Cameron knocked on the back door of a large estate. The sky was just seeping into darkness. He and Annie had left the inn after dinner, taking their belongings with them. He was wary to stay there too long since the inn was crawling with British troops. Long minutes went by before Cameron heard the lock on the door being flipped. Moments later the door was opened. The woman who opened the door was of average height, had dark brown hair, and appeared to be around forty. Immediately, Annie knew who this woman was, Cameron’s greeting merely confirmed it.
“Anna, may we come in?”
“Cameron, where have you been,” Anna asked, pulling the two of them inside. “We have been waiting to hear from you for days. Many of us feared that you were dead.”
“Not dead, just delayed.”
“Did you find the map,” Anna asked.
“No. I found something much better. Before I explain, may we sit down? It has been a very long day.”
“Of course,” Anna replied then guided them into the sitting room. “Now, tell me exactly what happened. And who is this woman?”
“Anna, I would like to introduce you to Annie Elizabeth Johnson. Annie, this is Anna Smith Strong.”
“It is a pleasure,” Annie replied, doing her best to mimic the speech patterns of the day. It was proving to be difficult.
“Likewise Miss Johnson,” Anna replied then turned to face Cameron. “Well, if you did not find the map then what exactly did you find?”
“I found Annie.”
“And how exactly does she help?” Anna was doubtful that this woman could be more helpful than a map showing troop locations.
“Annie was the ward of a Tory family in Hempstead,” Cameron stated.
“She was affiliated with a Tory! Have you lost your mind Cameron?” Anna’s distress was palpable and thoroughly understandable. Anna’s eyes shifted between Annie and Cameron. Annie winced at the glare she was given.
“Anna, let me finish. I promise you, she is of no danger to us. In fact she will be very helpful if you will just give her a chance,” Cameron pleaded.
Anna’s gaze was wary. Annie could tell she was on the verge of denying Cameron’s request. Cameron gave her a pleading look. Apparently that swayed her...a bit. “Very well Cameron. Finish your story, then I will decide what to do with her.”
“Thank you,” he acknowledged Anna with a soft smile. “Now, Annie and her older brother, Luke, were sent to live with distant relatives in Hempstead four years ago, after their parents died in England.” Anna cut Cameron off.
“Please, Cameron, I would like to hear it from Annie’s mouth, not yours.”
“Very well,” he replied then faced Annie. “Annie.”
“Everything had been going well until a few months ago. Luke and I have always been sympathetic to the patriot cause and we did whatever we could to help. But, living with a Tory family, we had to keep our actions secret. We would donate money to the cause and secretly aid patriots that we came across. I realize it was not much, but it was all we could do. Luke became frustrated with our efforts. He wanted to do more. One night a few months ago, he snuck off and joined the Continental Army. He left me a note telling me of his true intentions and asked me to tell our guardians that he had left to join the British Army, which I did. Our guardians believed me and everything was going well until yesterday when we received a death notice from the Continental Army, informing us that Luke had died during the Siege of Charleston.” Annie stopped telling her tale and allowed two tears to slide down her cheek. She had learned the art of fake crying one summer when her parents had sent her to drama camp. It had come in very handy at times.
“I am very sorry for your loss Miss Johnson,” Anna said, placing a comforting hand on Annie’s knee.
“Thank you,” Annie replied and dabbed her face with a handkerchief. “After that my guardians tossed me out, saying they would not allow the sister of a traitor to live in their home. The only things I left with were the clothes you see me wearing now and a satchel that my brother gave me. I was on my way to the city to find work when Cameron found me and took me in,” Annie finished the pre-arranged story. “I really hate the redcoats. They killed my brother. And our guardians are cold, heartless people. They represent everything that is wrong with humanity. I have always considered myself a patriot and I want to be of use to the cause. I will do anything I can to ensure an American victory,” Annie declared fervently.
“Thank you Miss Johnson. I appreciate your candor. If you do not mind, I would like a word with Cameron,” Anna said.
“Of course,” Annie replied.
“Cameron, would you join me in the library for a moment,” Anna inquired.
“Of course,” he replied then addressed Annie, “I will return shortly.” He squeezed her shoulder then followed Anna to the library.
“Cameron what is going on here,” Anna inquired the moment the library door was shut.
“Annie just told you what happened. She wants to help, Anna, and I fervently believe that she can,” Cameron stated emphatically.
“That is not what I am talking about and you know it. There is obviously something that you are not telling me.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“Cameron, I have known you all your life. You are cautious to a fault when it comes to trusting people, especially women. Do you honestly expect me to believe that you met this woman less than two days ago and you decided to bring her into our ring? I understand that she’s pretty, beautiful even, but that has never swayed you before. So I will repeat my question: what is going on?”
Cameron had anticipated this line of questioning. Anna knew his cautious nature and his virtual inability to trust. He had been contemplating this all day, deciding how he would answer her inquiries. He obviously could not tell her the truth. If he did, she would have him declared a lunatic and tossed into an asylum. He took a deep breath then responded. “Annie does not know this and I request that she remains ignorant of what I am about to tell you.” Cameron waited for Anna’s confirming nod then continued. “I knew Annie’s brother. We met while I was on one of my missions. He was a kind fellow and he spoke highly of his sister and her allegiances. He showed me a mini-portrait that he carried of her. When I saw her walking towards the city I recognized her immediately and offered her my assistance. Once we were alone I asked her of her plans when she reached the city. She had no concrete ones so I informed her that I could give her an opportunity to continue her brother’s work and avenge his death.”
“So you trust her then,” Anna’s reply was a statement, not a question.
“Yes. Let her help us. She can get into places that neither one of us could. She is unknown and pretty. If we are lucky, she could be the key to finding out all that Major Andre knows. We both know how he feels about women.”
“Yes, we do. Do you think she is prepared for this? Do you think she can be deceptive enough? Is she willing to do whatever it takes?”
“Yes, I believe she is. Let us at least give her a chance. I know in my heart she will never deceive us.”
“Very well Cameron. I trust your judgment. Now, it is getting late and I have many arrangements to make before you can make your trip to the city. Do you plan on staying here tonight?”
“If it is possible.”
“Of course. I’ll have some rooms made up for you. With any luck you will be able to continue your journey very soon.”
“Thank you Anna,” he replied. Anna turned to leave the room. “Oh, before you go, Anna, what should her code name be?”
“I will have to check with Samuel, but for now, let us just call her Agent 355.”
“Very well. Once again, thank you.”
Anna merely nodded and left the room, heading in the opposite direction of the sitting room. Cameron did not follow her. Instead he returned to the sitting room. Annie was waiting anxiously, he could tell. Her hazel eyes gazed at him questioningly. “Well?”
Cameron walked over to where she was standing then leaned in close to her ear. His whisper was barely audible, more a murmur than an actual sound. Still, Annie understood it completely. The words both thrilled and frightened her. Once uttered, she knew her life had changed forever.
“Welcome to the Culper Ring, Agent 355.”