Courtesy of Royal Army records, we already knew that James Kennedy was a MIS (Military Intelligence Service) Colonel under the direct command of MIS General and Chair of the General Staff Clement Tighen. Assigned to Amy Rea as bodyguard, he served as bosun and fleet purser aboard Victory to and through Trafalgar. He was slightly wounded when prisoner Maria O'Hare escaped custody, but was one of two bosuns to survive the battle in which Admiral Amy Rea lost her life, and was then transferred to Belfast to operate an assessment and recovery office for RANC. Per his own writings and those of his staff, his real reason for being there was to locate and care for Joane O'Donnell, Rea's flag officer, who had been injured at Trafalgar, and shipped to Armaugh Hospital. Unfortunately, the escaped prisoner, Maria O'Hare, now known by him to be Marcie Caine, sworn enemy of both Amy Rea and Joane O'Donnell, had been sent to Armaugh with the woman she had once tried to kill. Both were suffering from severe life threatening head traumas, and Kennedy feared for the life of the woman he loved should Caine recover first.
Jim Kennedy, Armaugh and Belfast, November 26, 1439
By the time he could responsibly leave his new office in Belfast and make the coach trip over to Armaugh RA Hospital, yet another week had passed since leaving Dublin and Amy Rea's funeral, but he was optimistic things were looking up. He was out from under the pretence of ship's discipline as a bosun, ostensibly assigned to the Belfast yards as Fleet Bosun RANC liaison while actually still serving as MIS operative for Tighen, and in both capacities having freedom to define his work. His staff included Bosun John Savage, Artificer Lew Jones, in addition to Midshipmen Sam O'Doule, and Al Maguire, all arrived with him on Victory, all seconded to his office, for the grand lady of the seas was now a battered near-wreck with little need for crew.
The five shared a large house on a farm property with Martin Kilbane, former cook for Amy Rea, who had mustered out and was working for the Travellers' Hotel in downtown Belfast, and with Brian Baxter, also mustered out and now doing freelance scribing for Belfast clients. Since all seven preferred to eat late, they had full advantage of the master chef after he finished preparing the hotel dinner.
The property was owned by Savage and Baxter, who'd pooled their prize money for the purchase, then persuaded Kennedy and the others to take up residence with them in the rambling farmhouse, the only stipulation being that they two had a sacrosanct locked workroom the others must refrain from entering. Two local couples shared an adjacent home and supervised hands for the farm--a mixed grain and cattle operation that had been in business for decades.
The rest of Victory's rump crew had been either paid off or mustered out, many here in their home town, or, and dispersed to other RANC ships. General Tighen remained in Tara, and the three officers who'd brought Victory home had all been reassigned.
At the office, Kennedy also had the services of up to two secretaries from the RA pool and whomever he needed of a second pool of injured seamen as messengers. The office had real work--determining which of the many crippled RANC ships now anchored or tied up on the military side of the port could reasonably be repaired and refitted for service, then arranging contracts to do the work. They also had a budget quota, beyond which they could do nothing.
We'll work our butts off, but at least eat like royalty, courtesy of Kilbane. But now to find my queen, and let's hope and pray she's in better condition than she was at Cadiz. Surely Armaugh has taken good care of her.
What worried Kennedy was that Joane had been sent there in the company of Maria O'Hare, her Palace Security-directed enemy. But O'Hare's brain is damaged and she amnesiac, so surely no threat.
He stepped off the inter-city coach outside the enormous RA hospital complex and stopped to watch the changes in progress. The nearly six hundred bed facility had a vast chasm beside it where the bones of an even larger building swarmed with hundreds of construction workers. Stands to reason. The sea war has just dumped thousands into the RA hospital system, and the land war has some time and many casualties yet to go.
He wasn't prepared for the chaos inside. The entrance foyer contained four beds. More lined the hallways in every direction. About half were jury rigged in two tiers as bunks. Staff bustled everywhere consulting clipboards and preparing drug doses on the run. The din was continuous.
A little shaken, he made his way to the information counter. Behind it sat three clerks working the teletalkies, handling a continuous stream of paper from the printers, annotating patient files, room assignments, and physicians' records. Even part of their space had been co-opted for two stacked beds.
"Yes, Bosun?" The duty clerk was short, sharp, and obviously too busy to take real interest in him.
"Kennedy of Victory to visit patient Joane O'Donnell, RA Colonel, wounded at Trafalgar."
The unimpressed clerk spun a rotary card index, flipped through several cards, and replied, "Sorry, no such person."
His heart leapt. "She's been discharged?"
"Nope. No one by that name has been admitted in the last three months."
A physician edged in beside Kennedy and tossed the clerk a file. He accepted it and started to turn away.
"No, wait. She was with another woman, name of Maria O'Hare. Once they were cleaned up, they would have looked much alike, almost twins."
The clerk grimaced harshly, set the file folder down, and spun the index a second time. "Nope, also none such."
He was frantic now. "But Cadiz sent them here. Where else could they have gone?"
"Don't shout at me Bosun, or I'll have the MPs remove you to a lockup. No such patients. End of conversation." He picked up the file and walked to the cabinets at the rear.
Kennedy stood there stunned for a few seconds, then suddenly realized someone was tapping him on the arm. He turned to find himself facing the physician who'd delivered the file.
"Colonel-Physician John O'Neil, head trauma unit."
"James Kennedy, late of Victory."
"The ship of legend. Well, I have ten more patients to deal with, but the RA owes her heroes more than what that man is prepared to give." He gestured toward the clerk, who was now arguing with one of his fellows over where to file a record.
"Can you find out anything he can't?"
"Better than that. I remember them precisely because they looked much alike--similar facial structure and hair. I examined both. One had a caved in skull, severe concussion, was conscious and functional, but profoundly amnesiac. The other had a mild head trauma, assorted other wounds, but was catatonic, severely battle-shocked. The RA wing of Belfast General sent them over because they were stable, needed surgery they couldn't get there, and required long term care."
"Yes, that's them. Joane O'Donnell is the catatonic one, Maria O'Hare the other."
"Officer O'Donnell and I are very good friends. I had hoped..."
"You're not actually a relative, and obviously not their superior officer."
"So you may tell me nothing more. Tell me, Colonel, what is your security clearance?"
"I invoke it."
"Not possible unless yours is higher."
Jim Kennedy pulled a card from his belt pouch.
"An MIS colonel passing himself off as a mere sergeant. Impressive."
"This conversation is now MIS-protected, Colonel-Physician. Now, what do you know about the two women?"
"Very well." O'Neil lapsed into medical-professional mode. "They present rather different cases, though we see a lot of both these days. With the proper surgery to repair her skull and relieve pressure on the brain, O'Hare has a modest chance of a full physical recovery. The correct physical and mental trigger might release her amnesia even without an operation, though she won't live long without surgery."
"And the other?"
"Your lady? Her head injuries were not nearly so serious and are mostly healed. Brain maybe a little scrambled. The X-rays indicated a number of broken bones now healed, some from a while back. We did remove three musket balls that looked like they'd been there a while. At this point, there's little physically wrong with her, and no external sign of head injury, though one was mentioned in the file. Mentally, it's a different story. We couldn't do a complete psych evaluation in the time she was with us, but I'd say she's deeply trapped inside a series of mental and physical horrors. I've only seen a few other cases of battle shock as bad, and none worse. All were institutionalized, and none have improved, much less recovered. Less serious cases, given time and much care, have occasionally shown slight gains, but the victims report headaches and nightmares, usually for the rest of their lives. Many suicide as soon as they begin to realize their condition."
Oh, Lord of Heaven, let me help them. Surely I can love Joane back from her Hell.
"So why is there no record of them at the desk? Where are they? Can I see them?"
He shrugged. "Can't answer the last two questions, though the first is easy. Neither name was in the RA database, so they were refused admittance."
"Refused? General Tighen could vouch for Colonel O'Donnell, and I'm sure Palace Security would for O'Hare." Though they'd have to break her cover to do it. Wait. Of course. O'Donnell is supposed to be dead, so wouldn't be in the current database. And O'Hare was a pseudonym for Caine, so also unknown. If only I had been able to get here earlier.
O'Neil waved a hand at the chaos around. "That was three weeks back. As I told the other officer who enquired last week, you can see what things are like--worse even than Belfast General. We already have five hundred per mille more patients than our design capacity, and I'll wager the nine hundred bed addition will fill in weeks. No one would have considered checking to that level on behalf of either. After initial assessment, I was informed they were classed as civilians and inadmissible, then I was reassigned to other evaluations. I never saw either again, though I did find their files in the trauma unit later. Apparently the folders were accidentally left behind when they were refused."
It took Kennedy a few seconds to process this. "Wait. Who enquired?"
"He didn't give his name but I recognized him from our school days as John Carty--goes by Albert, his middle name. Don't think he realized or cared who I was. Always was a pompous weasel. How he got a commission is beyond me."
"The Lord's son." That palace toady was here looking for them a week ago? If he's found them, he and Maria would make short work of Joane. "So they were sent off without any papers? Where?"
A voice came over a speaker then, "Physician O'Neil to the head trauma unit with dispatch."
"Sorry Kennedy, I must go. Since they had no money, you'd best try the paupers' ward in the civilian wing over at Belfast General. The civilian hospital here in Armaugh is quite small and couldn't take cases like theirs, so they'd have transported them back to the coast."
* * * * *
But the next morning when he presented at Belfast General, he learned little more. The military wing had initially processed the two under the names sent with them from Cadiz, and transferred them to Armaugh. They had no further record. The civilian wing had papers for two unidentified civilian women with head injuries admitted November fourth from Armaugh, registered without papers under the anonymous names of Patty and Jane Meathe, examined, then released on their own recognizance two days later.
The charge assistant on the pauper's ward provided slightly more, "'An I recall, one of the pair was sharp and functional, just couldn't remember anything of her past. She took a panic when she saw some fella nosing around asking about them, hushed us all, and hid they two in a closet. Then, when he left, she signed the both out. Extremely protective of her silent twin she was. Fed and clothed her, cleaned her, led her about by the hand, talked to her constantly, nor mind she got no response."
"You have no idea where they went?"
"Sorry, none. Belfast is a big place these days."
It had to be Carty that came here. Why would Maria O'Hare dodge her ally? And why would she be protective of Joane when she spent years hunting her as an enemy, tried to kill her more than once? 'Course, if she doesn't know who she or Joane are, only vaguely recognized Carty, and saw his queries as a threat without actually knowing him either... When I do find them I'll have to be extremely careful not to spook them.
But, enquire as he might over the next several weeks, the trail had ended. He learned nothing more.