Irene Merryweather is burning the midnight oil again, only this time it’s in Philadelphia. She’s supposed to meet a Professor Thornton Fieldish. He is the country’s premier colonial scholar and genealogist. If anyone has the skinny on the Shaw family role in early American politics, he’s the man. She enters one of Philly’s oldest taverns, carrying a copy of the professor’s book under her arm. The bar is almost empty and there’s no sign of Professor Fieldish, so she decides to grab a neat whiskey. The barman gives her a shot and slips a beer mat under her glass. She takes a sip of her drink and, when she looks down, she notices that the beer mat reads, ‘Turn around.’
She swivels in her seat and notices in the booth behind her the familiar blue face of Warren Worthington III. He pours them both a glass of wine, while warning Irene that he doesn’t think she understands how fiercely the Hellfire Club guards its secrets. Irene replies that she’ll take her chances. He takes a look at the professor’s book, giving him credit for managing to take historical muckraking and turn it into modern art. However, there’s still plenty of filth even he never found out. Irene places a small recording device on the table and switches it on. Warren immediately flicks the off switch. “Off the record,” he says.
It is the time of the latter days of the American Revolution and a time of change for the city of brotherly love. Its favourite son, Benedict Arnold, has just revealed his colors to be anything but red, white and blue. The citizens of Philadelphia feel betrayed by him and they are overcome with paranoia. Though the Founding Fathers have already declared their independence from the crown, many feel it a tenuous assertion. They fear it won’t last. The continuing military conflict, as well as the lingering presence of certain powerful Tory dissidents, reinforces those fears. Philadelphia is a powder keg, ready to blow. It would take but one person to ignite the fuse.
A stagecoach rides into town, carrying a determined-looking woman with bright red hair. The coach has a trident on the door. She calls for Jarvis, the driver, to stop the coach, as she spots something of interest. A young blonde haired girl takes an apple from a cart and makes a run for it. Unfortunately, she is confronted by the cart’s owner, who tries to chase her. He is a large man and certainly no match for the flighty Elizabeth Shaw, who heads off at pace.
Elizabeth fled the gutters of her native England at the age of thirteen. She came to America in search of a brighter future but, as cruel fate would have it, all she did was trade one gutter for another. That was two years ago. Now fifteen, she is still poverty’s slave and can only dream of owning one of the fine dresses she ogles through a store window. As she gazes at them, a voice behind her says, “Ahhh dreams. How elusive as butterflies are they.” Elizabeth turns to see the red-haired woman behind her. She is clearly wealthy and educated. Elizabeth asks nervously if she can be of some service to her. The woman replies that, perhaps, she is the one that can be of some service.
Later, they enter a grand building and begin to ascend the wide staircase that showpieces the lobby. Paintings adorn the walls and a large chandelier hangs from the ceiling. It must be a dream, thinks Elizabeth. The woman informs her that this is the Hellfire Club. For some, it is a vehicle for indulgence; a hedonist’s haven devoted solely to the pursuit of excesses unmentionable in genteel society. For others, membership provides more influential privileges: locally, nationally, globally.
The mysterious woman tells Elizabeth that the apprenticing of protégés is one of the responsibilities for those with privilege. Their wealth or class is insignificant. All they must have are similar dreams, ambitions and passions. They must be people with fire smouldering in their hearts. She reaches out her gloved hand and asks Elizabeth what burns inside hers. “Freedom,” she replies. The woman welcomes her to the club.
(Six months later)
Jarvis welcomes the passengers of a stagecoach to a party. Out get Sir Patrick and Lady Diana Knight, along with Commander Clinton. Jarvis informs them that Lady Grey awaits their arrival in the parlour. Sir Patrick asks for a snifter of his best brandy to be brought to his private quarters. Ms. Knight enjoys a good nip after their… liaisons. “Already taken care of,” replies Jarvis. They enter the Hellfire Club and are warmly welcomed by the redheaded Lady Grey, who tells them it’s wonderful to see them again. Commander Clinton says he has no time for pleasantries and asks if Major-General Worthington has arrived. “See for yourself,” she replies and pulls back a curtain to reveal dozens of people mingling in the main hall beyond.
They notice Worthington down below from their balcony. He is one of the colony’s most patriotic soldiers. He would never betray their country. Lady Grey says that his recent appointment to succeed Commander Arnold as the city’s commandant notwithstanding, his financial status is presently embattled. That makes him vulnerable. Lady Knight asks how she proposes to exploit that weakness. “How else to turn the tides of a man’s heart, Diana dear, but with a woman’s touch,” Lady Grey replies.”
Wallace Worthington is standing alongside Captain Rogers, chatting to Elizabeth, who looks radiant in a long flowing green dress. They are discussing Captain America, whom Worthington has fought alongside. He’s quite the soldier he says and asks Rogers if he would agree. He does; whoever it is under that mask. Elizabeth tells Worthington that she’s never met a man possessed of such a commanding presence as he. Worthington replies that he has never beheld a woman as beautiful as she and asks her for the next dance. He leads her to the center of the floor, telling Rogers he hopes he has better luck next time. As the couple dances away, Lady Grey watches as the early stages of romance unfold before her; a romance that would ultimately lead Elizabeth to become Mrs. Major-General Wallace Worthington. Lady Grey’s prize fish took the bait and all that remains is to reel him in.
The war rages on. Alongside fellow heroes such as Captain America and Ulysses Bloodstone, Wallace Worthington cements his reputation in the annals of American history, and also his wife. Despite Elizabeth’s best efforts, the ambitions that once burned inside her instead turn to love. To Lady Grey, this will just not do.
The snow falls on the Hellfire Club, as Lady Grey calls Elizabeth in for a chat. She reminds her that falling in love was not part of the plan. Seducing Worthington into parting with military secrets was. Elizabeth tries to explain but cannot get the words out. Lady Grey explains that, without this intelligence, the colonial resistance will continue to elude their troops and this pitiful revolution will succeed. In this eventuality, Elizabeth will have all her precious strings cut. “Such is the price of freedom,” she adds as she departs. Elizabeth puts her head in her hands, before realizing that Wallace may be in real trouble.
Wallace Worthington is at home, smoking a pipe and enjoying a glass of wine in front of a roaring fire. He is waiting for Captain Rogers when he hears a knock at the door. He opens it, only to find Lady Grey standing before him, with two burly looking men flanking her. She asks him to forgive the intrusion, but they’ve come to collect his wife’s debt. He has no idea what she’s talking about. The two men quickly grab him and the door slams behind them.
Captain Rogers rides through the snow on his way to the Worthington house. He expects the Major-General to be three sheets to the wind by now. Suddenly, his horse is cut up by a stagecoach, heading in the opposite direction, seemingly in a hurry. He continues, only to find the house in flames. He leaps from his steed and pulls a round red, white and blue shield from under his cloak. Captain Rogers is Captain America. Running straight into the fire, he uses his shield to crash through the burning doorway, vanishing into the flames.
Elizabeth gasps for breath as she arrives on foot outside her home. She is shocked at the sight of the burning building. Suddenly, Captain America comes crashing back through the flames carrying the body of Wallace Worthington over his shoulder. He gets clear and lays Worthington on the ground. Elizabeth rushes to him and apologizes. He nears death and tells his wife that they wanted secrets. With his dying breath, he says he told them nothing. With that, he dies in her arms. As Lady Grey smiles from her stagecoach seat, Elizabeth reflects on her actions. Freedom was all she ever wanted; freedom from poverty, freedom to choose her own destiny. Now, they’re all gone in a puff of smoke.
Irene has listened intently to Archangel’s story. He finishes off by saying that it all ended because Elizabeth was blinded by ambition. “Sound familiar?” he asks. If you say so, Irene replies, before saying that he and Sebastian Shaw are kinda related. That’s pretty heavy, she adds. As he leads her to the door, Warren replies that she’s really missing the point. Irene asks him to remind her to thank Professor Fieldish for standing her up tonight. She doubts she’d have gotten half the dirt from him that she got from Warren. He tells her that he’s afraid that’s impossible. Irene asks why not; it’s the least she can do. “Because he’s dead,” Warren replies before whisking them both into the air and away.
He explains that the professor was murdered. They found his body this evening and are still searching for the head. He informs Irene that she’s opened a Pandora’s Box.
She’s now a walking bullseye, as is anyone she contacts. Before she goes any further, she needs to ask herself, is any story worth dying for? Archangel flies off towards the city, leaving Irene standing alone. Depends on the story, she thinks.