Gail Loveless is an agent with the American Secret Service.
The activities of this woman take place during the Civil War, starting in September of 1862. It is from this that we deduce the "Secret Service" mentioned in the text as well as the title of the collection of stories refers to the espionage work done during that conflict and not the actual government agency which would be founded under the auspices of the Treasury Department three years later initially to combat rampant counterfeiting. The head of the intelligence organization for which Loveless will go to work is the famous Allan Pinkerton, then spelt "Alan" and known to his subordinates as "Major Allen".
The accomplished stage actress Pauline Cushman is the woman initially chosen by Major Allen to head south to spy on Stuart's activities but that woman insisted she needed help and would have no one other than her friend Loveless, then a "very young actress in my stock company" using the stage name of Lucille Lyndon. When not needed for a production, Loveless worked as a nurse at base hospitals. She is said by Cushman to be "very anxious to do Secret Service work".
When Major Allen asked if young Loveless would be capable of the sort of work she might need to do, Cushman assured him Loveless would be "the best fitted of any operator I know, man or woman" and went on to say that she was a very shrewd individual who "has a demoralizing effect upon men" in that "the child is born to trouble men". With the Major needing more information, Cushman said, "She's a gay young thing, full of laughter and of life; but gayety of heart is no sin, and I know of nothing to her discredit ... And she is a natural as well as an accomplished actress. She can seem to be anybody; deceive anybody; and the youngness of her and her lovely face would fool the devil himself."
Loveless is a very light-skinned black woman, referred to in the text as a octoroon (a now offensive term for someone who is one-eighth black) who could and sometimes did pass a white woman but who, when needing to go in disguise, could pass without trouble as black. Regardless of race, there is no doubt that Loveless is a beautiful female who "is one of those women to whom all men are immediately attracted" and who was more than smart and crafty enough to control most of them.
The 20-year-old is described as having "close-clipped, tightly curled dark hair; [with] her velvet eyes full of youth's light gayety; [having] full, laughing lips [and] a slim body fairly a-quiver with suppressed mischief." She admits to Major Allen that she is capable of being afraid but instead of running at such times, she stands her ground because "there is something almost pleasant about being scared". She will have ample opportunity to be afraid and to stand firm.
Playing considerably important roles in Operator 13's adventures are two Confederate operatives working for Jeb Stuart. The main was is the handsome John Guilliard who will become not only a major nemesis to Loveless but also her lover so the relationship will be an interesting one with her wanting him to live and sometimes needing him to fail and possibly, regrettably, die.
Working closely with Guilliard is Vespasian Chancellor, a man for whom Loveless has considerably different and far less favorable opinion; she admits to herself that he was 'the only man of whom she really was afraid'.
Operator 13 will have many fascinating encounters during her impressive war-time career and will interact with many of the key players in that horrific war. Generals Lee and Stuart on the rebel side and Sheridan and Grant for the Union, not to mention a young General Custer for whom she
- Major Allen warns Gale Loveless, "The chief duty of the Spy is not to get caught."
- In response to the above, Loveless observes, "Yes. It rather puts an end to your usefulness, doesn't it."
- When Loveless first hears people in her new line of work referred to as operators, Major Allen explains, "Well, call them what the Court Martial calls them if they're unlucky enough to be caught: Spies."