Man in the shadows, p.1

  Man in the Shadows, p.1

Man in the Shadows

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Man in the Shadows

  Man in the




  For Pam


  The fate of our land

  God hath placed in your hand;

  He hath made you to know

  The heart of your foe,

  And the schemes he hath plann’d;

  Think well who you are,

  Know your soul and your star;


  Be wise and beware—





  The fate of our land

  Part One: July 1, 1867










  Part Two: July 1867




  Part Three: August 1867












  Part Four: September 1867–April 1868







  Part Five: September 1868–February 1869








  Part Six: February 1869





  What’s True and What’s Not


  About the Author

  Advance Praise for Man In the Shadows



  About the Publisher

  The fate of our land

  May 1867

  Fenian Brotherhood Headquarters

  10 West Fourth Street

  New York City

  “I don’t care how many of them you have to kill,” Colonel Patrick O’Hagan said. “I don’t care what you have to do. I want that damned country destroyed.”

  The man receiving the orders stood ramrod straight. The high collar on his long grey coat obscured much of his face. The only distinguishing feature the colonel could see was his eyes, piercing out of the shadows. He stayed a step behind the ray of late-afternoon sunlight shining from the only open window and let the colonel talk.

  “Take your time. Plan your moves carefully. But when you do strike, strike swiftly. Strike ruthlessly.”

  The colonel’s long, flowing moustache was perfectly coiffed, his skin smooth and delicate. He spoke with authority, but the man in the shadows was not impressed. He knew about Patrick O’Hagan. O’Hagan worked closely with General John O’Neill, the “commander-in-chief” of an Irish military force that vowed to free Ireland from Britain’s control. He even had a new sign on his desk: the Irish Republican Army—the IRA. But they were better known as the Fenian Brotherhood, or simply the Fenians. Romantically named after the Fianna, ancient Celtic warriors, the Fenians had recently targeted North America as a battleground, a way to attack Britain from its frontier—from its back door.

  “I am talking about nothing less than a reign of terror,” he said. “Soften up the enemy. Prepare the ground for our attack.”


  “How long have you been in America?” Colonel O’Hagan asked, filling the empty air.

  “Long enough.”

  Patrick O’Hagan was an American citizen. He had no plans to return to his homeland, but he would always be an Irish rebel. He wiped a bead of sweat from his brow and stamped his fist on the table. “We are at war with England; we must do our part.”

  The man in the shadows just nodded.

  “You will be the first soldier behind enemy lines, the advance guard. You can become a great hero.”

  He had stopped paying attention. He was considering O’Hagan’s accent. He was from the northern counties. Maybe Armagh. Probably Monaghan.

  The colonel was starting to feel unnerved under the spell of this man’s cold stare.

  “How ruthless?” he asked O’Hagan, barely moving his lips.

  “You will be working as a spy and soldier in enemy territory. You’ll have to do whatever it takes to survive.” O’Hagan rubbed his sleeve against his forehead, paused and said solemnly, “And your job includes eliminating key targets.”


  “It’s in this pouch.”

  For the first time since the meeting began, he took his eyes off Colonel O’Hagan as he reached for the pouch and slowly counted the stack of bills. When he had finished, he allowed a slow, sinister smile. “You have the right man.” His voice was a murky undertone.

  The right man. O’Hagan felt sure of it. This person in front of him emanated icy, heartless efficiency.

  A year ago, General John O’Neill had led a raid across the border into British territory at Ridgeway, near Buffalo. O’Hagan was at his side. They had proven how easy it was to cross the barely defended frontier. But O’Neill lost his nerve and retreated when the American reinforcements he expected didn’t arrive. It became clear to O’Hagan that O’Neill should have done the groundwork first. If he had created confusion in the British territory ahead of time, a better-organized invasion would have succeeded. The Fenians needed something—or someone—to throw British North America off balance. A few perfect murders would do the trick. That would create chaos. Chaos would bring panic. The world would see that this fledging country couldn’t cope. And they could move in. But the normally squabbling politicians in the north were actually starting to work together. In a month, some British colonies planned to unite to become Canada. “Confederation,” they called it. A new British country. The very thought of it made him fume.

  He—and this mysterious man—must see to its early end.

  Colonel O’Hagan knew little of the person in front of him. He had been instructed in a coded dispatch from the Fenian commander in Dublin to be in his office alone at 4 p.m. on May 29. The man arrived at precisely four o’clock, wearing an old grey coat. He kept it on despite the heat. In fact, he did not even remove his black hat when he entered. He just walked in, dropped the appropriate letters of introduction on O’Hagan’s desk, muttered the password and moved back, out of the light.

  The colonel held up a piece of paper. “Here are some names and addresses of people who might help you.”

  The man put it in his pocket without glancing at it.

  “You know your targets?”

  He didn’t react. The question was idiotic and insulting.

  “While you are in Canada,” O’Hagan continued, “I will work with O’Neill to amass an army. He doesn’t know about your mission. No one does except for me and our contact in Ireland. If you want to get in touch with me or need help—”

  “I won’t,” he cut him off, “need help. I know how to find you. You won’t need to find me.” He adjusted his coat. It was as if a statue moved. “Is that all?”

  “Umm … yes,” O’Hagan answered, stumbling to his feet. “Except to say, I meant what I said about this being a holy war. Good luck to you, my man, and God bless you.”

  “Neither luck nor God has anything to do with this,” he muttered disdainfully, and turned to leave.

  O’Hagan felt a refreshing breath of evening air as the man stepped out of the shadows, opened the door and silently left.


  July 1, 1867


  The first of July. Maybe it was his birthday. Conor O’Dea wasn
t sure how old he was. He assumed he was twenty-one, but his date of birth was unclear. He knew he had been in Ireland during the late 1840s or early 1850s, but his father rarely talked about those years. Conor only knew life in British North America. He may not have known how old he was, but he knew he was a child of the New World.

  July 1, 1867. In Ottawa, the day began with fanfare, and now the bells rang. Conor lay in bed, savouring the sounds. History would be made today. The prospect filled him with excitement. He knew some people thought that today’s union of three British colonies was doomed to failure. A rung on a ladder leading nowhere. He had thought up that phrase a few nights ago and written it down; it might be a line he could use someday.

  It was just past dawn and already the summer air was stifling. The night had barely cooled the musty basement flat. If it was this hot at dawn, imagine the rest of the day. He relished the thought. He imagined it would be a day of … he tried to muster the right word … distinction. Not bad, but he could do better. He needed a D’Arcy McGee–type word. He was a speechwriter, after all, or at least a junior parliamentary assistant. The bells signalled something … portentous. Sounds important, but he wondered, did that mean something good, or something bad?

  “In any event,” he said to himself, “happy birthday,” and he jumped out of bed. He grabbed a mildewed towel and headed to the bathhouse behind the flat. The residue of past users in the public privy disgusted him, but this was all a meagre rent provided. The landlord had promised he would have the filth cleaned up. Fat chance. And there wasn’t much anyone could do about the smell. At least, he thought, it wasn’t as horrid as a logger’s shanty, and it was inside.

  There was still some warm water in a pannikin. He heated it slightly on the wood stove, soaped his face and started shaving. The razor was old and tired. “But I’m young and agile,” he told the mirror. “Handsome—well, sort of. Dashing and suave, in a homespun way. A young man on the rise.”

  Conor O’Dea was an Irish Catholic in a land dominated by Scottish Presbyterians and Church of England elitists. He had spent a short lifetime trying to be accepted by those in power. He had learned the catchphrases: “For Queen and Country.” “The Empire. The Glorious Empire.” His charm, hard work and perseverance had manoeuvred him to the sidelines of politics. Close, but he wanted to get even closer. He knew that most people in the neighbourhood thought he was overreaching. An upstart from the rowdy lumber camps with delusions of glory.

  He scratched away at his red stubble and rubbed the condensation off the mirror so he could examine his handiwork. Some soap was trapped in his bushy right side-whisker. In the American Union Army, General Ambrose Burnside had started the fad and a new name for sprouting whiskers. Conor was eager to look modern, and growing sideburns was cheap.

  Back in the tenement flat, he considered his wardrobe. His one old suit would have to survive the day’s proceedings, and with a little adornment, maybe get him into a proper party that night. Apparently there would be evening fireworks at Major’s Hill Park. His pants were threadbare; the seams were too thick, the stitching unrefined. Good enough for the poor Irish section, but he wanted better. He had tried to iron his shirt by pressing it between books. It worked as long as he ignored a persistent wrinkle across his chest. He expertly put the finishing touches on his tie’s knot, twirling the silk with dexterity. D’Arcy McGee had bought him the tie, but he had taught himself the procedure. He put on the slightly too snug waistcoat and wiped off a few dried food stains. He squeezed his feet into freshly polished shoes that had once fit him. He proudly put on his jacket. One last look at his hair and his stylish red whiskers, and he was ready.

  He knew there wasn’t much that was dashing about a political apprentice still living with his father. He was only as suave as he could pretend. But he was smart, or at least smarter than most people he knew, and he was definitely on the rise—heading upwind from this shabby flat in Lowertown.

  Before leaving, he had a final duty. His father had slept through the morning symphonies of roosters and bells, but he had to get ready for work. Conor gingerly shook the snoring mass in the other bed, dreading the reaction. Thomas O’Dea had worked the late shift at Lapierre’s Tavern and was working today. Conor wanted to let him sleep, but he knew Thomas had some deliveries to make before the first shift. Somehow, his father’s problems became his fault. He had better make sure Thomas wouldn’t be late.

  “It’s time to get up, Da,” Conor whispered. His father moved with the prodding.

  “Yeah, off with you, then,” he growled.

  And Conor O’Dea scurried into the streets of Ottawa’s Lowertown.

  LOWERTOWN. Market stalls, taverns and brothels. Yelling hustlers and haggling customers, fishmongers and farmers, butchers and bullies all peddling their wares amid hungry street urchins and deft pick-pockets. The Byward Market in Lowertown was a frenetic opera stage featuring the best and worst of humanity just under Parliament’s tower. Conor absorbed it all. The sun had been shining throughout the week, and for a change the streets were not covered in mud. Instead, Conor coughed dust and gagged on the sulphuric stew of outhouse and sawmill smells.

  Conor smiled at those he recognized as he passed by. Mrs. O’Connell was putting some fruit on a wheelbarrow. He wandered over. “And how’s my favourite woman?” She threw him an apple. Breakfast.

  “You’re skin and bones, my boy. Those books you read don’t give you strength.”

  “I’ll pay you on a Thursday,” he promised, emphasizing the Irish lilt. He would sound very different a mile from here.

  “You’ll not be payin’ me, and you know it. You and your fancy clothes.”

  He bit into the fruit. “Thanks, Mrs. O.” It sounded more like “tanks.” This was a daily ritual, and Conor appreciated it. He knew that many of the older women in Lowertown worried about him—a determined young man and his sometimes-derelict father. They kept an eye on him and helped the O’Deas with the occasional meal, especially during the holidays. A few of the mothers thought Conor might be a good match for their daughters, but he had never shown much interest in the neighbourhood servant girls and dressmakers.

  Conor looked completely out of place in his suit and tie, amid labourers and layabouts in open shirts and ripped jackets. He dodged the farm animals roaming about the squalor in the streets—pigs, cows, hens and those noisy roosters—trying to protect his worn but well-polished shoes. He nodded to a few women sweeping out doorways or throwing out night soil and avoided more than one rumpled man lying on the street, fast asleep. One drunk was still desperately hugging an empty bottle. He looked familiar. Conor had probably seen him at Lapierre’s over the years. And, of course, there were the street people huddled in doorways. A mother holding her child looked up at Conor as he walked by. If there had been any spare money in his pocket, he might have given her some.

  “Hey, Cookie,” someone called from an open window, “why the getup?” Conor knew the voice. It was a skidder from up the Opeongo Line; a logger in town throwing his money around. The madame of the house would soon be sending him packing. Conor waved a friendly but simple hello. He hated being called Cookie. He’d grown from a cook’s assistant in a logging camp to a parliamentary assistant in a logging town. His other nickname in the logging camp was Bookie, because his nose was so often stuck in a book. He didn’t like hearing any reminders of his rough past.

  “Will you make me breakfast, Cookie?” the skidder joked.

  Conor ignored him. He crossed the Rideau Canal at Sappers Bridge and headed along the wooden plank sidewalk on Wellington Street into another world. From Lowertown to Uppertown.

  THE height of land that dominated Ottawa’s Uppertown had been called Barracks Hill, and it housed soldiers before 1857, when Queen Victoria surprised everyone and chose the backwoods town as the capital of Canada. “An arctic lumber village,” some wag said, and he wasn’t far off. But any place could be refurbished. So out went the soldiers and in came the architects, stonemasons and
tradesmen. A grand stone building burst out of the ordinary streets on the bank of the Ottawa River. Barracks Hill became Parliament Hill, and a palace of power peered down on the citizenry below.

  Uppertown was a grid of new houses and shops. The streets were wider and the buildings more substantial than in Lowertown. Water was routinely delivered by horse and wagon, and night soil was picked up daily. Often Conor would linger along Rideau or Wellington Street, admiring the merchandise on display. But not today. He had his sights on Parliament Hill.

  He arrived far too early—the ceremony would not begin until eleven o’clock—but he knew he would have some conniving to perform to earn a front-row seat, and that would take time. Beads of sweat were already forming under stray hairs on the back of his neck. It was going to be a swelteringly hot day. He slapped at a mosquito and looked at his hand. There was blood. How the mosquitoes love me, he thought, and flashed that engaging, vulnerable smile his father had told him was so like his mother’s.

  “I’m here,” he said to no one in particular. “So let’s get started.”

  A mile away in the new suburb of Sandy Hill, John A. Macdonald was nursing a hangover. He had toasted the new Dominion perhaps a dozen times too many the night before. He had shaken the hands of his opponents, slapped the backs of his colleagues and shocked many of their wives with a ribald story or two. He had had a wonderful time. And now he sought help.

  “Agnes, where’s my blasted sash?”

  “Hanging up, dear.”

  “Where’s my damned sword?”

  “Where you left it, I suppose.”

  By the time John Macdonald was ready to leave Quadrilateral, his rented house on Daly Street, he had asked his young wife the whereabouts of just about every piece of formal clothing he owned. He had found the headache potion himself, not wanting to disturb her with his problems, or open the door to a scolding.

  “A cocktail suits me more than a cocked hat,” he muttered to himself.

  His headache wasn’t helped by the stench on the main floor. “Those damned useless drains,” he whined. “This house smells like a …” He almost used a coarse word, then smiled to himself. “It smells like a necessary room.” His wife could hardly disagree. Since coming to Ottawa, she had consulted carpenters and handymen, but there was little anyone could do to relieve the unpleasant smell until the city built a new drainage system. In London, modern water closets were being installed—at least for the few who could afford them—but that was not on anyone’s plan for this aspiring lumber town.

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