The Phlogiston Precariousness: Chapter 7, Scene 1
With a jerk, Ignatius regained consciousness. Glancing around the workshop everything was still except for the babbling water in the trough. William stood next to the desk wearing an attentive expression.
“Breakfast sir?” he asked Ignatius.
“Yes. What time is it?” said Ignatius.
William wheeled a teacart over to the main workbench in the middle of the room and started laying out toast, juice, eggs, and bacon. A carafe of coffee appeared as if by magic in William’s hand and he poured a measure of the dark liquid into a ceramic mug.
“It is half past ten in the morning. Mr. Kranston is most aggrieved today. He keeps muttering something about a long walk and the night maid at Mr. Stanneroy’s. I have no earthly idea what that all means. Shall I tell him you are awake?”
“Give me a few moments to take some coffee and a few morsels. Then I will see him.”
“Very good sir.” William placed the coffee on the table and left the workshop.
Ignatius looked at his chalkboard. The majority of the surface held compact writing of chemical formulas, ingredient lists and a few theories. Ignatius sipped his coffee, pleased with the notations. He ought to be able to replicate the substance Phlogiston Terra Fluida by afternoon. A knocking on the door drew Ignatius’s attention. Carrying his coffee and triangle of toast, Ignatius went to the front door and swung it open. Colonel Witmore glowered on the other side.
“Good Morning Colonel, so nice to see your beaming face. Will you come in?” asked Ignatius.
“I’ll get right to the point Ignatius, what in the Hell is going on here?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“This note showed up on my desk this morning. It is from a very reliable source. It seems that the streets abound with rumors of illicit purchases in your name!”
Ignatius stepped aside and gestured for the Colonel to enter.
“Colonel, the only thing I asked for, from any source, was chemicals and equipment to help me solve the mystery of these falling buildings. Nothing more.”
“Bey-Feng is listed as the source. You don’t go to him for a chemistry set.”
“Yes, I know. Bey-Feng has supplied me in the past with certain ingredients that were not readily available. Things like tinctures, herbs and other sundry items. True he does deal in opiates and various narcotics, but I have not purchased anything from him.”
“Really?” asked James Lee from behind Ignatius.
Ignatius spun around to see James Lee holding aloft a gleaming silver syringe. Groaning inwardly, Ignatius realized it was the one from his desk.
“What is that,” said Colonel Witmore through clenched teeth.
“That had been placed on my desk sometime last night before I returned home,” said Ignatius.
“It looks like one of Bey-Feng’s,” James Lee said, handing it over to Colonel Witmore.
“Can you explain yourself?” demanded the Colonel.
Ignatius stroked his chin and sipped his coffee for a minute. Finally, he nibbled on his toast.
“It is not mine. I have not ascertained how it arrived here yet.”
“It was under your desk,” said James Lee.
“Ignatius, tell me how it came to be there,” said Colonel Witmore.
“As I said sir, I do not know. I went out last night with Jimmy here, and returned at some time in the wee hours of the morning.”
“There are witnesses?” inquired the Colonel raising an eyebrow.
“There are,” said Ignatius.
“People can vouch for your whereabouts for the entire evening?” said James Lee.
“Yes,” said Ignatius beginning to get testy.
“Would you care to explain what happened to your driver then? Myron I think his name is.”
“He suffered a blow to the head while I performed some research.”
“How dreadful, to have seen the whole thing…” said James Lee.
“Actually, no I did not see anything. I was inside a private reading room doing my research,” Ignatius said.
“Oh. Oh my. And are there any other entrances to this ‘reading room’ of yours?”
“I do not care for the implication young man,” Ignatius said.
Colonel Witmore held up his hand. “Both of you calm down. I believe you Ignatius. I had to make sure though,” said Colonel Witmore.
It was not exactly an apology, but Ignatius did not care about that. He turned on James Lee, “Well, since you are so concerned with whereabouts, how about your own. Did you manage to accomplish anything last night at the party?”
“I found all sorts of interesting things out. Things such as which train magnate is having an affair with his secratary, who is under paying the staff and whose Aunt Tilly is arriving by air ship next week.”
Colonel Witmore scrutinized James Lee for a minute. “We met at the Mayor’s office is that correct?” he asked James Lee.
“Yes sir,” answered James Lee.
“How goes the insurance investigation, any leads?” inquired the Colonel.
Ignatius slipped over to the teacart and selected a piece of melon, nibbling contentedly on it while Witmore started his own line of inquiry.
“Paper trails, financial records that sort of thing,” said James Lee.
“Say Ignatius old chappy, do you have any of Baron’s good cigars left?” asked Colonel Witmore.
Ignatius took one from his coat pocket, handing it over to Colonel Witmore. Sunlight poured into the workshop from the skylights, creating six beams along the floor. The cigar smoke twisted its way across the workshop changing from light gray to blue depending where the light stuck it. Witmore sucked on the stogie for a minute fixing James Lee with a penetrating gaze.
“Mr. Kranston did you by any chance serve in the army?” he asked.
“I did, sir. I saw a little action during the First Battle of Manassas. I left the front lines for various duty stations until 1863.”
Colonel Witmore grunted his acknowledgement. “Let’s revisit Mr. St. Eligius’s question. Did you discover anything useful last night?”
“You mean besides the Widow Harrison’s Rhubarb pie recipe? No, I am afraid not.”
“I am sure something will turn up for you lads. Things are getting urgent though,” said Witmore.
“I understand Colonel, fear not. I sense a conclusion to this problem is imminent,” said Ignatius with a healthy measure of bravado.
“And what makes you so sure?” asked the Colonel.
Just as Ignatius opened his mouth to answer William entered from the main house and cleared his throat: “Message for you, sir.”
He offered a silver tray out to Ignatius, who plucked a card from it. He grimaced and handed it to the Colonel.
“Another building fell in this morning. One of my own. There are reports of several injuries. Colonel, send word up and down Cameron Street. Warn the factory owners; have them search their buildings for unusual devices attached to the support beams. Especially support structures made from metal. You,” he said pointing sharply at James Lee, “come with me.” The tone Ignatius used did not leave room for any questions. “Billy, have a carriage brought around for Jimmy and me.”
William nodded and hurried off to obey his employer’s instructions.
“I’ll catch up with you in a little while,” said Colonel Witmore, “Once I get the word out about sabotage. Any notion what the factory folk should look for?”
“Yes,” said Ignatius, “It is boxlike, with glass tubes on it. Tell them to mind their hands because it may be trapped to prevent tampering.”
The Colonel snorted through his mustache then turned on his heel, striding out of the workshop. Igantius turned to James Lee.
“If you have a firearm I suggest retrieving it now. Meet me in front of the workshop,” said Ignatius.
James Lee walked back the way he entered leaving Ignatius alone. Things were starting to move at a rapid pace. Ignatius smiled with delight. It was how he preferred things to be. He pressed the call button on his call box.
“Billy? I have a couple of tasks for you to do once you finish getting the horses. They are urgent and will demand your fullest attention.”
With deliberation, Ignatius gave William a series of errands to perform and a specific order in which to do them.
“Are you quite certain, sir?” William’s voice asked.
“Yes. Follow each direction exactly as I gave it to you. Do not fret over it. Everything will be fine I promise.”
Ignatius released the button, idly drumming his fingers on the desktop. The preparations are ready, Ignatius thought. He flipped the top of his cane revealing a small ring. He pulled the ring out. A leather cord prevented the ring from going too far. He repeated the process twenty more times. With a flick of his thumb, Ignatius snapped the cover back in place.
He then started rooting through the various drawers in the workbenches. Tools landed with a clatter or skidded across the tabletop. Files, wrenches, hammers, screwdrivers, T-squares and all other manner of hand tools fell under Ignatius’s keen eye. Some passed the grade and into a pocket they went.
The weight of the loss of his own factory pressed down upon Ignatius as he closed the shop door. Moving with all the speed he could manage from the braces Ignatius followed the tight gravel path to the front of the house. William stood next to the team of horses. Ignatius noted that Smith the alternate coachman sat in the driver’s seat. James Lee came out of the house wearing a pistol in a low-slung holster. The young man’s face shone with excitement.
“Are you ready Mr. St. Eligius?” he called from the top step.
Ignatius waved James Lee into the carriage. He moved closer to William: “Were you able to complete the tasks I gave you?” he whispered.
“Yes sir. The information you want should be on its way to your factory.”
The butler stepped aside and cleared his throat: “Do be careful, sir. We are only now get used to your return.”
“No worries, Billy,” said Ignatius with a wry grin. “This will all be sorted in no time.”
Rising up the steps into the coach Ignatius slipped William a wink, settled into his seat and called to Smith: “My steelworks, be direct and do not spare the reins!”