Excellent. With two medical routes, you should have sufficient access to the people you'll need to know. Besides, it would look strange if you only had one, with your colleagues rushing off to the front. As it is, you might get some persecution, being a fit man and not enlisting.”
Jaeryn made no effort to disguise his indifference. “There's not much anyone can do about it. No English bureaucrat can force an Irishman to enlist. It's the law.”
“You do your countrymen no favors with such remarks.” Ryson's pale blue eyes glared in frosty displeasure. He threw a quick glance at the door making sure it was locked, then pulled a map out of a desk drawer and pointed to the lower portion of it. “Your practices are in Folkestone. Have you been able to establish a connection with Mr. Emmerson yet?”
“The MP? He was one of my first patients. He’s dying. His heart won't hold out until summer.”
“I heard. At the beginning of the war, he was a consultant for our War Cabinet. In January of this year, we audited his correspondence and found a letter asking if he had distributed code identities to certain unidentified contacts in Folkestone. Such a measure had neither been initiated by nor was it cleared by our office.”
Jaeryn looked up from the map. “So, you are assuming it could be a private venture?”
“We fear so. Its location makes it a perfect observatory town for us, with troop stations and overseas shipping so nearby. Also, it would be a prime location from which to betray British interests. With a major offensive planned in Flanders only six months away, we can’t afford to have anyone leaking our plans to the Germans ahead of time.”
“So, you want me to watch for signs of counter-intelligence?” Jaeryn pulled out a notebook and wrote down several details that he wished to take extra care to remember. Ryson hesitated when the Irishman put pen to paper, but he relaxed again as he saw that it was not in English, but in Irish Gaelic.
“Precisely. Find those code identities and determine who they belong to. We think he may be growing a cell of agents for his own purposes. You will be in charge of discovering if that is the case.”
Jaeryn nodded his assent, “Anything more before I go?”
“Yes. We’re writing to America for an assistant for you.”
Jaeryn tucked his notebook away with an outward show of nonchalance. “Oh? Do I need help? This job hasn’t taxed my abilities thus far. If I need help with anything, it would be with managing the medical practices. And why America?”
Ryson shook his head. “I'm afraid it's necessary. The young man's father has connections in London and wants a career for his son in British Intelligence. He assured us it would be worth our while. His son has a talent for languages, and could possibly give us a new foreign agent in time. Here's a picture.”
Jaeryn took the photo and inspected it. The new agent appeared younger than he was if appearances were a good judge. The blue eyes and wavy brown hair could not produce a sharper contrast to his own dark hair and slim form. He looked pliable enough due to the slightly uncertain gaze in the eyes, and if that was the case, he might be a convenient assistant to have around. “If he's helpful to me, I have no objection. What's his name?”
“Doctor Benjamin Dorroll. He'll be going by Dailey here.”
A doctor. Even better. With two practices, they could split the work load. That would give them both more time to poke around in their patients' private affairs.
Ryson took back the picture and locked it in the file cabinet behind his desk. “His father specifically requested that we place Dailey with you.”
Only a flicker of Jaeryn's eyelashes showed his surprise. “Did he, now? Why me?”
“Mr. Dorroll’s reasons were not divulged to me by our superiors. He was told to write to his and offer the position. The service can’t afford to lose a link to a person that could be a worthwhile asset.”
“It is.” Ryson lowered his voice, and Jaeryn leaned forward. “We're tracking his correspondence. Nothing so far. Whatever his reason for wanting his son to work with you, he won't say what it is. But he seems to have enough influence with the War Office that they acquiesced, I find the whole thing quite strange.”
“I only knew of one son; an army captain, Edmond Dorroll. He's done well for himself in the war. But this other son I had never heard of until his father requested the position for him. I cannot find any evidence that Benjamin Dorroll has been in England for some time. And besides, I find it strange that Matthew Dorroll would not want the position for the older son, instead of the younger.”
“Curious.” The word lilted, long and drawn-out, and Jaeryn smiled again to himself. “Do you think Matthew Dorroll has some unknown interest in Folkestone?” he asked.
Ryson's angular face remained impassive. “Perhaps. Try to find out what his interest was in our specifically placing his son with you. We can't be too cautious. If Benjamin Dorroll accepts, you’ll see him in May.”
“Excellent, I’ll be on the lookout for him.” Jaeryn took the file folder and stepped to the rear door and unlocked it.
“Graham”—with the door unlocked, Ryson sank his voice to a mere whisper. “Much depends on this. You have not failed us yet. Don’t let this be the first time.”
A golden glimmer sparkled in Jaeryn's eyes, and the flash of his white teeth appeared again. “I do not fear error. I play to win.”
And with that, he left by the back entrance and walked a few blocks to execute one of his own private commissions. He wanted to add a personal bodyguard to his operation as well as this new man; a bodyguard that he would choose himself. Just this morning, a death threat had been slipped through his mail slot. He suspected he was not entirely welcome in Folkestone. But if he told Ryson about it, Ryson would want to know why, and that would never do.
Once at the post office, Jaeryn scrawled out his message and handed it over to the plain-featured, red-headed girl running the telegraph. She wrinkled her nose as she tried to decipher his black smudge, then gave up and asked him to read it to her.
“Sorry, bad handwriting,” Jaeryn apologized. “It says: Need help. Bit of a risk, but I'll make it worth your while. Meet me in Dover. J.”
With his message sent, Jaeryn assessed the street for anyone who might be watching him. Satisfied it was all clear, he set off at a brisk pace toward Paddington Station. The dense London smog dimmed the streetlights to a dusty glow, and he was glad. It reduced his visibility to anyone attempting to observe his movements.
A member of parliament starting up a possible spy ring in Folkestone. Well, that was a step up from his other assignments. Jaeryn rubbed his hands together gleefully. With six years of dedicated work to his credit, it was about time he got more trust.
After this last mission, he deserved preferential treatment. An Irishman didn't go through hell for nothing, especially for an Englishman.