The Phlogiston Precariousness: Chapter 4, Scene 2.
The rotund factory owner waddled over to Officer Goodman when the police Officer waved at him. He stroked a very neatly trimmed goatee then brushed down his suit coat and vest, shaking loose a few grains of dirt. A slight hint of lavender preceded him.
“Yes Officer?” he said.
“Sir, this is Mr. Ignatius St. Eligius, the Mayor has appointed him to investigate the collapses,” said Winifred.
The owner sucked in a breath, “Truly? Ignatius St. Eligius? I have so wanted to meet you darling!”
“And you are?” Ignatius asked.
“Lucius Stanneroy, at your service.” The sentence came with a wink at the end.
“Oh yes, your family was in textiles for quite some time before the war if I remember correctly. You then switched production over to arms and armaments.”
“Exactly right. How clever of you to know that. I changed the product line again after the war. Now I manufacture the frameworks of rigid airships.”
“Have you made any enemies?” asked Ignatius.
“I have more rivals than a porcupine’s got quills, honey.”
“Ok then. I think I would like to examine the site if that is all right with you,” said Ignatius.
“You go right ahead. If you need anything,” Lucius paused for a second, “I mean anything. You give me a call.”
“Do you have a copy of the floor plans? I would like an idea of where everything was,” asked Ignatius.
“Certainly, let me pester one of those dreadful insurance types for it,” said Lucius.
James Lee snorted in protest, but Lucius either did not hear him or chose to ignore the protestation. He sped over to the group of men and snatched the plans out of their hands. A squabble ensued with several very skeptical glances thrown toward Ignatius and James Lee.
“Jimmy, what do you think?” asked Ignatius.
James Lee scratched his chin. “Well, he seems a bit poofy, but if he’s your type, you could do worse.”
Officer Goodman coughed into his elbow, to cover up a laugh that almost escaped. Ignatius fixed James Lee with a hard stare.
“I meant about the structure, not the social agenda of the factory owner.”
“It looks like a hurricane came through here are whumped the beejezus out of the factory.”
“I concur. Of course a natural disaster would affect the surrounding sites, so we can presume this was a man made catastrophe.”
Ignatius led the way closer to the jumbled remains of the factory. His braces took away almost any sort of agility causing him to choose his path with care. When Ignatius came near a pair of workers moving sections of wall they stared openly at him. There was a curiosity there and yet something else. The looks were of mistrust, anger or even fear. He realized that a certain amount of notoriety followed him everywhere, perched on his back. Ignatius hobbled away from the workers to one of the main support beams that failed. At the top of what remained, the metal was discolored, brownish red and looked like a melted candle.
“Jimmy, you appear to be a strong, able-bodied lad. Climb up there and get me a sample of the metal. Tuck it into this handkerchief of mine,” Ignatius said, thrusting the cloth into James Lee’s hand.
James Lee nodded and took a grip on either side of the beam and scrambled up it. Clutching the edge of the girder with one hand, James Lee laid the cloth over his thigh and then crumbled some of the metal into the handkerchief. Within a minute, he was back on the ground and held the folded cloth out to Ignatius. The investigator took it and slipped it into his jacket pocket.
“Come along, there is much more to see,” he said to James Lee.
For the rest of the morning the pair moved through the rubble. Ignatius took measurements, sent James Lee scampering over uneven terrain for data and kept a watchful eye on the workers. None of them approached, but Ignatius was aware of their looks. They were not happy with his presence. He was contemplating the situation when his cane struck something that made a dull metallic clink.
Glancing down at his feet, he spotted an item pushed down into the ground by the impact of another heavier object. Stooping as best he could, he plucked the object out of the dirt. It was a cog the size of the palm of his hand. Scrutinizing it told him that it was coated with some substance like paint or whitewash but not quite either. Surreptitiously he slid it into his pocket.
Groaning Ignatius knelt down and inspected the ground. Little fragments of glass twinkled in the daylight. Looking at the support beam, he noted the angle of the top leaned in his direction. Regaining his feet Ignatius set off across the site to the next closest pillar. This one too leaned inward toward the center of the factory. Starting his survey from about the same distance Ignatius shuffled around in an ever-growing spiral. Moments later, his toe knocked a small glass ampule skittering over the ground. Seizing it between his thumb and forefinger, Ignatius held it up to the sunlight.
A faint yellowish smear coated the inside of the glass tube. Smiling broadly Ignatius added the ampule to the growing collection in his pocket. A person cleared their throat behind Ignatius. Turning around he found Officer Goodman standing behind him.
“Yes Winifred?” he said
“Are you finished here sir?” Officer Goodman asked.
“You may want to think about moving on then. I couldn’t help overhearing the workers. Some of them are discussing a hypothetical situation involving you, some tar and feathers and a rail.”
“Oh dear. I suppose you cannot arrest them?”
“Well, no sir. They haven’t done anything wrong yet. It isn’t a crime to talk about tarring and feathering the rich bastard who killed a bunch of their friends. Sorry sir, just using their vernacular,” said Winifred.
“I understand. I’ll have one more word with Mr. Stanneroy and be off.”
“It’s probably for the best sir. The working class doesn’t usually forgive crimes against them.”
“True. I suppose I should have forgotten about the crime against me and allowed the scum to get away with it,” said Ignatius, failing to keep a grimace from his face.
“It would have been the proper thing to do sir,” said Officer Goodman.
“Winifred, why do you keep calling me ‘sir’? There was a time when you simply used my given name.”
“Yes, and look at where we are now,” said the police officer.
“You did not take my legs away from me. We used to work together to make this city a better place,” Ignatius said.
“I feel that my inaction in no small measure caused the situation. I should have taken greater steps against the riff-raff in the park before your assault. I am responsible for the citizens of Harrisburg.”
“All of them? At all times? That is preposterous,” said Ignatius.
“It shouldn’t be,” Officer Goodman said. “Anyway, I feel like I could have done more for you. I didn’t even visit you during your recovery.”
“You had other concerns like preventing crime. Winifred, just forget about the past and we can start over,” Ignatius said.
The police officer nodded with his eyes cast toward the ground moving away from Ignatius.
Officer Goodman hesitated and turned back to Ignatius, “Did you hear about Miss Boas’s reading room?” he asked.
“Yes, Billy told me about it last night.”
“Very good. I hear it is an excellent collection of knowledge, in case you need another source of information.” With that, the Policeman tipped his hat and wandered away with his hands clasped behind his back.
James Lee returned to his side.
“What was that about?” he asked.
“The past. Come Jimmy, let us go talk to Mr. Stanneroy once more and then we shall be off.”
Ignatius stomped over to the rotund factory owner. Mr. Stanneroy was engaged in rapid conversation with two of the men. As Ignatius approached he overheard Lucius mention a dinner party that evening.
“Oh, Mr. St. Eligius, you have returned from the field!” Lucius exclaimed.
Ignatius shrugged dismissively. “Lucius, is there normally any glassware in this factory?”
Now Lucius frowned. “There is none that I can think of. I have explained, we build mainly train wheels here. There is no call for glass or anything contained in glass.”
“Curious. Well, I think I have what I came for. I will of course need to do some analysis, but my findings will be delivered with all due haste to the Mayor’s office,” Ignatius said to Lucius.
“Most excellent. I say, while I am standing here thinking about it, would you care to attend a little dinner soiree I am having tonight? Say around seven o’clock?”
Ignatius beamed, “Why I’d be delighted. Who will be there?”
“Oh just about anyone who is anyone in the manufacturing community. We have these sort of affairs quarterly in order to keep in touch.”
“Interesting. Could you do me a favor and keep my attendance a surprise? I would hate to have everyone on their guard during a social gathering.”
“Definitely. Mum’s the word. You’ll have to excuse me, I must go off with these gentlemen and discuss the future of our joint ventures.”
Ignatius tipped his hat to Lucius, who did the same in return. Ignatius swung his cane up to rest on his shoulder and pursed his lips.
“Come along Jimmy, we have a formal affair to prepare for.”
“Before you get ahead of yourself Mr. St. Eligius, exactly what evidence do you have and how or where are you going to test it?”
“What I have is the metallic residue you retrieved for me, some crushed glass and a larger fragment of an ampule that contained something. Let us not forget that there are about a half dozen potential suspects lining up for supper. With luck, you could be out of my hair before sunset tomorrow,” Ignatius said.
Setting a brisk pace, which James Lee managed with no difficulty, Ignatius headed back to the waiting carriage. Just before he climbed into the waiting compartment James Lee clapped his hand on the door pinning it closed. Searching Ignatius’s eyes, he said, “I sincerely doubt you will be rid of me that easily.”
“Yes, well. One hopes for the best,” replied Ignatius giving James Lee’s hand a meaningful look.
The younger man withdrew his arm from the doorframe and allowed Ignatius to enter. Interesting sentiment thought Ignatius. What does it mean?