ULTERIOR OBJECTIVES: A Lillian Saxton Thriller will be published in November 2016. What follows is Chapter 1.
Tuesday, 23 April 1940
“Sergeant Saxton, what do you think of when you hear the word ‘treason’?”
Lillian Saxton stood at attention and frowned. She wore her assigned brown uniform, belted at the waist, tie neatly knotted, with a skirt that hung just at the knees. Since she was inside Houston’s Rice Hotel, her garrison cap was folded over the belt. Her red hair was pulled up behind her ears.
“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t I understand what you mean.” Her voice was curious but deferential.
“Treason, Sergeant. It’s a simple concept. What does it mean to you?”
The man who snapped at her she didn’t know, but his brown uniform displayed the rank of colonel. He stood to the side of a table in one of the upper suites of the famous Rice Hotel. The man who sat at the table, littered with stacks of paper and a typewriter, she knew. He was Captain Ernest Donnelly, her commanding officer. She looked at him for clarification.
“I’m the one speaking to you, Sergeant,” the colonel spat. “If there’s ever a situation where you think you need to look elsewhere for help, then we’ve got a bigger problem than I imagined.”
Donnelly, dressed in his brown uniform but with the tie loosened around his collar, leaned back in his chair. “Honeywell, why don’t you just…”
“Don’t tell me what I should do, Captain,” Honeywell blurted. “I’ve asked the sergeant a question. I expect an answer directly from her and not from her superior officer or anyone else she thinks can help her.”
A little fire burst into existence deep within Lillian’s gut. She hated what many of the men in the United States Army thought of her: weak, not as good as a man, only good for typing up reports. She was none of that, and she strove every day to prove wrong that kind of thinking.
“Treason,” Lillian began, speaking evenly but with force, “is the active betrayal of one’s country. In most cases, especially in war time, it is punishable by death.”
Honeywell regarded her for a moment. His short-cropped hair was receding across the top of his head. The gray flecks caught the lamp light and seemed to glow.
“That is pretty much the letter of the law, Sergeant. Now, even though we’re not at war, what do you think should be done about someone who may commit treason?”
“May commit, colonel?”
A small twitch along the corner of his mouth might have grown into a smile, but Honeywell didn’t give it the chance. “Yes, Sergeant. Would you trust anyone whom you suspect of committing treason?”
Lillian pondered the question for a few heartbeats. “It would depend on the circumstances, Colonel. If the person was only suspected, I would seek out additional information, either to clear the individual or convict him.”
Another twitch, this time along Honeywell’s eyebrows. Lillian had to admire a person like the colonel who could so easily contain his outward emotions. She made a note never to play the colonel in poker although that likelihood would probably never come to pass.
“So you would investigate?”
“If necessary, yes.”
“What if you knew the person? Would that cloud your judgement?”
Another few heartbeats. “No, sir. This is the United States of America. All citizens, military or civilian, are assumed innocent until proven guilty. Same goes with someone suspected of treason. You investigate, gather evidence, and, if the evidence points to treason, you arrest the individual. You bring him to trial and, if he is found guilty, you inflict punishment.”
“Back to my second question: what if you knew the person? Would you hide evidence, alter testimony, or do anything to sway the arresting officer or jury?”
“No, sir. Treason is treason, and if the evidence indicates that, there is no other recourse.” She glanced to Donnelly, then back up to Honeywell. “I would, of course, be upset, but that’s a personal matter, not a military one.”
In the intervening silence, Donnelly spoke. “Well, Colonel, I think that should satisfy you.”
Honeywell narrowed his eyes. “I’ll let you know when I’m satisfied.”
“Of course.” To Lillian, Donnelly asked, “Have you contacted Wade to get his report on your brother?”
Donnelly was referring to the assignment recently completed. Samuel Saxton, Lillian’s brother, was lost in Europe. She feared the worst, especially with the Nazi army threatening to strike. A reporter, Wendell Rosenblatt, had information about Samuel. He was due to land in Houston, but vanished. Lillian hired private investigator Benjamin Wade to locate Rosenblatt. He did, but it was too late. Rosenblatt was dead, but Wade found the reporter’s notes complete with all the details about Samuel’s whereabouts.
Lillian had been waiting for Wade to deliver his report when Donnelly summoned her to his room in the Rice Hotel.
Donnelly gestured with his head to the next room. “Why don’t you give him a call?”
Lillian nodded once and left the room.
“I think she passes your muster, Colonel,” Donnelly said.
“You’re just too close to her and the rest of your little squad.” Honeywell walked over to a bureau where a single bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey rested. He poured himself a couple of fingers and downed half in one gulp. He held the glass in his hands and mulled over something in his head. “But the communique was to her personally. Do you think Monroe is trying to recruit her?”
“Don’t be silly,” Donnelly blurted. He realized he was addressing a senior officer and stood. He poured his own glass of whiskey. “As far as I know, Frank Monroe is only an investment banker. His job takes him all over the U.S. and Europe. He has contacts everywhere. Sure, he’s been over to Germany since they invaded Poland last year, but there’s no cause to think he’s turned traitor.”
“Why else would he insist on seeing her? You think he knows she works for the Army?”
“Lillian Saxton’s job is no secret. What she does for the Army is. Look, they’re old friends from back when they attended college in Europe in the ‘30s. He says he has vital information about the war, but will only talk to her. And the meet’s in D.C. They’re not even leaving American soil. What’s to lose?”
“I don’t trust anyone who has business dealings with the Nazis and then turns around and asks to meet with one of my soldiers.”
Donnelly did not have time to respond. The adjoining door opened and Lillian Saxton walked in the room. She must have tried to mask her emotions, but Donnelly noticed the red rimming her eyes.
“Is everything okay, Sergeant?” Donnelly asked.
Saxton merely nodded.
“You find out about your brother?”
The two senior officers gave the revelation a few moments of silence. “I’m sorry,” Donnelly said. He reached into his pocket and held out a handkerchief. She walked over and took it.
“Thank you, sir.” She dabbed at her eyes. She stood straighter and pulled herself together. She handed the handkerchief back to the captain. “What’s the next assignment? It’s why you brought me here, isn’t it?”
Donnelly said, “Sergeant, this is Colonel Clive Honeywell. He will explain the situation.”
Honeywell stepped forward. “Sergeant, do you know a Frank Monroe?”
Donnelly watched the emotions cross Saxton’s face. He prided himself on not just being a commanding officer to his squad, but to know his officers as real people. Saxton had a circuitous route to the United States Army, but she had acquitted herself beyond even his expectations. The name “Frank Monroe” hit a nerve.
After a moment, Saxton said, “Yes, sir. He’s from a prominent family in Boston. He and I went to the university back in 1934. He’s some sort of banker now, I think.”
Honeywell narrowed his eyes. “You hesitated. Why?”
“The name came out of left field, Colonel. We haven’t even seen each other in years. It just wasn’t a name I expected you to say.”
Pursing his lips, Honeywell said, “He’s asked to meet you.”
For the second time, Donnelly noted Saxton’s surprise.
Saxton frowned. “Why?”
Honeywell raised his glass and pointed a finger at her. “That’s what you’re going to find out.”