What I needed Harry Crenshaw to do was to sit down and tell me exactly what had happened the night her brother was murdered. After that, I needed her to explain in words a mere cop could understand what they had been working on and why someone might want to get his hands on that research.
But I found it hard to ask a woman to tell me, unemotionally, about the murder of her brother and the attempt on her life. It’s me, I know. I’m not used to women like her, or women like Emmie Black or Margot Hollis-Reynolds. Women in my experience were emotional. From the look of things, I’d best get used to the type though. More and more women were taking their place beside men, no longer behind them. And were proving to be just as capable if not more so than men.
I explained all this to Harriet Crenshaw as best I could. She sat there, her lips white and compressed, but not a tear fell, not a word was spoken in anger. She listened to me, took it all in and then nodded.
Richard Ainsworth was with me during this. I’d have preferred to be speaking with Harry alone, but Harry had invited him. I suppose she felt safer with him, since she knew, or at least felt she knew him. Thankfully, Richard had recovered from his shock and now some instinct on his part had led him to move off a way. He stood aside, out of her immediate field of vision as if hoping she’d forget his presence and speak directly to me. I knew she was aware of him, however, just from the way she held herself, and a glance now and again in his general direction. Richard Ainsworth was not the sort of fellow you could just ignore.
When I’d finished explaining what had happened to me aboard the Princess Amelia, and what Richard and I suspected had been behind it, she nodded, now understanding my concern as to her own safety.
She gathered her thoughts, and spoke quietly, determinedly, and with conviction. “All right. I’ll tell you what I can remember. This evening. Not now. I’ll tell you because if someone set out to harm my brother I want him found and punished. I want him off the streets so he won’t harm anyone else ever again.” were her words, said tightly and softly. She wasn’t angry or sad, or anything really. The only sense I got from her then was sheer determination.
“And,” I said once I'd given her time to take some deep breaths, “will you agree to abide by my directions regarding your safety, given the dangers inherent in the situation? No arguments about how you don’t believe you’re in danger?”
She gave that some thought and then replied. “Within reason. I’m not going to sit here waiting for you to find whoever it is who killed Geoffrey. I want to help. I intend to help. I shall help.”
I wanted to argue. To point out that she had no training in self-defense, no understanding of what lengths some men would go to, to gain what they wanted. I wanted to tell her how I could barely stand the thought of her innocence with regard to such things being destroyed. I didn’t. Because I knew, were it me, I’d want to go after them too, and no rational argument would keep me from it. All I could try to do was to make certain that if she did decide to do something dangerous, she’d trust me enough to let me know about it beforehand.
“Deal,” I said. “Partners. The three of us will get to the bottom of this. I promise you that, Harry.”
She just nodded.
Out of the corner of my eye I’d watched Richard off and on. He hadn’t been happy about my agreeing to let her help. But I think he realized then that it was better to have her working with us, than to have her going off on her own, which was my fear if we cut her out of things.
He nodded, and I hoped that was respect I saw in his eyes.
That evening Harry and I walked together through the garden behind the guest house. It wasn’t large, being located in the old part of the city, but it was quiet and private and just the sort of setting I wanted. I wanted her to feel safe and secure, unhurried, so she would be candid with me. I wanted her impressions and thoughts and feelings, not just a cold, impersonal recitation of the events surrounding her brother’s death.
It took her about five minutes once we’d ensured we were alone to gather her thoughts. Then she began.
“We were working in our laboratory. I was tweaking one of our engines. It’s the heart of our research, so I wanted to ensure it was in perfect working order for a test we were planning to do the next day. Geoff was in the other room, at his desk, writing up our latest findings, ensuring we were documenting everything. He’s a lot better at that than I am. He’s... He was meticulous. He used to tease me that I preferred grease on my fingers to India Ink. It’s true. I do.”
“I’ll want to go to see this laboratory later so I can get a feel for how far apart you were,” I commented as she paused. She looked up, met my eyes, and nodded.
“It was storming. We have storms here that come off the Gulf of Mexico. They can be intense. Sheet lightning, heavy rains. We were in the midst of one at the time. The rain was drumming so loudly on the roof that if Geoff called out to me, I did not hear him. Nor did I hear anyone entering the Laboratory. Or the building in general.”
I nodded. She’d already answered one of my questions. Now I wondered if they’d timed their attack to take advantage of the storm, or if it had merely been fortuitous for them.
“I had just finished my task to my satisfaction and was sitting back, pleased with the engine and with myself. It purred. The rain had stopped abruptly for a moment; it happens frequently with such storms. It was during that sudden silence that I heard a noise I did not recognize. A sort of popping sound. Not that loud,” she added, and I could tell she was reaching back into her memories to pull out all her impressions and memories. Good.
“I wondered if the noise mean that something was wrong in the other room. My first thought was that a beaker had broken or that Geoff had dropped something and I wanted to be sure he was all right. Just as I got to my feet, I heard the noise again, and I was certain this time it had come from the office area where Geoff was.
“I started to hurry to him to see... To see if he were all right. Then... well, the power failed. I was left in utter blackness lit only with intermittent flashes of lightning. This too is a fairly common occurrence here. I knew where the emergency torch was and was fumbling for it. As I did so the rain, which had begun again whilst I had searched for the torch, ceased again. I thought I heard a groan in that sudden silence.
“I may have called out to Geoffrey at that point. I don't remember. I’m sorry, but... But I didn't dare go to him until I’d lit the torch and by then I was terrified for him and my hand was trembling. Finally I got the torch to light and I picked it up and began to hurry toward Geoff.”
She took a ragged breath and I sat her down on a garden bench. “Take your time,” I told her gently. She met my eyes and nodded.
“I heard something then. Someone moving. Perhaps someone going through papers as it seemed a rustling sort of sound. Then perhaps someone cursing - words, angy words, muttered, not said. I also thought I heard someone groan again and I was certain Geoff was hurt. I rushed into the other room, and then... then...”
“Then what?” I prompted gently.
“You’ll think I’m quite mad,” she replied, staring down at her hands.
“I doubt that,” I replied firmly. “You’re a rational woman. You don't embellish or imagine things. You interpret things based on reason you regard the world thoughtfully. I've already learnt that about you.”
She looked up and studied my face as if she wanted to ensure I was telling her the truth. After a moment of her close regard, she nodded as if convinced I were being honest with her.
“I saw... Something. More a darkness. Like a cloud, or a patch of deep dark night. There was a man standing within that darkness. I’m certain it was a man; I could tell from his size and his height. He’d been fumbling with something I couldn’t see. He froze when I rushed into the room with the lantern. I saw Geoff; he lay on the floor in a pool of something dark. Blood I now realize,” she said, her voice breaking.
“Yes. And this man, the one you couldn't see clearly, where was he in relationship to Geoff?” I asked.
She closed her eyes as if she were trying to see the scene all over again in her head. “Not directly over Geoff. No. He was off to the side. Geoff was on the floor nearer the desk. The man was... The safe where we keep all our notes was open. This stranger stood near to it. No doubt Geoff had left the safe open whilst he was writing up his notes and preparing to put things away. The man was near there. Oh. He had a sheaf of papers in his hands, I think. I’d startled him. Perhaps he thought I wasn’t in the laboratory and that Geoffrey was alone.”
“Ah. Perhaps. Go on when you can,” I said, putting as much kindness into my tone as I could. I held out my handkerchief, but she refused it with a shake of her head.
“I .. It sounds quite mad,” she replied, her eyes locking onto mine, as if studying them for the merest hint of doubt.
“Tell me,” I replied. “Exactly as you remember it. Even if it sounds mad. We’ll make sense of it, I promise.”
She nodded, then took a ragged breath. “It was as if that blackness I saw around the intruder was suddenly .. It was as if it were seeping into my head. It was.. Awful! A thickness, a sense of horrible emptiness. As if... As if... I can't describe it, but it was as if the intruder could enter my very mind and wrest from it all I was thinking. I... Then there was pain, and lightning flashing and yet more pain. I remember nothing more except pain.”
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