The Assembler

Chapter 35 - The Facts, Ma'am, Just the Facts

Jean G Hontz

@copyright 2009 all rights reserved

Emmie had never met Ned’s mother. For lots of reasons, mainly having to do with his denial of any real lasting relationship between them, but also because Ned had actively discouraged her from doing so. She’d never liked that, but she'd been willing to accede to Ned’s wishes in the matter. She figured it wasn’t that he was ashamed of her, more that it was the admission he’d let her, Emmie, into his life, and he seemed determined to keep her at arm’s length. Well, he'd almost succeeded. He had, really, until she decided that she was willing to fight with and for him.

Her hands fumbled with the buttons of her blouse as she dressed, fear warring with something else. She was rather astonished to discover she was nervous beyond belief. She was, she realized, nervous that his mother wouldn't like her, wouldn’t like that she wore pants and dug for pots and did all sorts of unladylike things. And worse, that Abigail Black would think she looked down on her, because she’d had a son out of wedlock.

Margot, sharing the room and getting dressed for luncheon herself, saw Emmie struggling and walked over to help her. “Here, let me do those buttons up for you. You’ve had a rough day.”

“He’s probably not dead,” Emmie repeated tonelessly as she watched Margot do up the buttons on the blouse with far more speed than she’d managed earlier. “I’m sure he's not dead.”

“Yes. That is certainly Chief Inspector Rory’s assessment. He strikes me as the sort of man who doesn’t give anyone false hope. So the odds are better than we believed this morning,”Margot replied, more just to be saying something than to be explaining anything at all. Emmie understood things as well as she herself did.

“Ned, if he’s free, will surely contact us now, now that his mother is safe, won’t he?” Emmie’s eyes were huge pools of terrified blue.

“Yes. And he knows Rory’s name because they spoke when we all were in Bermuda. He can call Scotland Yard,” Margot replied, then bit her lip. “If he believes they won't arrest him for treason.”

Emmie groaned. “And why would he think they wouldn’t? They’ve been hunting him for years, haven’t they? Threatening his friends, telling us lies about him.”

“Let me fix your hair,” Margot said, drawing Emmie over to sit at the dressing table. She had no idea what to say about that, so she changed the subject to the other thing she expected had Emmie worried. “Do you know his mother well?”

Emmie shook her head. “Not at all. Cyril’s met her several times. Ned always... I didn't want to push him.”

Margot nodded, making herself busy with Emmie’s rich, dark hair. Yes, that was Ned. Keep everyone at arm’s length, don't let anyone get too close, especially someone he really cared about. He had this annoying need to protect everyone but himself.

“Do you really like Cyril?” Emmie asked, meeting Margot’s eyes in the mirror.

Margot blushed to the roots of her hair.

Emmie smiled. “I’m so glad. You’re just the sort of woman I’d hoped he’d come to love. He needs someone practical as his head is mostly in the clouds. Well, there or in a library.”

“Emmie, it’s far too soon...” Margot protested.

“Nonsense,” Emmie replied definitively. “Cyril’s head over heels in love with you. He's a very nice man, Margot, really he is. I’m not saying it just because he's my brother. He might not be the bravest nor the brightest of men, but he's gentle and true.”

“But he’ll be a Lord,” Margot protested. “He needs..”

Emmie smiled. “He needs you. Father won’t care. Truly. He wants Cyril happy and settled. Would you mind terribly living here in England? He’ll be stuck with the estate, you know. But really, it’s a lovely place. Open skies, green and rich fields, and sunny quite often. Not at all as gloomy as London.”

“Emmie, you’re getting way ahead of things,” Margot protested.

Emmie laughed and Margot joined her. “Yes, I guess I am. But, you see, I've always wanted a sister.”

Margot sobered and fell silent. Her thoughts were not only on Cyril. She did not speak aloud regarding her concerns for Ned, but as she brushed out and arranged Emmie’s hair, her thoughts were on the alchemist. Would Ned accept reality, bow to the truth and accept that Emmie loved him, and that he truly loved her? Would he, could he, finally see that by marrying Emmie he wouldn’t be ruining her life, but instead making a life with her?

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Lord Mallister had arranged for a private room for the luncheon, since when Rory had contacted him, he’d informed his superior he wanted to debrief the group and enlist their help in finding Ned Black.

It was there Emmie, Margot, Cyril, Septimus and Sergeant Lumm gathered for their luncheon. When they arrived Rory and Mrs Black were not yet in evidence, although Lord Mallister expected them at any moment.

Mallister, when he saw her, held out his hands to Emmie. She hesitated at first, then took them in hers. “How are you holding up, my dear?” he asked.

Emmie, who hated to shed tears, found them forming in her eyes. Kindness tended to do that to her. “I’m well. And with more hope in my heart than I'd had earlier this morning.”

“Yes, well, I’m afraid I’m the one who discouraged giving you much then. From almost the moment we arrived at the scene of the explosion, Rory felt that Ned and his machine had escaped the carnage, but I wanted to have more than just a hunch before telling you.

“Since, our lads at the Yard have been over the scene and they agree with him. If The Assembler was ever there, and we’re fairly certain it was, it is there no longer. If it weren't there to begin with, then odds are good he was not even in the explosion. If it were there, well, somehow it escaped, so it is a good bet he went with it.”

“And if he were there, perhaps somehow caused the thing,” Emmie whispered, her heart sinking at the thought.

“No. The lads who understand explosions inform me that it all began with the steam engine and extended to the boiler below the main room. There was weapons fire of some sort. Sparks were set off, steam pipes penetrated and then gas lines that provided the light. Your Ned, Benedict Black, did not cause the explosion. But we can hope that if he were there, he had sense enough to take advantage of it.”

Emmie nodded, glancing over at Septimus who was listening in. “Yes, Ned is good at taking control over a situation. He’s quick at assessing risk and then acting to take advantage of the current state of affairs.”

“That he is, Lady Emiline,” Septimus agreed. “He'd have been actively looking for an opening, and with that great a one, I cannot see him hesitating at grasping the moment.” He didn’t add that if Ned had been shot things might not have gone so well. Instead he just smiled and hoped.

They’d all sat down at table when the door finally opened and Chief Inspector Rory escorted an older woman into the room.

Emmie stared at her openly. She could see Ned in Abigail Black’s face. The same nose, the same wide-set eyes. The same proud stance. She was regal and proud, not at all cowed by the company she was joining.

Abigail Black’s eyes found Emmie and Emmie met hers just as frankly. “You’re the girl in love with my Ned,” Abigail said, no attempt to keep it private, just a statement of fact, made perhaps to clear the air.

Emmie nodded. “I am.”

Abigail smiled. “Come then, child,” she said and held out her arms for Emmie, who, rather amazed at herself, got up and went to her.

Abigail held her tightly for a moment, the both of them gaining comfort through the contact. Then Abigail looked round and skewered Rory with a look. “Where are your manners, Chief Inspector. Introduce me to everyone here!”

“Yes, ma’am,” Rory replied evenly, doing his best not t apologize.

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Abigail had had a few glasses of wine, and she and the rest had enjoyed a most satisfactory luncheon. Emmie and she had become fast friends, lamenting their fates and their torments with regard to loving a man who was driven by esoteric and completely impractical things.

Cyril and Margot, their heads together, seemed a bit lost in the clouds of romance and love. Septimus and Lord Mallister were conferring about practical things like what came next, who did what to whom, and just where Ned might be.

Chief Inspector Rory, with assistance from Sergeant Lumm’s endless notes, had spent the time getting his thoughts in order. When they’d all finished their luncheon, Rory rapped a spoon against his glass and stood. When he had everyone’s attention he began a detailed run-down on everything with regard to the case as it stood now. He covered the details in Bermuda, the men who chased Ned, how he believed Richard Ainsworth had taken Ned and The Assembler. He then summarized events which had only just played out here in London this day.

He gave them a detailed report on what he’d seen when they’d searched the site of the explosion, what he and the rest of the Yard actually knew, and what he now suspected.

They had enough to go on with regard to the bodies found at the scene of the explosion to be fairly certain Ned was not amongst them. Nor, Rory feared, had been Nathan Ainsworth.

He told them of how he’d accidentally found the tunnels that ran under the factory floor and which led back to the Ainsworth townhouse. “I expect,” Rory explained, “Ainsworth bought the townhouse, and the factory when he realized he had a secretive way of moving things. Mostly, I expect, illegal things, from one place to the other.” He then added, “Ainsworth, the way he thinks? There will without a doubt be more secret means of escape. Perhaps not as secure as his tunnels, but he’ll have had a way to get himself out of there safely.”

Rory cleared his throat then and got to the one bit of new news he’d only just learned, the information sent by messenger from the Yard. “I do have the details on one victim, however. Abigail, I’m sorry to be telling you this in public. But I rather think you’ll be relieved to hear it. And, I wanted to be certain.”

Abigail’s chin came up and she nodded serenely to Rory for him to continue. She was, after all, an actress.

“It seems,” Rory then said, “that Charles, Lord Silver, was found dead at the scene. Abigail had already informed me that he and Ainsworth were working together on some sort of scheme involving Ned and his Assembler.”

Abigail nodded. “Indeed. They both dined with myself and Ned last night. The world won't miss Charles,” she added fiercely. “Nor will I.”

“But none of that helps us find Ned Black,” Lord Mallister pointed out.

“True enough. But, given that it seems Richard Ainsworth has been doing what he could to help protect Ned, and, when the occasion presented itself, to protect Lady Emiline, I believe that if we find Richard Ainsworth, I’m fairly certain we’ll find Ned Black.”

 

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