-= 173 =-
She watched him get out of the carriage with two friends, while their escort went ahead to stable his horse. She ignored the first, an older man, as beyond irrelevant: An accomplice.
The second made her hiss. What the hell was he doing here? Was he part of the conspiracy too? Of course he was. Well, he'd get what he deserved as well. She'd see to it.
Today belonged to her target though, the brown haired man with strange eyes. He reached inside the carriage, apparently struggled with something, and finally yanked a torn hat free. She grinned. Any setback her enemies suffered made her heart sing.
The older man reached in and pulled out her new cobelligerent, an orange cat that clawed at the air. Poor thing. Did they hate it too? Well, she'd free it after she tore a hole in his pretty throat. He started it mayhaps, but she would finish it.
She watched them step inside the local tavern, sat back and waited. She'd tracked him across an ocean and three states - a few more minutes didn't signify.
"Just toss it over there, will you?" Heyward said negligently as he stepped into the guest room. He dropped his clawed hat on a table and started to unbutton his coat. Abruptly he spun on Waymouth. "I didn't ask you!"
The congressman and spy frowned at each other. For the past few days Heyward acted strange, even by his exacting standards. Waymouth dropped the cat to the floor and rummaged through his belongings.
Major Andre stepped to the window and opened the curtains. The afternoon sun shot in, stabbing the room.
"What are you doing?" protested Waymouth.
"I like to see who's around," the spy replied. "Ever since we arrived, I would swear we are being watched."
"That's Trenton for you."
"I do not follow."
Waymouth grimaced. What good was a joke if you needed to explain? "Never mind."
The orange tabby, left to her own devices, retrieved Heyward's hat.
He whirled. "Stop that! Bad cat!"
She stopped, met Heyward's gaze, and deliberately ran her claws across the cloth.
"What the devil did you do?" Andre demanded. He turned and picked up the tabby, who purred. "She hates you!"
Oh no, darling, echoed in Tom's mind. If I hated you, there'd be no doubt.
Andre stiffened. "Apologies." He put the tabby down.
You are humanity's greatest hope? You are God's swordarm?
Heyward glared at the feline.
Waymouth and Andre exchanged another glance. Maybe it'd been a mistake to bring him.
"I need to sit down." Instead he went to the window, looked outside and rubbed his forehead. "I'm going mad," he muttered.
You all do, sooner or later.
Waymouth watched him for a moment. "Come, Mister Andrews. Let's give the barkeep some business."
The spy nodded. "Very well. Do you need anything, sir?"
Heyward shook his head. "No, thank you."
They walked down the stairs into the common room and ordered two beers.
"Surely your friend is ill," Andre offered.
Waymouth looked at his drink. "Have you ever been in a war?"
"Of course." He smiled at the waitress and flicked a coin at her. "Entire first war."
"Until you were reassigned?" the congressman smiled, then waved his hand. "No, stay. My point is that sometimes the stress of war does something to a man."
"And you think this is what afflicts your friend?"
"I don't know," Waymouth answered. "All I know is he makes a few good points, and if I can use his testimony to do a service for the repub...what's amiss?"
Major Andre frowned at the stairs, at to all appearances a very poor, dirty blond haired woman as she began her ascent. "Hell and death," he whispered.
"Trouble!" Andre slipped one hand in his coat and they followed.
"So," Tom said to the cat, "Who are you?"
I'm a cat.
"That's not an answer."
It's a perfectly good answer. It's not my problem if you don't like it.
"I must be dreaming."
What is life but a dream?
Heyward sighed and leaned his head back. "I am going mad."
"What do you mean?" The voice in his head didn't answer. He picked up the cat and shook it. "Answer me!"
You're attempting to interrogate a cat, for starters.
Heyward sighed and dropped the animal. "I just need to rest," he muttered.
The cat appeared to agree. It curled up on his hat and closed its eyes. Then someone knocked on the door.
"Who is it?" Heyward called. No answer. "Hello?"
"Major Andre's compliments!" called a woman. "He has a gift for you."
The tabby leapt to its feet. Tom frowned. The spy wouldn't endanger his identity so casually. "I do not know a Major Andre!"
This seemed to confuse the woman. "Oh, my mistake."
Tom turned away. Something about the woman's voice ... rougher than when he heard her last, some sort of respiratory infection.... "Foster!?"
Heyward whirled as the door slammed open. It was indeed Mrs. Foster, wielding a butcher's knife. She screamed a challenge and raced across the room. No time to react, no time to even think. He raised his left arm to shield his face and neck, and thrust his right hand out palm first.
He struck her in the forehead. A crack, like a modern pistol echoed at the impact and Foster flew across the room, through the open door to crumple against the wall beyond.
Tom rushed out just as Andre appeared. He drew his gun and pointed it at the limp form.
"It's alright, Mister Andrews."
"No sir, it's not!"
Tom glanced down as she stirred. "Put the pistol away," he said softly.
"General Heyward, you do not realize who she is. She's..."
"I know precisely who she is," he snapped then knelt in front of her. "And what she's done."
He gently smacked her cheeks until she awoke and looked around wide-eyed, terrified. "Where am I?" she cried hoarsely. "What is...Oh God," as memory returned.
"It's alright Mrs. Foster," he said gently. "The nightmare's over."
She began to cry.