Online-only CHapter I:
Technically, it was illegal even for a man like John Wilkie to have a counterfeit $5 bill framed on the wall of his office.
Still standing at attention, Secret Service Agent Jimmy Sloan shifted his eyes from the spurious $5 note back onto his boss. Despite his knocking, the chief still appeared oblivious to the agent’s presence. But then again, looks can be deceiving. Agent Sloan cleared his throat, at which point Wilkie finally looked up from his deskwork.
Wilkie smirked incredulously. “Of course you are. Agent Sloan, please show Miss Knox onto the sofa.”
“Please, sit,” the chief offered warmly. As he meandered back to his seat on the other side of his desk, he watched Miss Knox remove her gloves and place them beside her handbag on the brown leather sofa. She then removed two long, shining steel pins from her blue and grey hat to reveal a magnificent mane of thick auburn hair underneath. Wilkie was not a bit distracted by how Miss Knox’s lush hair looked against her fair skin. On the contrary, he was disappointed when she stuck the thick hatpins in her hair since it deprived her of easy access to what could have been fine weapons. The chief rocked back and forth in his swivel chair as Miss Knox flattened her skirt and made herself comfortable on the couch. After folding her hands on her lap, she at last looked up at Wilkie.
“So, what brings you here, miss?”
The slighted Secret Service chief lowered his voice. “Young lady, we deal with a lot of secrets in this office. I hope . . .”
Wilkie angrily threw open a desk drawer and snatched Miss Knox’s application from it. He then paced the room in a rage, reading the letter aloud as if to broadcast his every misgiving with the young lady: “To Whom It May Concern, United States Treasury, Secret Service Division, etcetera . . . born in eighteen-nine - ” Wilkie looked up from the page. “Miss Knox, you’re more than ten years younger than our youngest field agent!”
The chief shook his head, laughing. “All right . . . Enough with the theatrics, Miss Shakespeare. I know the real reason you’re here.” Wilkie crumpled the application letter and stuffed it in his pocket. “I won’t lie to you: You’re not the first woman to apply for work with us. However, you’re the first one with a paper trail that leads straight to the White House. Your uncle is the secretary of state, which might have helped your slim chances of getting a job here had you mentioned it in your letter. Something tells me you didn’t want me to know that. I also spoke to a few people at Bryn Mawr this week. They didn’t say you finished your second year. They told me you quit, just like Helen Taft did. For whatever reason, you dropped everything you were doing so you could apply for a job that, let’s face it, you couldn’t possibly qualify for . . . unless your plan was for me to forsake my oath to this country because of something as trivial as how pretty your hair looks when you wear it like that!”
“I know you’ve been sent here to spy on me for Nellie Taft. And I know she chose you because of your brains as well as your looks, which you should take as a compliment. I’m sorry it has to end this way, since the truth is I think you’d be a valuable addition here. Kate Warne performed wonders for Allan Pinkerton during the war, and right now, this nation needs all the help it can get.”
Wilkie could not believe it. After all these years, he finally found everything he was looking for in one person: A woman! The perfect agent. “Can you raise your right hand?” he asked.
With more strength than he’d care to admit, Wilkie extracted the steel rod Miss Knox stabbed through his sleeve. He then pocketed his pistol and rapped on his door with the hatpin, which he gingerly handed back to its owner. Agent Sloan opened the door, Miss Knox bowed her head, and out she went. Although it was not her intention, she turned the heads of every Secret Service agent she walked past in the bureau.
Outside the Treasury Building, Miss Knox adjusted her gloves and hailed a taxi, which she directed to turn left from Pennsylvania Avenue onto Seventeenth Street. Once she was obscured from the watchful eyes of Wilkie’s office, Miss Knox slipped her driver a non-counterfeit $5 bill from her purse. She then exited the cab and walked directly toward a 1909 Pierce-Arrow limousine parked alongside her. It was the president’s car, and it had been specially fitted for privacy. A tall driver opened its cabin door for Miss Knox, and inside she found her old classmate Helen Taft. She was dressed in her afternoon best and seated across from her mother, Nellie Taft: the First Lady of the United States and wife to President William Howard Taft. She was smoking a cigarette in the shadows.