A Countesses Conundrum: Chapter 3, Scene 1
The thick carpeting absorbed Ignatius’s pacing, muffling the sound of his shoes. His braces still squeaked and clattered with each step though. Angela sat at a small desk with a cup of tea in her hand, gritting her teeth.
“Ignatius, would it be too much trouble for you to sit down?” she asked. The tone of her voice was clipped and she worked a smile onto her face.
“I am merely trying to think,” said Ignatius pausing in mid-stride.
“Well think in a chair. You are like a drawer full of silverware rattling around.”
Ignatius sat down on a cushioned divan with his arms crossed.
“What is the matter, Ignatius?” she asked, “you seem pensive.”
“This case is off to a rotten start. I do not like the stink of pseudo-religious mysticism or the inexplicable nature of Fredrich.”
“Part of the problem may just be lack of understanding. Here, I found this treatise on Vodou.”
Angela crossed the library with a slim red leather bound volume. Embossed across the top of the cover were the words: Pratiques Vaudou. Ignatius gave the book a wary glance. Angela took a sip from her porcelain teacup and set it back down on the saucer. He took the book from Angela and flipped it open. To his growing horror, he found the entire book written in French. Thumbing rapidly through the pages, he did not see any evidence of diagrams or English. He spotted the word Zombi in the table of contents with the corresponding page number.
He looked helplessly to Angela, “If you recall, languages are not my strongest suit,” said Ignatius.
“I do. I am not particularly versed in French either. Spanish, Latin, a smattering of African and European dialects. I’ve been meaning to get around to French. I am sure I have some English/French dictionaries, somewhere…”
“That would take too long. We need a rapid translation of the salient points.”
Ignatius rubbed his chin, wishing for either a cigar or a hot cup of coffee. Whom did he know that might be able to read the text and clearly explain it. A slow grin broke over his face.
“I know who we can take this to. Mousier Broussard. The ‘Mad Frenchman’, he can decipher this. The problem is going to be availability. He checks himself into the State Hospital frequently.”
“Any idea if he’s there now?”
“I do not think so. He was checking in when the mayor called me out. It is probable that he checked out already. He frequents that gentlemen’s club on Allison Hill, ‘The Feathered Cock’.”
“Dodgy sort of place?” Angela asked.
“Not for you, it caters to a specific sort of gentleman. I think it is safe to say that I will be at greater risk than you.”
“I see,” Angela said with a smirk.
“Do you find this funny?”
“Only more than a little bit.”
“Would you please go fetch a carriage or cab,” said Ignatius. Then after a moment’s reflection he added, “And bring something more than a peashooter along.”
A few minutes later they were in a cab, clattering east through the city. They would ride over to Cameron Street, cross over and climb up Allison Hill. The district that sat atop was home to the poor, the criminal, the immigrants that staffed the unseen positions that managed to keep the city running and Negros, now free but still socially outcast by many. What came out of that melting pot could be counted on to raise more than a little Hell.
They were in the small hours of the night, and Ignatius quivered with anticipation of entering the Hill. He had a reputation on the Hill as a decent employer, a merciless killer or a narcotic addled genius of myth and legend. Each facet of him made encounters unpredictable, since there was no way of knowing which persona the other would perceive. The damp night air swirled around the gas lamps while rain fell in a gentle mist. Ignatius donned woolen gloves to keep his hands warm and he could feel the air temperature hovering near freezing.
By sun’s rise in the morning, there would be a glistening coat of frost over most of the city. The one exception would be Cameron Street. Because of the foundries and the heat they exhausted, it almost never froze. Angela wore leather gloves of her own to protect her hands. She bundled herself into a long rancher’s coat of suede and wool and added a bandana around her neck. Both of their breaths steamed out into the night air like a train engine coming into the station.
During the ride up the hill, Ignatius squeezed the handle of his cane, compressing a hidden spring, which spun a miniature flywheel that in turn charged the capacitors, which held the electric energy. Ignatius had the cane about to burst at the seams with energy. As the crest drew nearer the sound of loud voices were easy to hear.
The gas lamps that lit the streets turned up vandalized more often than not. People would steal the glass and brass from the lamps for resale or repurposing. The majority of vandalized lamps had taps installed so people could help themselves to the gas whenever they felt like it.
The police of Harrisburg gave Allison Hill a decent berth after sunset. In the early morning, teams of wagons would comb the streets for the wounded or deceased, collect them and then deposit them in the proper location. The violence was contained, but only just. The cab proceeded along Derry Street past the barred and shuttered stores, the blaring saloons and the raucous brothels. A few buildings on the street were sedate.
The opium den for instance expelled soft music and dense smoke into the street. A knot of armed Chinese stood at the entrance warily eyeing passersby. This den was not the mainstay of Bey-Feng’s illicit enterprises. A few blocks over on Market Street was the Drunken Crane the largest den of poppy smokers in all of the Harrisburg area. They turned right onto a little unmarked side street and continued along it for several blocks.
Ignatius called for the driver to stop in front of a well-manicured townhouse. Standing at the top of the stoop were two of the largest individuals Ignatius had ever seen. Despite the plummeting temperatures, they wore shirts without sleeves of starched white linen and matching pants. Under their sodden garments swam muscle upon other muscles. When the cab finally stopped, Ignatius climbed out and scrutinized the door attendants. Smiling, in what he hoped was a passive way Ignatius approached the wrought iron gate and waved at the pair.
“Hello, I was rather hoping to speak with the Mousier Broussard, is he around this evening?”
“Wot’s it to yeh,” snarled the first. He wore a long, thick mustache with glass beads braided in throughout the hair.
“Might be worth a shiny ha’penny,” said Ignatius.
“The only thing around here mate tha’s worth a ha’penny is yer life. Are yeh sure ye want teh be tradin’ on that?”
“I do not see how I have much choice. Here, my good man, is a silver piece for you and one for your friend. Surely, now your mind must have a notion as to where Mr. Broussard is.”
“Aye. He be inside. This is a Gentlemen’s club, with very specific rooles. I cannae allow any old person in,” said the second man.
“I think you will find my application for admittance here in this billfold,” said Ignatius, looming over the gate towards Ignatius.
The goon on the left side of the door stepped down and closed in on Ignatius.
“We ain’t so concerned wit you, mate. It’s yer lady friend there. She ain’t exactly the type which is allowed inside.”
Ingatius blinked, the man was standing so close he could smell lavender on his breath and hear the tinkling of the glass beads knocking into each other.
“I do apologize, I thought this was a progressive club. Perhaps you could see your way clear if we re-address the membership application?” Ignatius eased several fifty dollar bills out of his wallet.
“It nae ha’ to do with yer money. It’s jus’ tha this club is for men,” said the burly Scot from the top of the stairs.
“All right then. Miss Boas, would you mind waiting here for me? There seems to be some disagreement on your membership, what with you not owning a penis and all.”
“Scandalous! I shall deign wait here in the company of these two towers of virtuosity. Hurry back, ere my ladybits grow sad,” said Angela with a smile playing at her face.
Ignatius handed the nearest bouncer half of his cash from the billfold. The man grunted and held the gate open for Ignatius. At the top of the stairs, he handed over the remaining money and the Scot opened the thick oak door for Ignatius.
“Ha’ a pleasant evening, sir”
Ignatius entered the foyer of the Feathered Cock and found himself greatly surprised. It was a warm, rich room paneled in walnut. Tasteful lamps cast a warm glow around. A rather severe looking man in formal eveningwear including tails hovered, waiting to greet Ignatius.
“Good morning, sir. Welcome to the Feathered Cock,” he said without a hint of a smile. “How may I be of assistance?”
“I am here looking for Mousier Broussard. I need to speak with him urgently,” answered Ignatius.
“May I inquire as to the nature of the matter?”
“Well, it is not regarding a jilted lover. Let us be clear on that. I am conducting an investigation into strange goings on in the uptown district and I require Mousier Broussard’s ability to speak French in order to translate some text.”
“Oh, is that all?” said the host. He sounded disappointed. He waved Ignatius to a plush looking bench with leather trim. “I shall fetch Mousier Broussard for you. Please wait here.”
As the man glided away, Ignatius noticed that the host wore velvet slippers in a dazzling shade of lime green. Ignatius fiddled with the slim book while he waited. After several moments, Mousier Broussard arrived in the foyer looking mildly annoyed.
“Ah, Mousier St. Eligius. How nice to see you. Your timing, it is perhaps a bit, er…Off?”
“I know Jean Jacques I apologize, but I desperately need a passage of text translated.” Ignatius held the book out to the portly Frenchman.
Jean Jacques’s blad head glistened with a faint sheen of sweat and his mustache was bushier than usual. Delicately he took the volume from Ignatius and contemplated the title. An eyebrow went up, “C’est non? Vaudou. What are you gotten into, Iggy?”
“Jean, I believe I asked you not to call me that time in the electro-shock therapy tubs.”
“Ah, mai qui. You did. I apologize. Come, let us sit in the salon and discuss this,” Jean Jacques said, patting the book’s cover.
The Frenchman led Ignatius to the left, out of the foyer and into another stylish room. Scattered throughout were several small tables with two or three seats and a number of large stuffed chairs and matching ottomans. A fire crackled in the granite faced fireplace. Jean Jacques took a seat at one of the tables opening the book and scanned the contents. A waiter appeared seemingly from out of nowhere with a tray and politely indifferent expression. Mousier Broussard waved him away.
“You weesh for me to translate this?”
“Yes, page 124. The section discusses Zombu or Zombi. I need to know what causes them and how to stop them.”
Jean Jacques thumbed his way to the page and started reading. Occasionally he would click his tongue when he turned a page. Ignatius glanced at his watch, the second hand sweeping its way around the face. Mousier Broussard closed the book with a sudden snap.
“Garcon, the rouge vin! Immédiatement. Mousier Ignatius, what you have here is a book of heathen practices. It does not describe in any detail how to create or destroy a Zombi. Non, mousier, I double checked. This book discusses why one might require a Zombi and bears a warning as well. First the warning, ‘ne laissez pas le Zombi vous mordre pour sa malédiction sera transmis chair à chair, en passant sur sa corruption.’ Meaning: do not let the Zombi bite you for its curse will be transmitted flesh to flesh, passing on its corruption. Have you been bitten?”
“No, but another man was. His throat was torn out and he died from his wounds.”
“Qui? Well maybe that will be all right. You may want to check on the body, make sure it ees not wandering around.”
“What do I do if it is? That is the point of my coming here. How do I stop it?”
“Je suis désolé, je ne sais pas.”
“Damn it man, there are lives at stake.”
“I do not know what to tell you,” said Jean Jacques apologetically. He frowned, rubbing his mustache with his index finger. “Un moment, I have it.”
“What?” snapped Ignatius.
“You must go see Madame LeRoux!” pronounced Jean Jacques Broussard sitting back in his chair and draining his wine glass in one long gulp. He shuddered and smiled sadly, “better you than me. I would not want to be the one to go see her, Mousier.”