Chapter 16 - Everybody Wears a Mask

@copyright Jean G Hontz 2010




I was sitting in his office when Reggie Browne finally arrived at the New Orleans consulate for the day. When he came into the room I knew in a second he’d been warned I was there, because I’d had the hallway door ajar. My first glimpse of him in the hallway had shown me a man, I’m not sure how to describe it, but focused and determined fits. Determined, intelligent, aware, also fit. But then he’d exchanged words with someone I couldn’t see. He spoke with with whoever it was for a moment, then glanced at his office, spotting me sitting on the edge of his desk. He headed my way.

But the man who came through the door seemed an entirely different fellow than the one I'd glimpsed in the hall. Now I saw the sleepy-eyed slightly lazy Reggie Browne I’d met yesterday. Ah, so that was how it was. Interesting. And good. Because I needed him, and I needed him to be far more than I’d originally thought he was.

“Good morning,” Reggie said as he bowed to me, putting on an air of distracted hoi polloi. “Oh, I see they’ve brought you tea. Good.” He futzed around, rearranging his collar, checked that I didn't need more tea, then finally got himself a cuppa. He sank into the chair behind his desk, and looked up at me, still perched on the edge of his desk. He frowned at that.

I watched him through all of this, allowing a small smile to play on my lips.

He had the good grace to blush. Still he sat back in his seat and took the time to study me over his cup of tea. Then he met my eyes. “What may I do for you, Inspector Rory.”

“You can tell me where Renee LaCroix went after she left us,” I offered, taking a shot in the dark.

Reggie hesitated. He seemed to weigh his options, then said, “She headed straight to the Governor’s Mansion.”

“Look,” I replied, trying to sound quite reasonable. “Can we please stop fencing? You're not quite what you pretend to be, I’m not quite what I pretend to be. Can we just, you know, lay it out on the table?” I tried to make it sound like an invitation meant sincerely, rather than accusatory demand.

Reggie sat back, his eyes suddenly quite alert. “All right. I agree. You, Mr Kevyn Rory are the Crown’s special agent, sent here because of the implications regarding Geoffrey Crenshaw’s death and the importance the government, Whitehall in particular, places on the research he and his sister were doing.”

“And you’re, what? Spymaster for the Consul General?” I guessed.

“More or less,” Reggie replied, with a shrug. “Although I’d appreciate it greatly if you kept that knowledge to yourself.”

I nodded agreement to that. It would gain me nothing to reveal it and it might prove useful to have him seem the bored scion of some degenerate lord, stuck in a low level position because of incompetence. “Did you have a man on the Princess Louisa?” I asked, curious as to just how much he knew.

“Oh yes. He’s very good. You never spotted him.”

I nodded. He was good. I never had. I spet a moment trying to guess, but that was all it would be. Simply a guess.

“Well, I’d best brief you then,” I said after a moment, “on where I am and what has been going on.” I sat back more comfortably.

“Please do, although I believe I already am aware of the highlights of your day yesterday. Unfortunate you so carelessly lost Miss Crenshaw, but from what I hear I’m not at all certain her kidnapping could have been prevented.”

He was good, damn his eyes. “Well, you and your agents might have the chance to test that theory. Richard Ainsworth will be working at the lab today. Alone. I’d like someone keeping an eye on him, just in case anyone shows back up there attempting to either harm him or abduct him.”

“He’s arrived at the lab already.” He shrugged at my look. “I’ve a couple of men on him. I thought it best. And I agree. We dare not risk him being taken as well. Oh, and I understand your hesitation to trust him. But I think we can. He had many opportunities to share what he already knows with his father. He chose not to. So I think, baring a situation wherein he feels he has no option, say in the case of Nathan Ainsworth threatening the life of Harry Crenshaw, he’s firmly in our court.”

“I hope you’re right,” I muttered, still not entirely convinced. But then it had been personal for me, for Reggie it was only a report.

“How is it that Geoffrey Crenshaw was abducted. Weren't you keeping an eye on him and his sister, given the importance of their work?” I asked.

Reggie flushed. Then, after a moment, replied, “My predecessor saw this job a bit differently than do I.”

“Ah,” I replied. And apparently got fired for his pains. I’d have to thank someone for that. I believed I could work well with Reggie now that we understood one another. I doubt I'd have done well with his predecessor.

“So,” Reggie said, getting me out of my thinking place, “what else do you need?”

I thought about that for a moment. “I expect you’ve been keeping an eye on Renee LaCroix for some time. How much of a threat is she?”

Reggie frowned. “Oh, she’s quite good at gathering intelligence for the French. Not involved, so far as we know, in any sort of violence, however. Nor do I see her as allying with the likes of Nathan Ainsworth, at least not unless she's ordered to by her superiors. I dare say she’d find Nathan quite vulgar, even if she clearly fancies his son. No, she’s more likely to work well with men like Richard. Alas that they are on opposite sides.” He paused, then added, “I dare say she finds you of great interest as well.”

I flushed. “Nonsense.”

Reggie just grinned.

“One thing I do need is to distract Jacques Lambert. I assume he’ll be keeping his superiors in the Surite informed and I’d rather he had less rather than more to tell them.”

Reggie nodded. “Agreed. But he's pretty much just what he appears to be. A good detective inspector, but one who hates the politics he’s sometimes forced to play. He won't go out of his way to report on things not directly related to the murder. But he’ll be pushed and prodded to reveal everything, so be careful what you say when he’s near enough to hear. I dare say he’ll not give you too much grief when we attempt to distract him or at least limit his knowledge to strictly the murder. If I read him aright, he’d prefer to be kept out of everything else, anyway.”

I gave that some thought. “Good. I like him. I’d rather not get him into hot water and I’d much prefer to have him as an ally, even a reluctant ally, than as an enemy.”

Reggie nodded. “All right. I’ll manage something to keep Jacques otherwise occupied as much as I can. What else? Do you want me to hang out with you, in my capacity of bored civil servant?” Reggie asked.

“Yes, I would. That will expose you to the details of the case, and perhaps your experience will help me piece things together a bit better. I’d also like you to continue to put on the hoity-toity act around everyone if you would.”

Reggie grinned. “I do it rather well, don’t you think?”

I grinned back. “That you do. Not in my repertoire, alas.”

“No, true. But you do the ‘I’m just a humble Mick’ act quite well,” Reggie retorted as he grabbed his hat. Me, I frowned furiously at him. He only laughed.

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