Chapter 10 - In Which I Practice The Art of War

@copyright Jean G Hontz 2010

 

 

Early the next morning, I left Harry at the guest house with Richard tasked to watch over her. I headed over to speak to my counterparts at the local Gendarme headquarters which was conveniently near the guest house. From there I'd head over to the consulate and check in with them. I confess I was a bit worried that the consulate would insist on saddling me with some hanger-on to handle ‘politically sensitive’ situations. In my experience (granted limited), younger sons of the gentry were, well, less than entirely useful. Well, surely I could slip away and manage to elude anyone incompetent.

When I arrived to speak with the New Orleans authorities at the Gendarmerie, I learned they had Sûreté Nationale officers seconded to them. I was a lot happier to find myself shaking hands with a plain clothes detective rather than some military guy who also happened to be a cop. Those guys take orders way too literally for my tastes.

Inspector Jacques Lambert proved to be a reasonable sort of fellow, to my delight. And, better yet, he a good command of English, which made me very happy as my French was merely adequate and my accent I'd been told was deplorable. The French are rather fussy about how you speak their tongue. They are masters at cutting you dead whilst appearing polite and understanding. I needed to learn that technique.

Lambert greeted me with a certain degree of suspicion, which did not surprise me one bit. We both knew this murder was far more than it seemed and we both knew our governments were, or could soon be, at loggerheads over whatever it was Geoff and Harriet Crenshaw had been working on. The French would claim the science to be theirs because of where we were. We’d claim it was ours because of the Crenshaws’ nationality. Despite all of that, I discovered to my delight, both Jacques and I wanted merely to catch the bloody killers, whoever they were.

The two of us with minimal interference from his superiors, went over what the French investigation of Geoffrey’s death had already found. Jacques’s reports were excellent and although they lacked some of the candid confessions Harriet had just shared with me, but not with them, they covered the most important events. And the details were there to help me along as well. I was impressed.

“Did you find any evidence that whoever killed Geoffrey Crenshaw actually broke into the Lab?” I asked. A break-in would imply a stranger. If not...

Jacques shook his head. “I could find none. My guess is that they were invited in, or merely walked in. No indication that the doors were locked.”

I nodded. That matched what Harry had already told me. But it never hurts to double check.

“This leads me to believe that Monsieur Crenshaw knew at least one of them,” Jacques added.

I had that same thought. Yes, known to one of them at least if they’d been let in, Geoffrey would more than likely have felt comfortable enough with them to be caught off guard. Although I didn’t know that much about Geoffrey at this point, my guess was that he wasn't the suspicious sort. Knowing what I did about scientists and alchemists, my initial assessment was that Geoffrey had tended to take people for what they were, or at least what they said they were. Scientists, in my limited experience, tended to keep their speculation focused on their work and were prone to ignore or overlook odd behaviours even those which might raise the hackles or otherwise worry less cerebral types.

And even if they’d merely let themselves in, I thought Geoff might have not become suspicious until far too late.

An hour or so later I was satisfied I’d gotten what information I could from the reports Jacques had access to. I gave him my heartfelt thanks. The French cop and I arranged to meet at the laboratory later in the afternoon, to once again go over the crime scene and review what we knew.

I then headed to the Consulate, the place I’d most like to avoid.

The Consulate itself wasn’t that far from the guest house where we were staying, or the Gendarmerie. New Orleans, so much newer than London, was compact in comparison. It was a pleasant walk, despite the heat.

The mansion housing the British Consulate, seemed fairly small as such things go. I thought the one in Bermuda was larger, but then perhaps it was just the setting. In Bermuda the climate and the island’s geography tended to stretch things out and allow for larger land tracts around the houses. Here, it was more like a conventional city, if a small one. When I showed the guards at the front entry my warrant card I was informed that I was expected. I’ll bet I was.

I was shown immediately to an office, where a young man who looked decidedly flustered, stood the moment I walked through the door.

“Inspector Rory!” he said far too heartily, holding out his hand. “I’m Reggie Browne. Good of you to stop by.”

Reggie was well scrubbed, perky, dressed far too Englishy for the climate, and looked terrified of little old me. His accent marked him as a Cambridgian. And no doubt his father was Someone. He shoved glasses up higher on the bridge of his nose and squinted at me through them.

I was amused that Reggie seemed to think I had a choice with regard to checking in with the Consulate. News to me. Good news! I might be able to ditch them all yet. Especially Reggie, who no doubt played cricket quite well, but I doubted he could throw a punch. Really, I just wanted to avoid any and all political complications. But, I admitted to myself, it would be a good thing to know that if Jacques was put under pressure by his people, I could count on the Consulate to run interference for me.

“We’ve been instructed with regard to you and your investigation, Inspector Rory,” Reggie informed me brightly.

“Oh? Do call me Kevyn. We’re just working stiffs here together, aren’t we?”

I’d astonished him into silence. “I, uhm... I’m Reggie. Thank you for that honor. Uhm, I was saying that, well, we’re to assist you only, and only insofar as you request it of us. The Consul General himself gave me orders to offer you whatever services you might require. Carriage, assistant, housing. An office?”

“Uhm,” I said, far too surprised to have any sort of idea what it was I should ask for.

“Word came down straight from the Prince Regent’s office, you see,” Reggie explained apparently in response to my look of surprise. “I assure you, we’ll not interfere in the least. We’re available to liaise with our French counterparts and make quite certain you get full cooperation from the local authorities, well, short of creating a diplomatic incident. But otherwise we are to stand aside and stay, I think Lord Mallister put it, ‘stay out of Kevyn’s way’.” Reggie’s grin was quite disarming. I was immediately suspicious.

“Good to know,” I replied with a grin back. Did I believe it? That remained to be seen.

“Tea?” Reggie asked, wringing his hands, as if he were worried he'd already offended.

My new position seemed to be a pretty good thing at this point. “Tea. Why yes, why not. Thank you. I confess I do have a few more questions for you, Reggie. Asking them over tea sounds far more polite than otherwise,” I replied, doing my best to sound completely friendly, open and business-like all at the same time. Apparently Reggie already saw me as in charge. I took a seat, crossed my legs, and sat back quite comfortably.

I waited for the tea delivery, then once we were both tea’d up, I began. “So. I confess to worrying about the political implications surrounding this case.”

Reggie frowned and started to sweat. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

“I’m all ears.”

----

A bit more than an hour later I’d nearly escaped the Consulate. But alas it just wasn’t meant to be. As I stepped out of the foyer onto the main steps, a carriage pulled up with a flourish. It flew the British flag so I knew the Consul General himself was inside. I quickly reviewed what little I knew of him from the briefing papers Lord Mallister had given me.

It wasn't good.

Lord Arthur Mannering was already bellowing for his staff, even before he set foot out of the carriage. His door wasn’t opened quickly enough, the step the footman had put out to help him out of his carriage wasn’t placed correctly, it was muggy and wretchedly hot and would no doubt rain, and how dare the bloody weather ruin the cricket set up for that evening!

I hoped fervently he wouldn't notice me, and that he’d be too busy screaming at the harried looking secretary who exited the carriage on his heels. The poor man was bowing and nodding and madly trying to write notes on a scrap of paper even as he had to nearly run to keep up with Lord Mannering.

I’d stood aside, out of the way, attempting to look like a piece of the furniture. No such luck. The Consul General, with his toadies at his heels, climbed the steps to the residence then halted abruptly as his beady eye fell upon me. He turned to directly confront me where I was standing in the shadows thrown by one of the the large pillars which flanked the wide entry stairs.

“You,” he huffed. “You’re that... that Irishman.” Ah. My favorite curse word.

“I’m Kevyn Rory if that’s the Irishman you mean,” I replied brightly, trying to rein in my temper. It would do me no good at all to lose it. I even gave him a bow, although it grated on me to do so.

“I want no trouble from you, Rory, is that quite clear? New Orleans and the territory in general is already tense enough without you flailing around here causing yet more animosity between the French and us.” He moved to stand close, too close. He moved close to put his face almost up against mine, which didn’t work out quite as well as he expected, I’m sure, as I’m considerably taller than he. He looked offended that an Irishman could possibly be taller than himself.“Am I clear!” he hissed.

“Quite, General Lord Mannering. And I thank you most gratefully for your willingness to assist in an investigation initiated by the Prince Regent himself. I’ll be certain to mention your name to him upon my return to London.”

The Consul General turned bright red in the face. He knew a reminder of his place when he heard one. Oh dear. I’d made an enemy. Therefore I was rather hoping he’d have an apoplexy attack given the fury he was doing his best to swallow. Alas, it was not to be.

He regained control, whirled round and marched off into the Residence without another word aimed at me.

Reggie appeared at my side as if by magic. “I wouldn't get on his bad side, if I were you,” he advised nervously.

“Advice which appears to be too late,” I told Reggie trying to look contrite.

Reggie grinned.

Damn. He was sharper than I’d given him credit for.

“Please. Do what you can to keep him out of my way,” I begged Reggie. Without a backward glance I headed down the steps and into the street before my big mouth got me into yet more trouble.

 

 

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