Turn: Washington's Spies
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“There’s not much we don’t know about each other.” —Abraham Woodhull, reuniting with Britain’s new intelligence officer Edmund Hewlett
Edmund Hewlett holds the fate of Abraham Woodhull in the palm of his hand. He knows that Abe is Culper, the patriot spy who has thwarted British intelligence for years from his outpost on rural Long Island. The last time Turn viewers saw Hewlett, he was heartbroken and disillusioned. Anna Strong had ripped his heart out and he’d been disgraced, sending him back across the Atlantic with his tail between his legs. But before he sailed, he did his duty, telling doomed John André that Culper wasn’t the deadly mercenary Robert Rogers but the callow cabbage farmer from Setauket.
And yet when Hewlett and Abe come face to face again in New York City, both wearing red uniforms, the new head of British intelligence keeps their secret from Abe’s boss, Benedict Arnold. During a debriefing of the failed prisoner exchange that killed Judge Woodhull and presumably persuaded Abe to enlist, Hewlett sounds like his old self, saying, “Deception, betrayal, chaos: These are the enemies that we face, the enemies of truth.”
Arnold is sure that the ambush was carried out by rebels, because after all, “Treachery runs in their blood.” Ha! Abe isn’t so sure all of a sudden. It might seem odd for Abe to take such a stance since his entire story for being in Arnold’s American Legion is revenge against the patriots who reputedly murdered his father. But when Abe steps into Hewlett’s office, he must know the potential danger he is in. By hinting that the perpetrators weren’t rebels, he’s signaling to Hewlett that their shared nemesis, Simcoe, likely was involved in the plot. That’s Abe’s only play with Hewlett, who can pull the rug from under Abe at any time.
Last week, I speculated that Hewlett’s inscrutable bearing was a poker face worn to turn Abe into a double agent, to keep Washington’s Culper ring alive but tragically misinformed. But if Hewlett left the colonies with a broken heart, he’s returned with a damaged soul. Hewlett’s seeming indifference to Abe’s crimes against the Crown isn’t part of some complex spy-versus-spy long game; he just doesn’t care any more. He is broken — and broke. Back home, the Oyster Major tried to sell his commission, to no avail. Now he’s back to make money off the war, like Col. Cooke. “I once believed that men’s affairs had a purpose,” Hewlett will tell Abe later, after the two survive a late-night attack from one of Simcoe’s droogs. “The order we brought was divinely ordained. But you see, there is no order, no justice. Men are nothing but creatures of deceit, folly, and greed. Why should I be any different?”
Of course, Hewlett’s newfound moral apathy won’t protect him from Simcoe, who’s so distracted by his mission to murder his Setauket nemesis that he’s yet to inform anyone else in North America that he also knows Culper’s true identity. When Simcoe and Hewlett cross paths at Rivington’s, Simcoe fixes him with an icy stare and walks out, emanating menace. Some other gentleman might challenge Hewlett to a duel (Simcoe has some experience in that deadly art, recall), but the Queen’s Ranger has other plans. First, arrange a rendezvous with Miss Lola down at the Holy Ground brothels. Then, send two plainclothes Rangers to Hewlett’s house, kidnap him, and bring him directly to the brothel. Three, murder Hewlett, pin the crime on Lola, and then kill her as an act of revenge, eliminating the witness. If it seems unnecessarily complicated, it’s because it is.
Hewlett isn’t the only kidnapping target. Washington and Benjamin Tallmadge haven’t given up on bringing Arnold to justice. Abe being embedded in Arnold’s Legion is a fine start, but Ben has recruited another officer to execute the action. Sergeant John Champe is an “Arnold lover” who understands why an officer of Arnold’s caliber would defect to the British. When Caleb Brewster hears that, they brawl — but it’s all for show. Champe is a true patriot. His mission is to desert the Americans and join the British, bringing with him intelligence and news that more patriots will soon follow. Once in New York, he’s to be the agent who will approach Abe, announcing his secret identity by speaking of the summer of ’73, and kidnap Arnold.
Champe’s effort to reach British lines, however, is nearly a fiasco. He’s spotted by a patriot patrol before he can get too far from camp, forcing Ben and Caleb to lead an aggressive — but not too aggressive — pursuit. Champe gets caught between opposing lines, and Ben’s savvy decision is to have Caleb take the one shot that will kill the vile traitor (wink, wink). And he does! Champe goes down like a sack of potatoes.
What was Caleb thinking? Why had he shot so true? For a split second, I wondered if Simcoe had turned Caleb during those marathon torture sessions. Fortunately, Champe rises to his feet and staggers towards the British line. With a rifle wound like that, his phony deserter story is sure to be believed.
Bolstering Champe’s case even further will be the inevitable reports that drift back to British intelligence that he was an “Arnold lover” who scrapped with Caleb. That show was for the troops and the camp followers, the latter of whom are composed of some unreliable characters. Washington has always worried about the hangers-on because they are a motley crew he could not monitor or control. Occasionally, men (and women) were drummed out of camp for their lack of discipline or decorum, but there was also the obvious threat of spies — just as Washington relied on colonists in occupied New York for his intelligence.
(Recap continues on page 2)