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The Phlogiston Precariousness: Chapter 6, Scene 1

The air inside the house was full of the smells of ink, paper and long disuse. Ignatius paused to allow his eyes to readjust to the interior of the building. A narrow hallway led away from the street. Along the right side of the hall was the parlor. Opposite that, a set of stairs went up to the next floor. The wood floor creaked with each footstep Ignatius took. His can knocked against a small table as he maneuvered the corridor. He went along the hallway discovering the dining room and kitchen. Laid over the furniture were cloth sheets in the dining area while the kitchen cupboards were bare.

A whirring sound attracted his attention when he went back down the hall. On a small side table, a mechanical hummingbird flew in little circles around a clock. Ignatius gave it a tiny half-smile. Working on the mechanism that kept the springs wound took him several days of concentrated effort.  Hitting the table with his cane must have stirred it into motion again. With a gentle hand, he stopped the bird. He continued to the front after it ceased moving. Ignatius mounted the first set of steps using his cane and railing.

Reaching the second floor Ignatius wiped a thin sheen of sweat from his forehead with a pocket-handkerchief. The stairs wrapped around the wall and continued to a third floor. Ignatius ignored that for the moment. Reaching into his coat he took out a pair of glass tubes, one contained a viscous liquid. The other held a powdery substance. Uncorking the liquid and powder, he poured the fine material into the fluid. He covered the tube with its cork and vigorously shook it. After a few seconds, a green luminescence radiated out of the test tube lighting the landing.

Peering around Ignatius realized that several rooms interconnected forming a large library with reading tables and an index reference. Standing the test tub on top of the cabinet Ignatius flicked through the principle index. “Why am I here?” he thought.

He felt sure that the glass fragments he found were keys to the puzzle. Drumming his fingers on the index his gaze fell onto the glowing light he had just created. He snorted half in disgust and flipped open the index. Ignatius ran down the table of contents until he found the reference he sought.

Taking his light with him, he hobbled into the next room. There he found the correct bookcase by its shelf numbers. He started pulling volumes from the case and laying them on the nearby table. Ignatius skimmed through book after book finding no substantial reference to a metal dissolving compound. Bleary eyed he snapped the latest book shut. The glow light was fading bit by bit. From the amount of lost illumination, Ignatius estimated that several hours had passed. Looking back to the shelf, he spied a thin leather journal lying on its side. Embossed in the brittle spine was a name: Johann Joachim Becher.

Ignatius opened the diary with extreme care lest he cause irreparable damage. The first page declared it ‘A Study of The Phlogiston Affect’. Although the light was waning and the handwriting both faded and in Greek provided challenges, Ignatius doggedly read every page. One section entitled ‘Terra Fluida’ provided some very interesting notions for him to consider.

Creaking boards on the first floor made Ignatius turn his head cat-like at the sound. With as much stealth as he could manage Ignatius hid the glow tube behind some books, eliminating the waning light. Then he pressed himself into a dark corner next to the window. Glancing out at the street he could make out the shape of Myron slumped across the coach’s bench. Whether he was dead or alive, Ignatius could not tell.

He shifted his grip on his cane, flicking a hidden switch in the handle. A muted click came from the tip. Silence fell over the house, then the sound of a gentle scuffing from the stairwell reached Ignatius’s ears. Who crept up the stairwell in the reading room? Could it be the perpetrator of the factory sabotage or did someone holding a grudge against him approach. A vagabond might come in after the money in a rich man’s pockets. It was unlikely that a mugger would take much care to remain quiet. No, that type of criminal preferred the smash and grab.

Footfalls drew closer. They moved along the hall to the foot of the stairs that went up to the third floor and tested the first step. Squeaking with shifting weight the steps reported on the person’s ascension. Ignatius kept his breathing shallow and stayed wedged in his corner. Apart from some ambient noise from the street he could hear nothing. A motion caught Ignatius’s attention. Another shadow moved into the room at the opposite side. Only the faint light from the window playing against the dark material the second perpetrator wore.

The moment he moved the noise from his braces would betray him. Ignatius remained patient like a stalking cat focusing in on his intended target. The figure’s shoulders were broad almost in disproportion to the narrow waist. The new person stopped cold looking directly at Ignatius. It took him a second to realize what just happened. The other wore a pair of goggles, a set framed in brass and leather with greenish lenses. Moving swiftly the hulking figure charged at Ignatius.

The inventor realized just as fast that the goggles must allow the user to see in the dark. Instead of trying to dodge, Ignatius lunged forward with his cane. When the tip touched the others arm, a white/blue flash jumped to Ignatius’s attacker. The man jerked to one side still hitting Ignatius on his way to the floor. The blow sent Ignatius backwards into the corner with a great deal of force. The calamity that the impact caused drew the other intruder back down the stairs, their feet beating a staccato rhythm. Squeezing the topmost ring on his cane and twisting the handle Ignatius extracted a three-foot long blade.

The dark metal had a powder coating to prevent it from reflecting light. Rising to his feet Ignatius had time to better prepare himself for the oncoming rush. A slender shape entered the room with a cosh dangling in his right hand. The newcomer did not see Ignatius until the investigator lunged his corner of the room. The tip of the sword cane hissed through the air splitting the underside of the man’s shirtsleeve. The mugger danced away from the sword reevaluating his opponent. This one also wore goggles with green lenses. Seizing a large tome from a nearby table the attacker hurled it at Ignatius. The impromptu missile caught him on the knee making Ignatius stumble.

The investigator swung his sword in a sharp arc in order to stave off a follow up attack. However, the mystery man used the distraction to turn and flee back down the stairs. Igantius heard the door bang open and footsteps fade away into the night. In a matter of seconds, the stillness descended back over the house again. Ignatius waited for his heart to slow back down before sheathing his sword.

Ignatius lowered himself next to the inert form of the large assailant. With little concern, he felt for the man’s pulse and found it beating strong and regular. The attacker survived a direct shock, which was enough to knock a horse down for good. Closer examination revealed the answer. The man’s shoe soles were a soft pliable material that must have insulated him somewhat.

Rifling through the unconscious man’s pockets turned up little information. There were the normal contents: some coins, a pocketknife, burglary tools and a tobacco pouch and rolling papers. Ignatius removed the goggles and put them in his own pocket, they would be interesting to study later on. He took the cowl that covered the man’s face off. In the dim light, Ignatius thought he might recognize the face. He retrieved his glow stick to confirm his suspicion.

There in the pale green glow lay Leonard Mummer, disheveled and unshaven as usual. The orderly had probably been trying to earn a few extra dollars to cover the cost of some reprehensible vice. Time to ensure that Mr. Mummer has a number of unpleasant questions to answer for the police, Ignatius thought to himself. First things first, he took the journal of Johann Joachim Becher and descended the stairs. Exiting the reading-room townhouse, he put the book into a discrete compartment inside the coach.

He clambered awkwardly up the side to the driver’s bench where Myron lay unconscious. A large knot rose fat and ugly behind the driver’s ear. With some care, Ignatius slapped Myron with the back of his hand until the other man’s eyelids twitched and he emitted a low moan. Providence must have seen Ignatius’s need as a police officer walked around the corner of the street approaching the carriage.

“I say officer, I just saw a man bolt into that house over there,” Ignatius said pointing to the reading room with its half open door.

The excitement in his voice made the officer’s bushy eyebrows rise. The truncheon flew out of its holder while the officer charged into the house. Ignatius gave him a few seconds to start ascending the stair before applying the reins to the horses’ flanks. In short order Ignatius turned onto Front Street with the policeman’s whistle blowing shrill notes into the night air behind him.

  1. Steven what a marvelous engaging write up….great afternoon read..just what i wanted today
    loved it

    • I am so glad that you liked this update. The reading room is one of my favorite chapters so far. 

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