Robert wasn’t up yet. It was only she and Krypto. The German shepherd raised his nose, inhaling the scent of her toast with appreciation.
“I’ll give you some scrambled eggs,” she promised him.
While Grace didn’t expect him to say thank you, she also didn’t expect his hackles to rise.
His low growl chilled her blood as he loped to the front door.
Outside, two unmarked government vehicles pulled up to the house. It was barely eight o’clock in the morning, and Grace was still in her robe. She’d slept in, after a particularly difficult night. It was one of the benefits of working at home.
Five years ago, she would have dashed to her closet and jumped into a girdle and stockings, dress and low heels to greet these unexpected visitors. Not today. Grace was exhausted, hadn’t invited them, and was puzzled as to why they were here. They could damn well admire her old blue bathrobe and slippers.
The drivers got out, both of them clean-cut gentlemen in dark suits, crisp white shirts and unimaginative ties. They were indisputably federal agents of some kind. One of them wore black-framed glasses, the other a hat reminiscent of the late thirties. It was probably meant to lend him an air of authority, but instead made him look absurdly young.
She knew him. He was a new hire at the NSA.
Krypto growled again and then barked, bellowing his and Grace’s displeasure at the presence of the two agents. But they marched up the sidewalk to the front door anyway. “Hush,” Grace said gently to Krypto. His barking subsided, but he emitted another low growl as she opened the door.
“Stay,” she told him. Then she looked calmly at the two gentlemen. “Good morning. How may I help you?”
They took in her bathrobe, slippers and mussed hair without comment.
“Mrs. Robert Feldman?”
“I’m Agent Bart Sommers of the FBI. And this is Mr. Lawrence Thompson of the--”
“NSA,” Grace finished for him.
“Yes. Well.” Agent Sommers stood there awkwardly while Thompson’s color rose.
“Would it be possible for us to come in?”
Krypto voiced his displeasure at this idea, but Grace repressed a sigh and stood aside.
“Certainly.” She closed the door after them. “It’s all right, Krypto.”
“Krypto? Interesting name for a dog,” Sommers remarked.
Not for a family of codebreakers. “Would you like to sit down?” Grace asked.
“Is your husband home?” Sommers countered.
“He is. He’s … indisposed at the moment.”
Grace folded her arms over her chest. “How is it that I can help you gentlemen?”
They exchanged a glance.
She raised her eyebrows.
“Well, you see …”
“We’re here for the books, I’m afraid.”
“It’s come to the notice of both the FBI and NSA that Colonel Feldman has acquired quite a library on the subject of cryptanalysis and cryptology. A library like no other. One that contains top secret materials that should not fall into the wrong hands.”
Come to the notice, indeed. What you mean is that it’s come to the attention of your boss, J. Edgar Hoover.
“Colonel Feldman and I have jointly assembled the library over the last several decades. And we wrote some of the books in it,” Grace said tartly. “You needn’t fear that they will fall into any hands but our own.”
Another awkward pause ensued. She didn’t bother to fill it with pleasantries.
At last Sommers asked again, “Ma’am, is Colonel Feldman available?”
“I’ve told you he is not.”
“Then will you show us to the library, please.”
“I will do no such thing. This is our private home, and you’re overstepping your bounds.
I’d like you both to leave.”
“I’m afraid we can’t do that, Mrs. Feldman. Because of the … ah … circumstances, leaving the library in Colonel Feldman’s possession poses a national security risk.”
Grace felt her blood pressure rising. “To what circumstances do you refer?”
The gentlemen exchanged another glance. Thompson answered. “We do understand that this is a matter of some delicacy, but it’s our understanding that your husband spent three months at Walter Reed in a state of--”
The acid of pure fury dissolved the toast in Grace’s stomach. “Exhaustion? Overwork? Heroism? Is that the state to which you refer, Mr. Thompson?”
“Mrs. Feldman, there’s no need to become agitated.”
“I’m not.” She eyed him fiercely.
He tried again. “Your husband was discharged from Army Signal Intelligence because--”
“He was reinstated at full rank, and you know it.”
“He’s been in and out of treatment at least three times.”
“Correct. He’s sought help, received it and is fully healed.”
“Mrs. Feldman,” Sommers broke in, “there is concern that his mental illness makes him a security risk.”
She rounded on him. “How dare you? My husband is not mentally ill. He is suffering from years of exhaustion. He often worked twenty-hour days during the war. He sometimes didn’t go to bed at all for seventy-two hours at a stretch. Have you ever in your life, Agent Sommers, worked for seventy-two hours without sleep? What about you, Mr. Thompson?”
Both men looked deeply uncomfortable.
“Have you ever saved thousands of men’s lives at a time? Have you ever been almost single-handedly responsible for preventing a foreign invasion of the United States? Have you ever successfully read the minds of multiple enemies and thus won a world war?”
Dear Lord, am I talking about Robert, or about myself? And I’ve said far, far too much.
“I didn’t think so,” Grace snapped.
“And now you dare to add insult to injury and question whether or not my husband could be a traitor?”
“We didn’t use that word.”
“No, but it’s certainly implied, isn’t it?” Grace narrowed her eyes upon Thompson.
“Implied that the man who essentially built the NSA from the ground up will now betray its secrets, and you’re using as an excuse the lie that he’s weak, damaged, or feebleminded.”
“Again, not language that we employed--”
“Don’t insult my intelligence. The very fact that you two are here is an outrage and an utter disgrace. J. Edgar Hoover should be ashamed of himself, and you may tell him to his face that I said so. Now get out of my house.”
“Mrs. Feldman, we have a search warrant.”
“I don’t care if you have a writ from God himself. Get. Out. Of. My. House.”
“Ma’am, because you’re overwrought, we will do as you ask. But this isn’t over.”
“NOW. Or Krypto, here, is going to ensure that you have a very bad day.”
“We will be back, Mrs. Feldman.”
Grace slammed the door on them and leaned against it, then slid down to the floor. Krypto whined and licked her face. “Good boy,” she said absently. If only she could sit here in her bathrobe all day. But she had a man to raise from the dead.
“Robert, sweetheart?” Grace called, as she opened the door to their bedroom. “It’s time to get up.”
He made no answer; simply stared up at the ceiling without seeing. His hair, once so dark and glossy, lay in gray, unkempt wisps against his pillow. He wore light blue pinstriped pajamas along with the habitual blank expression she encountered each morning.
“Bobby? Time to rise and shine. Carpe diem and all that.”
She braced herself for the struggle. Slipped her arm behind his neck, levered him forward, then slid her own body behind him so that she could push him up and into a sitting position.
This was no mean feat since she weighed 112 pounds to his 206. She was five foot three inches tall; he was six foot two.
Robert didn’t resist, as he sometimes did. But he didn’t help, either. She was Sisyphus, pushing the boulder up the mountain each morning. “Come on, my love.”
Now came the tricky part. Grace managed to keep his torso propped up with her weight, while pulling first one leg and then the other to the side and out of bed until his feet were on the floor. “Up,” she said firmly. “We are getting out of bed, Bobby. Now.”
He turned his head and looked at her, finally saw her. “Good morning, my darling,” said her husband of almost forty years. And he smiled.
Her relief was sharp and painful, before sheer gratitude washed it away. He was back. In his mind. No longer missing. “Hi, there. Sleep well?”
“I suppose.” He yawned. “Did I hear men’s voices downstairs, or did I dream that?”
Deep breath. “You did hear voices. We’ll talk about it over coffee, once you’ve had a shave and a bath, all right?”
“Sure thing, my darling. Why are you lurking behind me?” He pulled her into his lap and kissed her.
“Because I’m a spy. And we spies love to lurk.” She kissed him back, and then slipped to the ground. “I’ll run your bath, sweetheart.”
She served him breakfast at the hand-hewn round oak table in the kitchen alcove, complete with flowered placemat and matching napkin. While she’d never been able to cook worth a damn, she could sew—mostly because she’d had to make her own clothes as a child, then had earned money during college working part-time as a seamstress. Dry pork chops, jerky-like bacon and soupy lasagnas tasted much better if presented with lovely, homemade table linens. That’s what she told herself, anyhow.
Bobby made no reply. He was clean-shaven, hair neatly combed, in a starched shirt and tie. But he was still in his pajama pants, barefoot, as he stared vacantly at the headlines of the day’s Washington Post.
Horrifying to see him this way, this brilliant man, this beautiful soul.
“Aren’t your feet chilly, love?” she asked.
He looked up absently. “Hmmm?”
She gestured towards his lower half.
He frowned. “Why, yes, now that I think about it.” He looked down at his pajamas and frigid toes. “Ah. We can fix that.”
“We certainly can, my darling. Why don’t you go back upstairs and put on your trousers and shoes. I’ll start your eggs. All right?”
He nodded, got up and headed for the stairs. “I had a breakthrough on the Mayan symbols last night,” he called as he went up.
“That’s wonderful! Tell me all about it when you come down.”
Grace cracked three eggs into a bowl and whisked them, wishing she didn’t feel like such a scrambled egg herself. Tell-tale creaks and the closet door opening and closing upstairs told her that Bobby had found and climbed into his pants and was fetching his socks and shoes.
She heated butter in a pan, then poured in the eggs. Added salt and pepper.
The sounds of movement upstairs had stopped. Grace looked up, willing it to start again.
Oh, dear. She turned the heat down a bit, wiped her hands on a kitchen towel and went in
Now fully clothed, Robert was seated on the bed, staring vacantly out the window.
“Do you think Shakespeare,” he asked slowly, “had any views concerning the ethics of interception--the collection of secret intelligence? What may he have thought about its use in conducting the affairs of a democracy, a supposedly free and open society?”
“Well, sweetheart. Remember that Shakespeare was living under a monarchy, so it hardly applied.”
“For example, the Babington plot that cost Mary, Queen of Scots her head. She wrote to her men in code, but the letters were intercepted and decrypted, then resealed and sent on their way.”
“She did conspire to steal Queen Elizabeth’s throne.”
Her husband turned to her. “But who was right? Technically, Elizabeth had been declared illegitimate.”
The smell of eggs beginning to burn wafted up the stairs. “Bobby, come back downstairs now that you’ve got pants on. Have some coffee.”
He remained seated like Rodin’s Thinker. “Doesn’t it ever bother you, Grace?”
“It was a tragic struggle for power,” she said carefully. She took his hand and tugged him to his feet.
“Aren’t they all tragic?”
“Depends on whether one is speaking to the victor or the defeated.” She half dragged him to the door. “Come on, darling, we’re in a hurry.”
“Yes.” She all but pushed him down the stairs and propelled him back to his chair at the kitchen table. But the process took far too long.
“What is that horrible smell, Grace?”
“My cooking,” she said wryly, though she’d gotten better over the years. The eggs were blackened and smoky; the pan probably ruined. She grabbed it, turned off the burner, and ran out the back door with it, setting it on the stoop. Then she returned. “How would you like cereal today, Bobby?”
“Oh, that’d be fine. Just fine.”
She set a bowl of cereal and a spoon in front of him, then poured more coffee for herself and sat opposite him as he ate. She took a sip. “So do you remember the voices you heard earlier this morning?”
“Hmmm?” His face was blank.
“The NSA sent some men to the house.” She didn’t mention the FBI. “They--” she took a deep breath. “They want to remove our collection.”
Robert’s hand, the one holding the spoon, began to tremble. Milk sloshed on the edges of the bowl. She guided his hand down, and gently unwrapped his fingers from the handle. “The books? Why would they take our books, Grace?”
Because J. Edgar Hoover sees a chance to drown your star in a trough. Along with mine. But she couldn’t say that. Her battle with the Toad was private. “My darling, they’ve decided to … reclassify … some of the materials.”
“Why? Our collection exists to educate the next generation. Why would they want to hide any of it?”
“They don’t want to hide it, per se. They want to limit its circulation.” Dear God, but tact was a four-letter word.
“Those are our books. Nobody else’s,” Robert said. “Tell them to go to hell.” His anger sizzled and curled into the air, mingling with the black smoke and rank odor from the eggs. “I did. But they have a warrant. They’re coming back.”
“Then perhaps I’ll shoot them.”
“The new top brass has been gunning for me—the General whose specialty is mules, for God’s sake—mules. How many mules does the United States currently have in the army?” Grace didn’t see the need to reply to this.
“Why would they put an ass-man—sorry--in charge of anything to do with intelligence?”
Because he’s a general and must be given a position befitting his rank.
“He understands nothing. He couldn’t decode his way out of a paper bag.”
“Agreed.” Which makes him insecure, which makes him more receptive to Hoover’s innuendo and gossip …
“So why on earth—” Robert stopped. Peered at her. “What aren’t you telling me?” Grace cracked her neck. “Nothing.”
“I’ve been married to you coming up on forty years, sweetheart. I know damn well when you’re lying. So talk.”
Grace’s eyes filled with sudden, unwelcome tears. She couldn’t formulate the words.
“Ahhh.” Robert’s hands curled into fists. “Damaged goods, am I? Of “unsound mind” and therefore suspect?”
“Something like that.”
I’m rather certain that one particular bastard is behind this. Spreading rumors, questions and lies—his stock in trade. Trying to undermine the NSA and any other intelligence- gathering operation, because he sees them as rivals to his precious FBI.
Why, oh why, had she ever been foolish enough to tangle with J. Edgar Hoover? He was ostensibly America’s supreme protector of Truth, Justice and the American way. He was also the pettiest, most vindictive man alive.
Grace gazed down into her coffee, which became a black hole of memory with a handle. And she’d thought that “Colonel” Garrett Farquhar at Riverbank was bad …
Part I: Riverbank
“What the hell do you know?” Garrett Farquhar
“That, sir, remains for you to find out.” Grace Smith Feldman
1917 Geneva, Illinois
"Who do you think you are?"
The scathing words ricocheted in Grace’s skull, dislodging more than a few emotions. Anger, of course. Discomfort. Embarrassment. Frustration with her own honesty. Something close to despair.
It was a question her own father had asked her more than once, and clearly the response expected was Nobody. She was supposed to meekly hang her head and allow shame to wash over her like acid, dissolving her opinions and ideas, her hopes, her dreams.
But Grace’s neck remained stiff, as did her upper lip. She met the furious gaze of Mrs. Elizabeth Wells Gallup without flinching. “My apologies, ma’am, but I simply don’t believe that Sir Francis Bacon is the secret author of William Shakespeare’s works.”
The formidable Mrs. Gallup almost burst her corset. Her steel-gray head quivered with outrage, her jowls worked and her pale blue eyes had darkened in the face of Grace’s effrontery. “What do your beliefs have to do with anything? There is proof. Proof I’ve put in front of your willful, silly nose.”
“Ma’am, I do not perceive the bilateral alphabet that you … seem to see. There are irregularities in the letters, to be sure, but--”
“You are relieved of your duties.”
There: the six words Grace had known were coming. They hung leadenly in the air for a moment, then crashed around her. She was fired. This was what honesty got you.
After scouring Chicago far and wide and fruitlessly for weeks, she’d been offered a job that was actually interesting, a job that employed her mind and not just her smile. One that she’d been overjoyed to find—only to discover that it was, in reality, a con job.
Mrs. Gallup had a bosom like the prow of a ship, the voice of a grand duchess and a vested interest in her Bacon theory. It intrigued her boss. It kept her housed, clothed and feted.
It funded her European lecture tours and fascinated her audiences. Sir Francis Bacon was her bread and butter. Add a cup of tea and he provided a complete breakfast—not to mention lunch and dinner.
“Did you not hear me?” Mrs. Gallup thundered.
Grace sighed under her breath. “Yes, ma’am. I heard you.”
“Then be off to pack your things.”
Grace nodded, turned and left the room. There weren’t many things to pack, other than her unruly thoughts, her dismaying integrity and her desperation not to return home to Indiana, where she’d be again under her father’s thumb--unless she got married and traded it to live under a husband’s.
But she owed it to Garrett Farquhar, Riverbank’s mad and mercurial owner, to say goodbye. And she actually wanted to say goodbye to Mrs. Farquhar, who’d been nothing but kind. Motherly, even, in her eccentric way.
The thought of leaving made her heart ache. Why can’t you turn a blind eye, Grace? The answer lay not only in her own character, but in the teachings of William Penn and the Quaker meeting house in which she’d spent too many Sundays of her life. Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.
Grace retrieved her coat, hat and pocketbook from the stand near the door. The coat was too big, the hat too small, the pocketbook a cast-off of her mother’s. She wound a muffler around her throat, slipped her gloves on to ward off the chilly October air, and trudged towards the Villa, which was roughly a fifteen-minute walk through the magnificent estate at Riverbank and all of its oddities: the lighthouse on an island in the river, the Dutch windmill, the Japanese gardens, the swimming pool with its crumbling Roman columns, the airplane hangar, the laboratories. Not to mention the exotic animals that Farquhar had brought home with him on his travels.
She ached to stay. Summer had faded into a spectacular autumn, and the leaves on the trees were gilded with gold and copper, rustling in the cool sunset of their lives. What would Riverbank look like in winter, blanketed in white and silver and holiday joy? She wouldn’t see it. She’d see the interior of her parents’ Indiana farmhouse. She’d see the stove, the laundry tub, the scrub-brush, her mother’s querulous misery.
Before she’d unexpectedly landed at Riverbank, Grace had resigned her teaching job and run away from home. She’d spent two weeks in Chicago, marching in and out of every employment agency she could locate, waiting in lines, filling out applications and taking typing tests for speed and accuracy. She acquitted herself well in interviews. She kept her hands gloved and demurely folded in her lap; she pressed her knees firmly together and crossed her ankles underneath her chair; she always wore her hair coiffed neatly under a sensible hat. Her lipstick was a muted rose and her nose always powdered. She smiled until her face ached. Why no, none of the agencies knew of any research positions open to women at local colleges or universities. But they did have secretarial jobs. Filing clerk positions. Placement for nannies and housekeepers.
Grace managed to keep her chin up; reminded each little gray man at each little gray agency that she had a college degree in English Literature, had studied Latin and spoke fluent German.
How commendable. But can you take dictation?
She explained that she could indeed take dictation, but didn’t particularly care to.
Certainly impressive, young lady. And what a wonderful coincidence! A family on the North side is eager for a governess who speaks German.
She countered in a flawless Berlin accent that she had an allergy to spoiled teenagers and didn’t wish to govern them.
A college degree! Clearly your papa has indulged you.
Grace gritted her teeth. Oh, yes. He’d “indulged her” at the rate of 6% interest, after months of her demanding and then imploring to be given the opportunity to use her brain.
Perhaps you should look into nursing? Teaching?
Grace responded that nursing wasn’t a possibility at all, since the sight of blood made her queasy. She’d been the head of a classroom, thank you, but teaching was not her passion.
Each little gray man seemed to think she was being far too selective about how to spend her life and circled back to various secretarial positions, while Grace bowed her head in despair and fought back fantasies of beating him about the head and shoulders with her sturdy black pocketbook or making him swallow her lady-like gloves.
She smiled and said, “Thank you very kindly, Mr. Burrows/Cavendish/Jones/McCorkle/Roberts. It’s been lovely to meet you and I appreciate your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon! Yes, I’ll be sure to leave my mailing address with your secretary. Good afternoon.”
And then Grace walked several blocks on aching feet to yet another agency, made sure that her nose was freshly powdered and began all over again.
She was offered two dead-end jobs answering telephones and replying to mail, but after quick calculation it was apparent that she could not afford rent, groceries, stockings and loan repayment to her father on such miserable salaries unless she lived in a dog kennel or sold herself on a street corner at night.
She did receive one offer as a live-in housekeeper to two bachelors but promptly declined it. Not only would her reputation be in tatters and her parents faint dead away, but she had no desire to cook, launder, iron and clean for one man--much less two--until one day she got married and was forced to do so.
The situation was growing desperate—the horror of taking the train back to Indiana, tail between her legs, didn’t bear contemplation. Grace redoubled her efforts, to no avail. Where was the eccentric elderly lady she’d dreamed of finding, the one with a giant Victorian mansion dripping with gingerbread trim, eight empty rooms and a passion for unearthing the secrets of George Sand … or translating T.S. Elliot into German?
She was a fool. An overeducated, empty womb.
Her last interview was with a kindly, rotund gentleman who steepled his fingers upon his desk and gazed at her myopically through smudged spectacles. She was halfway through her qualifications and feeling a tiny bit optimistic--he nodded at her every word--when he interrupted her to say, “My dear. Whatever is your father thinking, to allow you to stray so far from home—alone and in a big city?”
Grace pressed her lips together. I didn’t ask his permission. But the words could not be permitted to escape during this meeting.
“If you don’t mind my saying so,” he continued, removing his spectacles and polishing them with his handkerchief, “you’re well-spoken and quite a comely lass. If you’re looking to meet a nice young man, there are better ways to do so than swimming upstream in a typing pool.”
Grace forced herself to smile. “Thank you, sir. But I don’t wish to meet a young man.”
The kindly rotund gentleman chuckled as though she’d said something entertaining. “Of course you wish to meet a young man!” His eyes twinkled behind his now-clear lenses.
“I don’t,” Grace countered. She had an unusually deep voice for a female, especially one of only 5’ 3” in height, so she was a little afraid the words had come out in a growl. She scrambled to produce another smile, but knew it was tepid at best.
The other incurable problem with young men is that within a few minutes of marriage, they become irascible kings of their castles (hello, Papa) while their brides become serfs and broodmares. But Grace swallowed the words before they could escape.
Her interviewer’s bushy eyebrows reached comically for his receding hairline, but fell far short. He chuckled again.
“Sir,” she said. It was, after all, the only thing that rhymed with ‘grrr,’ though it didn’t relieve her feelings in the slightest.
“Sir, the only thing I’m seeking is gainful employment at a living wage.”
“Yes, yes.” His tone had gone from gently patronizing to testy. “But here’s the thing: you’re what, twenty-three or so?”
Clearly I am old enough to type and answer a telephone.
“The reason I don’t hire girls of your age is that I will have just gotten you trained to our company’s specifications when you’ll blowse in one morning waving a sparkly gew-gaw on the fourth finger of your left hand. After your great song and dance about desiring a career, you’ll think nothing of leaving us in the lurch.”
Grace opened her mouth to protest, but he cut her off.
“Do spare me the profuse denials, Miss …” he looked down at her application, “Smith. My best advice to you is to try a church social or a harvest dance. You’re exactly like all the other girls I’ve interviewed today.”
“I’m not!” Grace flared at him. “But even with spectacles, you can’t seem to discern that. I’ve more or less despised every young man I’ve ever had the dubious pleasure of meeting, and I have no desire to ever get married, even with the consolation prize of a flashy gew-gaw on my fourth finger to remind me that I once had my freedom.”
Oh, dear. Really, Grace?
“It seems you are indeed different: you’re impertinent and you have a strident and unbecoming attitude. Thank you for coming in.” He stood, removed his spectacles again and gestured with them towards the door.
Grace wanted to remove her left shoe and throw it at his head, followed by the right one. Instead, she took his cue—what else was there to do? She marched out of his office with her head held high, feeling his gaze searing her bottom as she did so.
Men. Tall, short, lean, round, older, younger … every last one of them was impossible.
Grace’s frustration and sense of impending doom impelled her to go and see a few sights in Chicago before she trundled back to Indiana, her childhood bedroom, and her father’s stringent rules. To her inevitable fate as a broodmare like her faded, exhausted mother.
She bypassed the Museum of Natural History in favor of the grand Newberry Library, where the collection included an original folio of Shakespeare. The Bard was by far her favorite author—she especially loved his comedies—and the pull to see his words in handwritten script was too strong to resist. The idea that someone had painstakingly copied each letter, each word and line of dialogue so that the plays could be disseminated and shared … it was an awe-
inspiring task. One performed by someone far more patient than she could ever hope to be.
The Newberry Library was an imposing Romanesque Revival structure, with three massive stone arches at its entrance, and three more above those, soaring straight for the sky.
Grace felt dwarfed by the building, puny in the face of its collected knowledge. How many books, folios, scrolls and letters did it contain? How many thoughts, dreams and ideas? But despite her intimidation, she climbed the steps and made her way through the polished brass doors, each of which weighed far more than she did.
The interior took her breath away. A red carpet in the vestibule gave way to marble floors and coffered ceilings that surely only God could be tall enough to construct. Carved wood banisters and library tables warmed the space. The sacred smell of old volumes and human curiosity permeated the air. It was like stepping into a cathedral of intellect.
Suddenly Grace wished she’d gotten a degree in Library Science. What must it be like to work in a place like this? But it was far too late for that. She was already in crippling debt, albeit to her own father, and she couldn’t possibly take on more.
She made her way to the room where the Folger Collection was housed and stepped up to the tall, polished wood counter where a librarian was making notes on a clipboard, nervously nodding as a pompous, nattily-dressed young man gave the woman staccato instructions. He wore a name tag that pronounced him Mr. J. Edgar Hoover, from the Library of Congress.
“It’s called the Dewey Decimal System, Miss Langhorne. It’s not brain surgery, I assure you. It’s simply a method for categorizing and shelving the volumes in the library, all right? Now, once again, it’s based on relative location and relative index …”
The librarian nodded and scribbled down the terms while Grace waited patiently. The young man had broad, blunt features, the coldest and flattest stare she’d ever seen, and a rigid, disapproving military bearing that extended even to his ears. Like an annoyed cat’s, they jutted towards the back of his neck.
The librarian side-eyed Grace, as though she wished to be polite and help her, but was afraid to interrupt the gentleman who held her attention.
Grace cleared her throat, raised her eyebrows quizzically, and offered a smile.
The young man turned and eyed her as though she were a dung beetle crawling on the counter.
“May I help you, ma’am?” ventured the librarian.
“Miss Langhorne, my time is valuable,” the young man rebuked her. “I’m here to assist you from the Library of Congress, you understand? That picturesque little edifice in our nation’s capital?”
“I—I—” the librarian stammered. “My apologies …”
He turned back to Grace. “Perhaps you could return at a more opportune time, ma’am?”
Something about his self-importance got her dander up. “I wish I could, sir, but I leave Chicago very shortly, and it’s my dearest wish to--”
Mr. Hoity-Toity Hoover curled his lip at her and walked away without allowing her to finish. “Five minutes, Miss Langhorne,” he called over his shoulder. “I’ll return in five minutes.”
Grace blinked. The librarian stuttered an apology.
Without delay, Grace explained what she wanted, and within moments she was gasping at the sight of one of the First Folios of William Shakespeare.
On the facing page was printed, “Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies. Published according to the original true copies.”
“Is there a particular play you’re interested in?” The librarian asked.
Grace’s mouth twisted involuntarily. “Perhaps The Comedy of Errors?”
“A very funny one,” said the lady.
As long as one’s life isn’t going that way. But Grace smiled.
“We have a Shakespeare Devotee’s group,” the librarian told her. “Every Wednesday afternoon.”
“Oh, I don’t live in Chicago,” Grace said wistfully. “I wish I did. I’ve been searching for a job, but nothing’s worked out. If only I could spend my life studying Shakespeare!”
A peculiar expression crossed the librarian’s face. “Tell me about your background, dear. Oddly enough, I may be able to help …” She checked her watch wryly. “Yes, I just have time to make a quick call before Mr. Library of Congress returns.”
And that is how, precisely thirty-three minutes later, Grace found herself nose to sternum with an enormous gentleman who had whiskers like a walrus and a mad gleam in his eye. He surged out of a chauffeured motorcar, up the Newberry’s steps and into the grand hall. “Miss Smith?” he roared, coming at her like an armored tank.
“Y-yes.” Grace fought the instinct to step backwards.
“How do you do?” He was almost upon her.
“Quite well, thank--yaaaagh!”
For Colonel Garrett Farquhar had grabbed her under the armpits and yanked her up a foot off the floor. She hung there, astonished.
He poked his nose towards hers, stopping only a millimeter away from it. “And what do you know, missy?” His voice reverberated around the library walls, his breath hot on her face.
After a lifetime of bullying by her father, after the several weeks of frustration, after the day she’d had, it was too much. Without breaking eye contact, she snapped, “I know that my feet must be planted firmly on the ground before I will agree to an interview.”
“Ha!” The Colonel barked. With a great guffaw, he put her down. “She’s got spirit, I’ll
give her that,” he remarked to no one in particular, while the entire library gaped at them.
“Well, come along, then.”
“I beg your pardon?” said Grace.
“What, are you hard of hearing? Come. Along.” Colonel Farquhar grasped her by the elbow and towed her towards the front entrance of the library.
“Sir, I see no reason why we cannot conduct our conversation right here in the Newberry.”
“No, no, impossible—we’ll be late for dinner.”
“Late for dinner? I haven’t agreed to have a meal with you, sir--”
“Of course you’re having a meal with me.”
Somehow they were at the big brass doors of the library, one of which Farquhar flicked open as if it were made of cardboard. “Ladies first.”
“No!” Grace said, hanging on to her hat as he ejected her bodily from the building. “No dinner, sir. I barely know your name … I don’t feel comfortable going anywhere with you. This is highly irregular!”
“Regular,” he snorted, placing a hand on her back and propelling her down the steps. “Regular is over-rated. Regular is mediocrity disguised as something benign. Why on God’s green acre would anyone wish to be regular? Do try a little harder to make a good impression, Miss Smith.”
Grace goggled at him.
“I don’t hire mewling namby-pambies, you know.”
Namby-pambies? She thought about calling for help, but the implication that she was mediocre or ever, at any time during her life, had mewled … it got her dander up. And experience had taught her that the only way to deal with a bully was to stand firm—even if one weighed 112 pounds in the face of a Goliath who must easily weigh 300.
Grace straightened her spine and threw back her shoulders in the hopes that she’d appear an inch or so taller. “Before I take one further step, sir, I need your assurance that the job you’ve mentioned does in fact involve the analysis of Shakespeare.”
The Colonel managed to look amused and exasperated at the same time. “Don’t be mutton-headed. Why else would the librarian have called me upon your behalf?”
So now she had the brains of a sheep? Grace bounced on her heels, determined to prove this massive walrus wrong. And … the chance to study Shakespeare! Surely that was worth enduring a bit of irascible eccentricity?
Grace turned her head and looked back through the glass doors at Miss Langhorne the librarian, who now stood alone—no sign of Mr. Hoover--and raised a hand to say goodbye. The woman didn’t seem fazed in the slightest by her predicament. She even looked a bit amused. Surely a respectable employee of the Newberry wouldn’t set her up for a kidnapping?
Before she could process anything further, Grace found herself bundled unceremoniously into the large black motorcar purring at the curb, while the human walrus squeezed in beside her.
“Where--” Grace began again.
“Rail station, Digby! At once! At once! Call ahead and have them hold the train.”
Rail station? Call to hold the train? Who is this madman?
There in the car was an actual telephone, the size of a large loaf of bread. How on earth it worked, she hadn’t a clue. But as Digby drove, he picked up the receiver and rang the operator, who did connect him with the rail station—where someone, astonishingly, agreed to hold the train.
Clearly Farquhar was rich, powerful, connected and used to getting his way. He settled back into the cushy leather seat of his motorcar and eyed her balefully. “Now, Miss Smith. I’ll ask you again: What the hell do you know?”
Two could play at being irregular. Despite her misgivings, Grace produced her most enigmatic smile.
“That, sir, remains for you to find out.”
Washington, D.C., 1958
Grace Feldman stood in her bright and airy kitchen, sipping coffee and bracing for the day. Outside the bay window, pink blossoms rioted, exuberant on the branches of the old cherry tree. Unlike her, they took joy in the advent of spring. The warming weather and the sunshine unnerved her, since it would only encourage Robert to take long drives on his own. And what she’d found in the backseat of the old Studebaker last August had made her hands tremble, her heart stutter and her brain freeze.
Meet Grace Smith Feldman, secret weapon of the U.S. government. During WWI, Prohibition and WWII, she takes on dangerous spies, saboteurs, smugglers and Nazis--not to mention J. Edgar Hoover himself. And through it all, Grace keeps a dark personal secret with the potential to ruin her family .
ISBN: Paperback: 978-1-5387-2366-1
ISBN: Ebook: 978-1-5387-2367-8
1917: Meet Grace Smith Feldman, secret weapon of the U.S. government. During WWI, Prohibition and WWII, she takes on dangerous spies, saboteurs, smugglers and Nazis--not to mention J. Edgar Hoover himself. And through it all, Grace keeps a dark personal secret with the potential to ruin her family .