The Phlogiston Precariousness: Chapter 7, Scene 2
The carriage rolled on at breakneck speeds.
“Any word on when the supplies I requested may arrive?” asked Ignatius.
James Lee shifted on his seat, “Should be sometime this afternoon. Why do you need them? From what you said in the workshop to the Colonel you have everything worked out.”
“Almost. Some loose ends need to be tied up. I hope to find further evidence at the scene of this latest disaster.”
“I see. Who do you suspect?”
“It is too early to say. I have a notion, but I would really like evidence that is more concrete before laying out any accusations. They might be misconstrued.”
In a short time, the coach arrived on Cameron Street. They pulled onto a tree-lined drive of crushed seashells that brought them to the site. Ignatius exited the cab and took in the scene. The outside of the building was perfectly fine because it was brick. The roof no longer rose up over the structure though. A slight pall of dust hung over the factory, thrown up when the sheets of metal crashed inward. Ignatius spotted his site manager and headed straight for him.
“Charles! What happened here?” he said without preamble.
“Sir! Devilish business this. We just started the morning shift change when it happened.”
Ignatius clenched his jaw. The shift change would be when the most workers were inside. Essentially, it meant that two men for each position were moving about.
“What are the causality figures?” he asked.
Charles wiped his brow and unfolded a piece of paper. The manager read over the sheet and handed it to Ignatius. “Well, sir. Sixteen were injured severely, Twenty-eight escaped with minor injuries, seven died and we can’t locate another twelve.”
“Find them, Charles. No one here who is not injured rests until we find every single one. Is that understood?”
“I want the names of the deceased, their relatives and the details of our current compensation package before I leave here,” said Ignatius. “Smith! Come here,” he called to the driver.
Ignatius wiped his eyes on the back of his coat sleeve and pushed some strands of hair out of his face. The driver hurried over.
“Smith, go to the next closest factory. Shut it down and bring the workers here to assist with the search. Charles, send the word out that no one is to report to work until further notice. They are to stay home. With pay. Jimmy,” Ignatius said pointing to James Lee, “come with me.”
Ignatius walked toward the factory. When he and James Lee reached the entrance, he called over the foreman.
“Spread the word that anything that does not belong here is to be collected and then brought to me immediately. No matter how small or seemingly inconsequential. Is that understood?”
“We’ll git right on it,” said the foreman. He went over to his supervisors and repeated Ignatius’s orders.
Ignatius beckoned James Lee to follow him. Inside the factory chaos reigned. The factory had a second floor and track for moving large cauldrons, heavy machinery or pallets of equipment. The track and supports for the second floor interconnected with the roof supports. The result looked like a giant pulled the ceiling straight down, taking everything else with it. Surveying everything in front of him Ignatius breathed a small sigh of relief.
No fires burned in the factory. He approached the rubble seeking a way into or over it. A bent beam formed an A shape which stood about three feet tall. Ignatius dropped down on his hands and knees and wriggled his way inside. Light managed to make its way inside from the tears and gaps in the metal. Ignatius crawled on his belly, avoiding jagged points or sections, which looked risky to go into. It was awkward work. More than once the braces caught on some unseen portion of debris trapping Ignatius from time to time. James Lee trailed behind Ignatius moving through the wreckage uneasily.
“We should be approximately midway into the working area now,” he said over his shoulder.
“Do you have a destination in mind?” James Lee asked.
“I do. The north-east corner.”
“What do you hope to find there?”
“I do not know yet. When I see it, I will know,” answered Ingatius. He was unwilling to tip his hand just yet.
A few more minutes passed punctuated by the scrape of the metal braces against the wood flooring and stifled curses when James Lee stubbed his hand or knee against something. Ignatius slithered through the debris until he came across one of the workers. The a railing from the second floor pierced the man’s chest driven into the floor by the weight of the ceiling. Ignatius flinched away from the twisted expression on the man’s face. He recognized him as Jonas Hillebrand.
The young man fled to Pennsylvania at the onset of the war. Near destitute the runaway slave had a small sign on a street corner offering to repair small items. His ability with tools drew Ignatius. The ready wit and keen observations compelled Ignatius to hire him. Jonas hands clutched at the shaft of metal, the ends of his fingers were torn and bloody. A wash of noise flooded Ignatius’s ears while images of trees, a forest at nighttime, flicked by. A child’s face loomed out of the darkness convulsed, deformed by several metal plates and brass fittings. He thought he could hear the roar of a gun but snapped back to the present moment. Breathing in short rapid bursts Ignatius continued on his way.
“We will need to report the loss of another man,” said Ignatius.
“No loss far as I can see.”
Ignatius stopped with such abruptness James Lee bumped face first into the heel of the leading man’s shoe.
Looking back over his shoulder Ignatius said, “Any man in my employ who dies is a loss. It does not matter to me, what the color of his skin or former affiliations. You would do well not to forget that.”
Wiping dirt off his face James Lee grunted. “When we get out of here you and I are going to have a long talk regarding your role in this investigation.”
“To be sure we will,” said Ignatius.
Another minute of concentrated work brought the men out from under the roof to the targeted corner of the factory. One of the main support beams rose up here, ending like a carelessly bent toy. Ignatius stood stretching out his back. His hips ached from squirming on the floor and his suit was filthy with the dirt, dust and grime from the floor. Glumly he plucked that the front of his shirt, which turned a streaked muddy brown. Investigating the surroundings Ignatius took note of the beam and searched the floor around it. James Lee poked at the ruins near the wall.
“What’s this?” James Lee said to Ignatius.
The older man turned in response to the question. James Lee pushed a wide section of flooring out of the way with a crash. Behind the collapsed walkway, there stood a doorway. Ignatius frowned.
“That should not be there. Where does that lead?”
“It looks to me like a small room,” said James Lee. He peered into the uncovered area. “I can see a workbench inside; it’s small, maybe five foot by six.”
“Do you have a light?” asked Ignatius.
James Lee shook his head. Ignatius reached into his pockets and pulled out a oval case the same shape as a pocket watch only larger, deeper. Snapping it open revealed two wells. Into one, Ignatius mixed his glowing powder and liquid. In a few seconds, he had a small lamp beaming from his hand. Raising it overhead, he gave the entrance a thorough examination.
“There used to be a hidden door here. It would appear that the collapse has disclosed it to us.”
Ignatius crossed the threshold with his light held overhead. James Lee followed him into the small space. Strewn about were tools and materials. Pieces of cast and forged steel lay among hammers, wrenches and all matter of fasteners. One piece caught Ignatius’s eye. He set the lamp down in order to pick it up.
Hefting it, Ignatius guessed that it weighed close to twenty pounds. With a thump, he put it on the workbench. It was a block with a valve and connector on one side, and a mirror set on the opposite. Bolts held each valve in place. Turning it over Ignatius found a hole in the bottom. The interior was not easy to discern, but it looked to Ignatius that a divider split the chamber in half and the inside curved in either direction leading out to the valves.
“What is that?” wondered James Lee.
“I am not sure. Nothing that should be here, that is for certain.”
“Is it significant?”
“Perhaps. Not to our investigation though. I believe this is something entirely different.”
“I could not even hazard a guess. Something I have not come across before.”
Ignatius tapped his forehead with a finger, eyes half closed. He refocused after a minute giving James Lee an unfathomable look.
“What I know Jimmy, is that this room was not here at the completion of the factory, nor its initial run. The only time it could have been built was during my trial and initial incarceration. My business holdings shut down for a short period, several months in fact. Enough time to tuck this little workshop away in the corner.” Ignatius wiped his brow. “Damnation! Too much has gone on without my knowledge.”
In anger he hurled the lamp against the back wall splattering the glowing substance all over. Droplets of phosphorescent liquid ran down the walls and dripped off the ceiling onto the workbench. The room seemed to gain more light with the luminescence distributed over a wider area. The chemical ran over the wall and table collecting in depressions before spattering onto the floor. What remained displayed letters that were carved into the wood with a blunt instrument such as a screwdriver.
Ignatius grabbed James Lee’s collar and whispered in an urgent, panicked voice, “Go get Colonel Witmore right now, do not stop for anyone or anything. Talk to no one. GO!” Ignatius thrust James Lee back out of the room and regarded the glowing words that read: “The Machines will rise to supplant the flesh!” among other less dignified slogans. Ignatius drew out a cigar and sat down on the floor thoughtfully chewing on the end of it.