The Assembler

Chapter 15 - Which Side Are You On?

Jean G Hontz

@copyright 2009 all rights reserved

Chief Inspector Rory called in the local constabulary to set a watch on the cave. He wanted to know if anyone at all appeared there, either their missing people or ... or someone else.

Next he sent his sergeant off to interview the Keeper up in the Gibbs Hill lighthouse, not that he expected much to come of that, but you just never knew, He might have seen someone poking around or he might know some esoteric detail that would help them make sense of what exactly was going on.

Then he headed to Ned’s small house in the hills above the caverns, Septimus Marchant in tow.

“I expect there is another entrance or three to the caverns?” the chief inspector asked Septimus, looking round the wild and hilly acres near the bungalow. Now that he knew the workshop was under the hill, there could be any number of caves that fed down to it. Perhaps there even was a secret entry from inside the bungalow itself.

“Oh yes, I’m certain there are. Ned has always been a bit secretive and quite .. Well, not paranoid, but he’s the sort to always have an exit strategy if you take my meaning. And no, I do not know where they are or where they lead to. The main entry is the only one I know of.”

“I see,” Rory replied. As he spoke he’d already begun a systematic search of Ned’s bungalow, even pulling up rugs to look under them for hidden root cellars or secret panels or storage areas.

The bungalow was small, remarkably neat, and quite organized. For a man living on his own, it was not what Rory would have expected. Particularly not for a man as obsessed with his work as Ned Black seemed to be.

Black’s desk was the only disaster area in the place. Rory, looking at it, commented, “Someone’s already looked through his working papers. No doubt through the drawers as well.”

“Yes,” Septimus agreed. “May I have a look. Perhaps I can tell if something is missing.”

Rory regarded the desk first, and then turned to frown at Septimus for nearly a minute. “I understand your loyalties are ...”

“Are not to be questioned,” Septimus snapped. “If I thought for a moment Ned was doing something that would hurt England or the Empire you can be assured I’d tell you. But he isn't. He’s been badly treated, especially given what’s gotten him in trouble with your lot.”

Rory remained silent for several minutes before he finally replied, “Yes, actually, I agree with you. The government botched the Jubilee Plot, it was drek from start to finish. They wanted people to blame. Needed people to blame. Benedict Black, with no patron, no family name, no sponsor, was an easy target. He didn't help himself by taking himself out of the game without a fight. His enemies could claim he was fleeing.”

“Could he have? Fought it, I mean? It seemed to me there was nearly no chance of him clearing his name given the powerful men arrayed against him,” Septimus shot back.

“Yes, perhaps you’re right,” Rory agreed. “Do you know his natural father?”

Septimus shook his head no. “I’ve met his mother. An odd woman but one who loves him. I've never set eyes on his father.”

“Lord Silver is... He looks a bit like Ned from what I can tell never having seen them together. Same coloring, same stubborn set to the jaw. He is wealthy, educated, well connected. He's politically powerful and doesn't hesitate to use his connections for his own gains. And, he apparently hates Ned.

“He’s denied Ned Black is his natural his son despite enough evidence to choke a horse. More to the point for Ned Black, I’m sure, Lord Silver has publicly repudiated Abigail Black, Ned’s mother. Called her names one shouldn't ever call a woman. Especially one who’s borne you a son.

“It was, you might be interested to learn, Lord Silver who pushed the Met into bringing some of the worst charges against Ned Black.”

Septimus was silent for a moment, taking that in. Bad enough to ignore a son he had fathered, worse yet to try to ruin him. “Wretched man.”

“Agreed,” Rory replied. “Nor is Ned or Abigail Black his only victims. Anyone who crosses him runs the risk of retaliation equally severe.”

“But I don't understand. Why would Lord Silver even bother? He's ignored Ned up to now. Why the sudden animosity and rank hatred since that is what it looks like?”

Rory nodded. “Yes, it does look like rank hatred. Why indeed. I ask myself that quite regularly. How exactly has Benedict Black come to be a threat to his powerful father.”

Septimus was surprised by all this, although he told himself he ought not to be. The mean spirit of some men was something one had to come to terms with during one’s life.

But also, he’d never have expected the chief inspector to be reasonable, or even any sort of ally. It worried him. “Tell me. Are you suddenly being so forthcoming because you think to convince me you’re on Ned’s side so that I might perhaps be persuaded to offer you my assistance. And all the while you’re lying to me and hoping I’ll betray him, so that you can hang Ned Black, a young man who’s been nearly a son to me?”

Rory met Septimus’s eyes. “Possibly. One could read my actions and come to that conclusion, certainly. And others might try to do exactly that.” Chief Inspector Rory sighed. “I know of no way to convince you of either possibility before the fact. I understand why you wouldn't just trust me. It’s logical you shouldn't. But, Septimus, if I may... We’re here alone. I could easily deny saying any of this in the event you went to my superiors to report me for insubordination or even accuse me of treason myself.

“At the same time, you can deny having said anything to me in either regard. Even so...”

“Even so,” Septimus agreed. “I suggest we work together to get them back here alive and in one piece. I warn you. I’ll fight for Ned, if you are out to destroy him. But my prime concern at this moment is Margot’s safety.”

“Understood,” Rory replied. “Please. I’m here to find Ned and protect him. I admire the young man. He’s not resentful, despite good reason to be. He’s self educated, and quite brilliant from what I can see. Besides, the Prince Regent wants him protected. I’m to give my life if need be to ensure he makes it back to England with his Assembler, it and him both in one piece.”

“The... the Prince Regent?”

Rory smiled. “The young man is indeed good at keeping secrets. So, do please see if you can make sense of the mess that’s been made of his desk and papers. Any hint about what they are after, who they might be working with, why they are moving now. Anything of that sort would be extremely helpful.

“I’ll handle the rest of the house. Perhaps we can find something, anything, to give us a better idea of what these rotters were planning and plotting. Damn the bad luck they’re all dead. I'd have given much to have one to question.”

“Well,” Septimus remarked, “perhaps luck had nothing whatever to do with the fact they’re all beyond your ability to question.”

Rory looked round and met Septimus’s eyes. “Yes, that thought has also occurred to me. And it definitely worries me.”



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