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The Phlogiston Precariousness: Chapter 2, Scene 1


Upon arriving at the Mayor’s office Ignatius was unloaded from the wagon. The workman slung him into a nearby wheelchair as though he were a sack of flour being shifted in a mill. With careless bumps and jerks, the thick chested man hauled his load up the stone stairs and into the dimly lit wood-paneled corridors of City Hall.

The chair rolled into the antechamber of the Mayor’s office bumping over the door’s sill onto plush carpeting. Next to the thick oak doorway a desk adorned with a small vase of wildflowers sat. A prim woman stood in front of the door with a clipboard in her hand one hand and a pencil in the other. A man of substantial size and musculature sat with an uncomfortable expression on a hard wood chair off to one side.

“Good afternoon. What is your business here today?” she asked. Her tone was light, but it carried a note of someone interrupted in the middle of issuing a severe dressing down.

“Yes’m, dropping this gent off for his Honor,” said the workman looking down at his feet.

“I see. Thank you. I will inform the Mayor when it is convenient for him.”

The laborer continued looking at his shoes, unable to look at the woman.

“Is there something else?” she said.

“Errm, well it’s just that I was told that there would be a little dough for the job.”

“I see. Well allow me to impart something far more useful. ‘Concern yourself not with treasures here on Earth, for riches beyond imagination are being laid up for you in Heaven.’ Now please run along. There are a great many things to be done and I cannot have the Lost underfoot.”

Looking bewildered the workman left the room as fast as he could. Turning her attention to Ignatius the woman’s smile wavered for a moment. Composing herself, she pulled a brass plated voice tube from her desk and blew sharply into it.

“Mayor Hirsch? There is a grand sinner here to see you sir.” She placed the tube against her left ear while smiling with an internal radiance at the waiting man. She nodded her head as muffled commands reverberated down the length of tubing and up into her ear canal.

“You may take this sinner in to see the Mayor while you consider your own wicked nature,” she said.

“Sure, whatever,” he drawled. Heaving his body out of the tight constraints of the chair the blond man towered over the secretary. “Miss Temperance, I realize you hold your beliefs near and dear to your heart. Why don’t you just keep them there instead of sharing them?”

“Because in this Godless city, I am a beacon unto the Lost masses.” She replied, never once losing her smile. She twisted the crystal doorknob and pushed the door open finishing the interchange.

The large man pulled his suit coat back into position and buttoned it. A slight bulge under his right arm was the only broken line in the black suit he wore. One hand twitched when he reached out to push the wheelchair through to the Mayor’s office. With a solid click the door Miss Temperance drew the door shut.

The deep carpet continued inside the office as did the dark wood paneling. Seated behind his desk was the Mayor of Harrisburg: Mortimer ‘Baron’ Hirsch. The Mayor spilled out of the special reinforced chair with a thick cigar smoldering in his hand. Enormous muttonchops fanned out from the Mayor’s cheeks giving him the look of some wild animal, perhaps a bear. James Lee Kranston was physically imposing in his own right but after dealing with Miss Temperance Cooley and now ‘Baron’ Hirsch he had a few self doubts.

“Here you are Baron.” James said.

“Thank you Mr. Kranston. You may wait outside until I call upon you again,” said the Mayor.

James nodded and retreated through the doorway. As the outer door shut, again another door opened. This one led to the Mayor’s private study on the side of the office. The Attorney General entered the room.

He was a slight man with skin that shared the same pallor as a fresh cadaver. He hovered next to the mayor so that he too could gaze upon the man in the wheelchair. The Mayor proffered his box of cigars to Ignatius, “Care for a good cigar? I remember at the time of your trial you were smoking those God-awful cheroots,” he said.

The hazel eyes stared ahead without focus. No answer appeared to be forthcoming.

“Sir, is it possible that Doctor Salinger may have done something irreparable to Mr. St. Eligius?” said the Attorney General.

“Oliver do not be ridiculous. Mr. St. Eligius is just being difficult. Go slap him a few times and see if that draws him out of this stupor,” said the Mayor.

Oliver Thurton scurried around the desk to the inanimate figure of Ignatius. Glancing back over his shoulder at the Mayor, Thurton checked for confirmation. Mayor Hirsch gave a nod of his head. With his left hand Oliver struck Ignatius across the face snapping it to the side briskly. Still the man did not move. Oliver gave the Mayor another worried look but the Mayor was engrossed in re-lighting his cigar. Oliver swung his hand again.

This time Ignatius’s right hand shot up, seized Oliver’s wrist and pulled him down face first into the hard arm of the wheelchair. The sound of the Attorney General’s forehead impacting the arm of the chair was like that of wooden bowl being clapped against a tabletop. Oliver fell over backwards clutching his face and groaning.

“The first one is free. After that, you proceed at your own peril,” said Ignatius St. Eligius.

He blinked several times taking in his surroundings and rolled his head around his neck stretching it. Ignatius dipped his hand into the Mayor’s box of cigars and took a fistful out dropping all but one in his lap.

“Good afternoon ‘Baron’. Could I trouble you for a light?” he asked.

The Mayor smiled sliding his box of matches across the desk to Ignatius. A few seconds later Ignatius sat back puffing on his cigar.

“Comfortable?” asked the Mayor.

“I could be half immersed in a tub of water with an electrode attached to my bum. I would say my situation is somewhat improved. What do you want from me? I presume it must be important since you brought me here from the hospital.”

Ignoring the question the Mayor said “I swayed the court to show leniency so that instead of executing you they put you in the hospital, where I could keep an eye on you. I must say you seem to be in remarkable spirits for someone in your situation.”

“Yes.” Said Ignatius.

“Do tell, how you managed to effect such a stupor?” asked the Mayor.

Ignatius shrugged, “A simple trance which allowed me to separate my mind and body. What is it that you want?”

“This city is mine, do you understand? I protect what is mine and now what is mine is under attack. The police cannot fathom what is happening. Nor can the victims.”

The Mayor paused and squinted at Ignatius through a haze of blue smoke.

“I am getting ahead of myself. Several buildings have collapsed under very strange circumstances. There is no explosion, no fire and no signs of structural compromise or so my engineers tell me.”

“Your engineers?” Said Ignatius.

His voice dripped with sarcastic tones. He knew most of the city’s engineers. The majority of them would be unable to devise an inclined plane with a brick, plank of wood and written directions.

“Such as they are, nothing can be determined. I am concerned that we have not seen the last collapse. I wish you to investigate the cause and find the reason.”

“Why?” asked Ignatius. “It is not exactly like I am beholden to this city.”

“Actually as a convicted criminal you are in fact obligated to Harrisburg. Is that not correct Oliver? Oliver? Hmm, you seem to have knocked out the Attorney General. I suppose we could add assault to your list of crimes. I would be willing to contemplate granting you a slight commutation to portions of your sentence. You could also view this as a chance to use your not inconsiderable skills as opposed to rotting away out of sight from society. Perhaps even consider it a chance to make some small gesture of amends.”

“Considering the treatment I have received so far I think I will have to say: no.” Ignatius said.

Mayor Hirsch spluttered behind his desk. Ash from the cigar waggling between his teeth fell like dirty snow onto the black pinstriped vest.

“Hell and Damnation man, you’ll bloody well do this or your future imprisonment will reveal the true depths of depravity available to Doctor Salinger!”

Ignatius regarded the Mayor with a calm gaze, “This city took the use of my legs from me. When I managed to correct some of the damage I was coldly treated, tried and put in the state’s hospital for the insane…”

“You invented a war machine and slaughtered no less than six individuals in the city’s park! You committed crimes, endangered citizens. You had to be punished,” shouted the Mayor. “It is by my mercy that you went to a hospital instead of a firing squad.”

“Do not tell me of mercy,” Ignatius replied. “There was none shown to me when I was assaulted by those hooligans. Those that I brought to justice I might add.”

“That was not justice,” retorted the Mayor, “it was simply vengeance. Justice bore out at your trial. It would seem that the scales balanced in the end though wouldn’t it.”

Ignatius sank back into the hard clutch of the wheelchair drumming his fingers with petulant anger. Baron Hirsch narrowed his eyes appraising Ignatius. He shook his head back and forth causing his muttonchops to sway fan back and forth.

“It is an impasse that we have here. Allow me to tip the balance back to my favor…” ‘Baron’ Hirsch said reaching toward his desk.

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