chapter one

Dublin, Ireland
January 12, 1922

"Mr. Young? Lord Christopher will see you now."

William hadn't quite got used to the way his name sounded rolling off an Irish tongue. He gave the secretary, a fresh-faced girl whose stiff black perm didn't match her freckled nose, a smile as he stood and walked past the door she held open for him. He couldn't resist a low "thank you, love" as he passed, just to see her eyebrows rise at his accent, but his grin lasted only as long as her presence.

The Director's office smelled of furniture polish and old cigars. A fire crackled in the hearth behind the mahogany desk, but little warmth reached the spot where William stood with his hands clasped behind his back. Lord Christopher, sharp-featured and slender in a tailored gray suit, not one of his fine silver hairs out of place, glanced up from his paperwork and gave William a pleasant enough expression.

"Good morning, Agent Young. Your punctuality is appreciated. Do sit down."

"Good morning, sir. Thank you." William took a seat in one of the two enormous red velvet chairs in front of the desk, and Christopher gestured to the crystal service on the side table.

"Drink? It's a bit early, but such things become moot after any length of time in this city." His smile did not quite reach his eyes.

William's instincts told him to nod and take the proffered tumbler. It wasn't too early at all if you asked him, not today. He took a sip — blood-dark claret, probably worth more than the suit William was wearing. He sipped it slowly.

"I assume your superiors in Glasgow apprised you of the circumstances surrounding your transfer before you departed?" Christopher was peering over a pair of spectacles at a stack of papers spread across his desk. William could see his own photograph among the clippings.

"Not fully, sir. I was told I'd been requested on account of my involvement in the Labor unrest last spring. I expected this was a similar situation." The Director didn't look up from his papers. He slid his spectacles up the sharp bridge of his nose with one finger. "It was obviously too much to expect that my operatives would be sent to me properly briefed and aware of their own assignments."

William took a swallow of his claret.

"This institution is still in its infancy — if the MI5 is to protect the interests of the Crown, it is imperative that all its agents receive clear and timely communication. Even those exiled as minders of a wayward child government."

"Yes, sir," William said.

Christopher's face remained impassive. He took a sip from his glass and tapped a finger on the sheet in front of him. "Your service record is impeccable."

"Thank you, sir."

"Educated in London on charity bursary."

"Yes, sir."

"Top of your class at Cambridge."

"Yes, sir."

"And yet you managed to retain that accent, I see."

A small muscle twitched at the corner of William's jaw.

"Well, likely that works in your favor, given the nature of your assignments. We find that employing agents of your class is favorable to accomplishing our directives. The fact that you are educated makes you a rare commodity to His Majesty's service."

The claret had gone warm in William's hand.

Christopher looked up at him and smiled, the picture of courtesy. "I requested you because of your record and your skills, Mr. Young. You have achieved substantial results in your home field, which is commendable in an agent not yet thirty years of age. I have a situation which requires your ability to blend in and gain the trust of those involved — trust which will be much more easily given to someone with your background. You will be able to find out what I want to know before this agency's authority can be threatened by outside elements."

The realization hit William then, all at once. "This isn't about trouble with Labor."

"No, it is not. This is about keeping order in the new Irish state and assuring its allegiance to the Crown."

"But— Sir, I don't understand. I thought all that trouble was resolved with the Treaty. Do you suspect the IRA is plotting violence?"

"I don't believe so, at least not yet. But you of all people should know that treaties rarely bring about the end of mob resentment. It is my belief that groups of rebels are already raising funds and amassing munitions against the new peace. They are not content with the freedom we've given them — they will not rest until all their demands are met. I refuse to let the peace be disturbed by fanatical malcontents while this district is under my surveillance."

William realized his mouth had opened, and closed it. This was not at all what he had expected or prepared for. He suddenly felt like he might be in over his head. But then... the Director had asked for him personally. That had to mean something, right? If he could pull this one off, he would have his pick of positions back home; finally get out of the service and into the police force at last. Detective Chief Inspector Young, at your service. He squared his jaw, lifted his chin a little.

"Where do I start?"

Christopher slid the stack of folders across the desk to within William's reach. "This contains your full briefing, along with background material and information on the individuals you will be monitoring. We believe they meet in a tavern on Wicklow Street, which I am certain is the focal point for all activity in which they may be involved."

"Why not send in a raid?"

Christopher chuckled. "My dear boy. Do you have any idea what the public reaction would be to a British raid on Irish citizens with no probable cause? No, we cannot detain anyone yet. As of now there is nothing on which to base such a move. There may not be for a long time yet."

"Then what—"

"I need you to get in there, Young. Insinuate yourself into this place, make yourself part of their circle. Get close as you can to everyone on this list. And then wait. Just... wait. Eventually someone will slip, and that is when you shall report to me."

"If they're IRA, they'll never trust an outsider. Especially a Scot."

"The Labor militants trusted you. Your history alone should be cause enough for them to take to you at once. These people rally to tragic causes with unfailing predictability. It's another reason I selected you for this assignment."

William sat in silence for a moment, looking at the folders on the desk in front of him. Then he reached out with one hand, set his empty tumbler on the service tray, and picked up the stack of papers. The Director was watching him with sharp eyes from over the top of his glass.

"This is your chance, Young. Serve your country well."

William didn't answer, but his hand tightened on the folder as he nodded.