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The Phlogiston Precariousness: Chapter 8, Scene 2

Several hours later the sun was dipping toward the horizon, an orange and red blob, smudged by wispy clouds. Ignatius and Colonel Witmore rode across the covered bridge that led from Harrisburg to Forster Island. The steel coach wheels rattled across the timbers of the bridge. On the western side of the island was another bridge, which brought them to the foot of a hill. On top Fort Couch perched. The garrison commanded the view of the river, railroads and stagecoach routes surrounding Harrisburg.

Constructed in the later part of the Civil war to defend the city from encroaching Confederate forces, Fort Couch presently served the Colonel as his base of operations. Ignatius’s mind raced over the events of the last few days. The part for him that demanded attention was the secret room in his own factory. It disturbed him that someone felt confident enough to construct a clandestine workspace and decorate it with fanatical slogans promoting machines over humanity.

“Sanderson, I would very much like to have that component sent over to my workshop at Wyndfast. I can better study it there with the proper tools.”

“I happen to think that my Metallurgists and blacksmiths would be best suited for this job. Don’t forget, there is still a ‘Colonel’ attached to the front of my name.”

It had taken them a while to pry open the door and make their way back out to the factory’s entrance. Office Goodman had stayed to take care of Beauregard Hunley’s remains, while Ignatius and Colonel Witmore visited his apartment. They found a coded notebook, a daily journal of no real significance and a trunk full of chemical research and a considerable amount of gold.

The research centered on gases trapped in shale formations. It explored the properties of it, how best to extract it and more telling the possible uses for it.

Ignatius tried a different tact, “if you allow me to examine the component I can see how it ties into what we found at Beauregard Hunley’s place.”

“I don’t think it’s relevant. Probably just a side project to amuse himself with,” said the Colonel.

“What of the graffiti on the walls at my factory?”

“What of it? Like I said before, likely just the ramblings of a disgruntled employee. You want something to work on. Then run those items down. What is so special about the natural gas that Mr. Hunley was researching, break the coded notebook and find out how and why someone built a secret room in your own building. Leave this,” said Colonel Witmore patting the mechanical part, “to me.”

“I feel capable of taking on that piece as well.”

“I won’t hear another word about this. You just get me a list of items to restock your workshop. And get started with the other tasks.”

The carriage halted at the timber gate of the fort. A soldier stepped forward to challenge the coach. Colonel Witmore stepped out saying over his shoulder “just work on those things, and I will be in touch shortly. Keep me up to date.”

He saluted the soldier and strode through the gates. Ignatius sat back against the leather cushion twirling his cane between his fingertips. He rapped it against the floor three times and the coach lurched forward, then swung in a tight circle and headed back the way it came. The Colonel climbed the rough stairs cut into the hillside leading him up to where his office was.

Looking over his shoulder at the river, the view remained impressive. Harrisburg on the opposite side of the river glowed orange in the sunset. On the island, a berthed pair of airships disgorged their cargo and took on more lift gas. Two soldiers stood post at the entrance to his office. From inside a lamp flickered casting yellow light out of the window.

“Sorry sir, we would not have let him in, but…” said the corporal on the left.

“Seeing who it was, we thought you’d understand,” supplied the private on the right.

Colonel Witmore swung his door open. Mayor Hirsch sat behind the Colonel’s desk with a sheaf of papers in his hand. The Colonel pushed the door closed behind him and frowned at the Mayor.

“You do realize that you are committing treason don’t you?”

“Bah, don’t talk to me of treason,” said the Mayor waving papers at Colonel Witmore. “You’ve been holding out on me.”

“Baron,” said the Colonel, “I haven’t the foggiest notion what you are talking about.”

“Don’t try to deny it, look at these reports,” growled the Mayor.

“I have, seeing as they were on my desk.”

Sanderson Witmore sighed inwardly. The Mayor’s overblown sense of self-importance was going to wreck his investigation, like leaves before a hurricane. The Colonel put the unknown device on the table to his left. Covered with maps and several thick books the table rarely contained food. Several bookcases lined the far wall and three safes stood behind the Colonel’s desk. Sanderson stopped next to the mayor, placing his hand on the chair.

“If you don’t mind,” said the Colonel.

The Mayor heaved his massive frame out of the wooden chair and came around to the other side of the desk.

“Baron, what is it that you think I have been withholding?” asked Sanderson.

“For starters the number of agents you have running around my city.”

“I needed some people in place to guide our somewhat reluctant agent in the right direction. Which reminds me, how is Mr. Mummer doing?” asked Colonel Witmore casually.

“As if I cared how that fool is. He botched a job, and I shan’t be using him again anytime soon.”

“That job wouldn’t have taken place on Boas Street would it?”

“Actually no, up on Allison Hill, why?”

“No reason,” replied the Colonel. Interesting, he thought, Mr. Mummer is going to need watching over. He is working for multiple bosses. I will have to update Lorenzo’s mission parameters. “Thanks for the tip on Rabbity Stotes, he proved useful.”

Baron Hirsch laughed, “I thought you might like him, nice and susceptible to either threats or bribery. Which did you employ I wonder. No matter,” he said waving a dismissive hand. “The real reason for my visit concerns Mr. St. Eligius. I cannot have him loose on the streets. This investigation proves that.”

“We brought him out of the hospital to solve the mystery, which he did,” said Sanderson.

“True, but it appears that we were manipulated into acting by that Southern scum Kranston.”

“Hunley, in actual point of fact. I am afraid I disagree with you on this. While I must concede, your summary is correct: Ignatius’s release was part of a greater plot. We successfully ended the threat.”

“At what cost man?” blustered the Mayor turning red and pounding on the Colonel’s desk. “No less than three factories demolished, which is going to impair the city’s productivity. The cost and time it will take to rebuild has to be factored as well.”

“Then you factor it. I am in the middle of a much more important investigation. You could dump all of your factories into the canal for all I care! Someone is planning a history-changing event. That much I know. My instinct tells me that Ignatius is the man for the job. He just needed a little dusting off and propping up this time. Having been in jail for several years tends to take the edge off an agent.”

“What’s this noise about? I have heard nothing from my spies regarding anything threatening the city.”

“You wouldn’t have. For once, try to imagine that there is more to this country than your city. There is a bigger concern, and it is that concern that I am attempting to protect. We are still in a fragile place after the war and assassination. I will not let us backslide into another war amongst ourselves.”

“What noble aspirations you must have Colonel. The city of Harrisburg is at present in a state of flux. Industry is booming and the Governor and state assembly are relocating here. There is ample business opportunity for those quick enough, strong enough to take what they want. I intend on taking all that I want from this city. Having Ignatius St. Eligius freely roaming throughout the city goes against those plans, because he represents a shift in power. People used to like him quite a bit. I need him to remain out of the way, permanently.”

Colonel Witmore thought for a moment, stroking his goatee before replying. “Your main concern is gaining power and wealth. In order to do so you hire a gang to remove Mr. St. Eligius. When that failed, you tried and convicted him for taking revenge, which I am sure you hoped he would. I have these facts in my files. What isn’t documented are your reasons. It becomes clearer now that we are having this conversation.”

“The man is a danger. You’ve seen that war machine he built!”

“Yes, we’re still trying to replicate the drive and ammunition feeding systems.”

“HE IS UNCONTROLABLE!” bellowed Baron Hirsch.

“Granted when left his own devices he can get himself into trouble.  What would you suggest, short of death or throwing him in jail?”

“Distraction I suppose. Keep him so busy with other tasks that interfering with the running of the city will not occur to him. He has this mistaken belief that the city is his in a romanticized fashion. That he is the sole protector and the only one fit to know what is best for Harrisburg.”

“Strange, people say the same about you.”

“The difference is that I am a duly elected official, while he is a delusional businessman.”

Colonel Witmore scratched his head. “This is a tricky problem. I need Ignatius and you need him busy… Fine… I know exactly what case I will have him investigate next. Fortunately, it will take him out of town for a while. Pittsburgh in fact.”

“You’ll need more than a single case to keep that man distracted,” Mayor Hirsch said.

“You are right Baron. I think I know exactly what to do. The timing should be about right. Allow me to reiterate Mayor, the deal is that you do not get in my way. That includes Mr. St. Eligius. I will do all that I can to keep Ignatius preoccupied. Just don’t go stirring up trouble. You would be wise to remember that I can end your political career just as quickly as I created it,” said the Colonel.

Mayor Hirsch nodded and rose out of his chair. He smiled broadly at the Colonel, “Here Colonel, why don’t you have a cigar to seal our little gentleman’s arrangement. It is a pleasure doing business with you.”

The Mayor pulled out his cigar case and offered it to the Colonel. The Colonel took the entire case and saluted the Mayor with it.

“Thanks, these are terrific. Why don’t you run along now, I have a lot of work to do tonight.”

“My cigars?” asked the Mayor.

The Colonel simply ignored the politician and lit one of the cigars with a wood match. He tucked the he case into his uniform blouse. Sanderson waved his hand in dismissal. The Mayor curled his lip to retort, but then thought twice about it and stormed out of the office giving the door a slam for good measure.

“Winston, come in here,” said the Colonel.

A slender man entered the room from a side door. He wore a modified Union army uniform and moccasins. A long knife hung by his side.

“Winston, I need you to do a few things for me. First, take this note to the train station and have a telegraph sent to the address on it. Make a note to ratchet up the surveillance of the Mayor and his office. I don’t like his avarice. It’s too much for three people, let alone one.”  

The Colonel handed Winston the letter, which he took from his shirt pocket. “Then take this dossier around to Wyndfast for Ignatius. Let him know it is his next assignment. While you are out, head up to the Hill and see if you can find out anything on a Mary Kendall. There are whispers saying that she is in the central Pennsylvania area. I would like to know if that is true. Dismissed.”

Winston saluted, gathered the folder and tucked it into a pouch that went around his shoulder.

“Winston, try to be a little more discrete than last time. No easily found causalities, all right?” said the Colonel.

The man called Winston gave the Colonel a flat stare, but nodded in agreement. He quietly walked out of the office, leaving Colonel Sanderson Witmore to puff reflectively on his cigar.

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