The Phlogiston Precariousness: Chapter 8, Scene 1
The glowing letters were starting to fade when the sounds of people scrambling came to Ignatius. Blinking he looked out of the doorway in time to see Colonel Witmore, James Lee and Officer Goodman emerge.
“Ah,gentlemen. Nice to see you, both,” said Ignatius. “I am afraid we have hit a rather severe snag in this investigation.”
“What do you mean,” asked the Colonel.
“Take a look at the walls. Someone wrote everything there. If you cannot discern the text, I can provide you with a copy from my notebook,” Ignatius said.
Colonel Witmore peered at the graffiti, then turned to Ignatius and shrugged. “I don’t see anything so urgent in this which would necessitate derailing your current investigation. It’s just the ramblings of some disgruntled employee.”
Ignatius puffed on his cigar for a moment. He exhaled a cloud of blue smoke in James Lee’s direction.
“You fail to see…,” said Ignatius.
“I do. There are more important concerns at this moment,” snapped the Colonel.
“Obviously. Winifred how goes the alerting of the other factories?” asked Ignatius.
“Well sir, I think every last one of them has been notified,” answered the Policeman.
“Then we have plenty of time to discuss my discovery in here,” said Ignatius.
“Not here, not now,” reiterated Colonel Witmore. He gave both James Lee and Winifred a meaningful glance.
“Pish tosh, Colonel. Office Goodman might as well be my right arm. As for Mr. Kranston, well, he will not be talking to anyone from wherever you lock him up. I presume James Lee Kranston is an assumed name?” asked Ignatius.
James Lee looked apprehensive. Then he smiled. It was not a warm smile nor was it the kind a stranger might give a passerby on the street. It was mirthless, cold and reptilian.
“I suppose this point in time was inevitable,” he said. His voice changed, lowering in pitch and picking up a deep southern drawl.
Colonel Witmore snapped his mouth shut, glowering at James Lee. The youngster whipped a pistol out of concealment and pointed it at Ignatius.
“The three of you, back up, now!” he ordered.
Ignatius took several steps toward the worktable. Winifred moved next to Ignatius. Only Colonel Witmore stood his ground.
“Colonel, you get yourself backed up into that corner now,” commanded James Lee.
“If you think that I’m going to back down from the likes of you, you are very mistaken, boy.” said Colonel Witmore. His fingers flexed, curling around like the claws on a wild cat.
James Lee snorted and swung a haymaker blow across the Colonel’s chin with his free hand. Ignatius laid a warning finger on Officer Goodman’s wrist and calmly shook his head, urging restraint.
“Now, gentlemen I did hope for a more…Drawn out demise to our dear friend, Mr. Ignatius St. Eligius. However, I will settle on a swifter method,” said James Lee.
He pointed the barrel of his pistol directly at Ignatius’s head.
“That is it? No long winded diatribe of why I must meet my death? No realization of what I have done to wrong you?” asked Ignatius.
“You know!” shouted James Lee. His voice climbed an octave and his face scrunched up in rage.
“Allow me to divulge what I do know. You are obviously from the south. You concealed your accent quite well. There were a couple of items that gave you up though.”
“Oh do tell, Mr. Ignatius,” said James Lee.
Your penchant for sweet tea. Somewhat vile stuff if you ask any true northerner. Though in and of itself not a major clue. When you declared your service at the Battle of Manassas, I learned a bit more. You see the Union veterans refer to that battle as ‘The Battle of Bull Run’. Not the location’s proper name which you used.”
“That’s it?” said James Lee with a little laugh. “You seem to have very little information.”
“True. Tell me how did you know I would visit the reading room?”
“I didn’t. I wasn’t concerned with you doin’ a little readin’.”
“Really?” Ignatius said. His eyebrow arched in surprise. “I confess I had you pegged as the man who set Mr. Mummer and his associate on me.”
“Nope, sorry. I can’t help you there. Not that it matters anyhow. Ya’ll don’t get it. Think!”
Ignatius leaned against the table and stroked his chin. Smoke wafted up from the cigar between his teeth.
“Winifred what do we know about the situation?” Ignatius asked the Policeman.
“He’s targeting the factories.”
“Indeed. Why do that? Is he softening the north for renewed aggression from one of the Confederate holdovers?” pondered Ignatius.
“Maybe it’s personal?”
James Lee laughed a cold hollow sound. Ignatius studied the young man’s face.
“I confess you do have a familiar look about you. Yet I cannot place your face. Tell me at least if we have met before.”
“No, we haven’t met. Nor do I represent any of the freedom fighters. I am pursuing my own interests.”
“Well that should make Colonel Witmore sleep better at night,” said Ignatius.
“Shall I tell you then?” asked James Lee.
“Please do, the suspense is killing Officer Goodman.”
“My given name is Beauregard Lawson Hunley,” the young man said in a hiss.
After a moment Ignatius responded, “I heard that Horace had some children.”
“Do you know him?” Winifred asked Ignatius.
“Not directly no. I ran across his father during the war. I was returning north from my wanderings in the Carolinas, Tennessee and Kentucky. I came across his father and the submersible Horace Hunley was building in Charleston. It was a target of opportunity. Any fool could see what serious ramifications that ship would have if allowed to enter the war. I rigged a simple explosive device. During one of the trials in the harbor it sank taking the senior Mr. Hunley and five others to the bottom.”
“My father was a brilliant man. Do you have any idea what that tragedy did to me? I renounced all mechanical advances. The industrial gains that you extol, just as my father did, became repugnant. It sits with me the same way the emancipation did an abomination. I retaught myself a lifetime of chemicals and natural processes. I immersed myself in anything unrelated to modern technology. Then I found my trump card.”
“You most certainly did that with the Phlogiston. Never before have I witnessed such a well-conceived plan. Until you got me involved that is. I was of course your downfall. Tell me, why would you manipulate the situation in order to have me brought in?”
“It is obvious is it not? The goal was to humiliate you first, destroy your name and reputation beyond repair. I intend on reclaiming my family’s good name. I hoped that the drugs and syringe would start that demise when found in the presence of a policeman.”
“I say, that isn’t right,” exclaimed Officer Goodman.
“Who would doubt the most trusted policeman in all of Harrisburg?” said Beauregard.
“I feel obligated to point out that there was a war going on. Your father did not create the submersible for pleasure trips along the southern coast. If not me then later someone else would have. Or it might have sunk on its own,” said Ignatius.
“I don’t care about alternate possibilities or rationalizations. You did it. And now you will pay for it.”
“I have survived worse than you,” Ignatius said.
“A blithe response won’t save you. I do not intend on doing anything elaborate. Just a plain ol’ bullet in the brain. You’ll probably die quicker than that Negro out there.”
Beauregard spat on the rough flooring next to Colonel Witmore’s gleaming boots. The hammer made a dreadful sound as he drew it back.
“Now Beau, there is no need for violence. Tell him Colonel!” said Ignatius.
Beauregard sneered, but flicked a quick glance toward the Colonel, who struggled to regain his feet. Seizing the moment of distraction, Ignatius flung a two-foot long wrench from the workbench into the Southerner’s chest. Colonel Witmore bellowed unintelligibly tearing a sidearm out of its holster, squeezing of a shot that went wide.
The boom of the Colt Navy was loud in the close quarters. Beauregard’s gunshot went vaguely in the direction of the Colonel. The bullet smashed into the sidewall. Beauregard threw himself backwards as another shot from the Colonel sped past his ear. With the heel of his boot, he kicked the door shut.
Moving quickly, Beauregard shoved a large warped beam in place against the door. Taking a moment more, the southerner ensured that the door was secure. Several gunshots rang out from behind the barricade. Beauregard flinched at the unexpected noise. The sounds of voices cursing came muffled from behind the wall.
Wasting no time the man dove into the rubble and started crawling away from the back corner of the factory. A grimace scarred his face. The outcome was bitter grounds in his mouth. All of his planning amounted to nothing more than a few buildings tumbled upon themselves.
Winding his way back through the tangle mass of beams and flooring, he tried to move faster. Panic swelled in his chest and stomach, creating hot stabbing pangs. A brownish liquid dripped in front of him, splattering when it hit the ground. Despite the discomfort, Beauregard looked at the small pool of fluid that formed.
It smelled like a foundry and was gritty to the touch. Cold realization dawned on the Southerner. The drop was steel suspended in Terra Fluida. Somewhere above Phlogiston ate away at metal. A creaking noise reached his ears. Forgetting about the pain for a moment, he rolled over and looked up. Through a canopy of broken boards and twisted metal, Beauregard could see a steel beam dangling precariously. He saw the Phlogiston eating its way through the end that anchored the steel bar in place.
He scrambled on the floor but found his foot caught on something. Swiveling around he spotted the cuff of his pants snagged some broken metal supports next to the dead worker’s hand. It was almost as though the free man grabbed onto him from beyond the grave. A dreadful snap rang out through the factory, followed very shortly by a wet slap when the jagged tip of the beam pierced Beauregard Hunley’s back.
From behind the barricaded room, Ignatius smiled. Taking his ear away from the wall, he said to no one in particular, “dreadfully dangerous places these modern factories.”