Chapter 11 - The Scene of the Crime

@copyright Jean G Hontz 2010




The laboratory where Geoff and Harry Crenshaw worked was like, yet unlike, what I expected. I’d seen Ned Black’s workroom in his Crystal Cave in Bermuda, which was by far the most bizarre of any I'd seen. And I’d been to Bletchley Park quite a few times to see Black and Richard Ainsworth, and I’d met other alchemists and scientists there. Bletchley Park, the entire place, was a laboratory, really. Some scientists working there focused on theoretical issues, others more practical things like immense engines and devices, and yet others smaller, more compact ideas to modernize the world.

This place was just as busy looking as any lab I’d seen, though, just as crammed full of interesting devices and just as alien as any of those other places. Granted, the machines I saw here weren't nearly the size of Ned Black’s Assembler, but then Richard Ainsworth’s devices were smaller also. This looked more like his sort of field rather than Ned’s.

The building which housed the Crenshaw laboratory was an abandoned cannery from what I could tell. The steam engines that provided power for the place were housed in the basement, as the piping and conduits easily told me, now that I was familiar with such things. The layout was much like the one in the London airship factory where Nathan Ainsworth had housed Ned’s Assembler when Richard had abducted it and Ned.

This place had a surprising amount of natural light coming through rather grungy looking windows. The ceiling wasn’t as high as was the London factory which made sense, and there was no metal catwalk around the main floor, but it looked to me as if the main floor was on the same scale as the London factory. Therefore, much of the open area wasn't in use at the moment, and was sitting idle in shadowy abandon. My footsteps echoed hollowly as I walked through it making it seem even more vast and more deserted and forgotten. Around the periphery of the open central bay there were a series of rooms. Only a couple of these looked to be in use, the others had their doors closed with padlocks on them. The main work floor was by far the largest area and took up perhaps 75% of the building. It was quite neat, given that many scientists I’d seem tended to be messy unless someone came behind them to straighten up forgotten or abandoned ideas.

The Crenshaws had set up a work area under a central skylight. Their worktables were arranged in several separate configurations as if Geoff and Harry each had his and her own separate space, with another one that perhaps served when they worked together. Outside the area where the worktables sat, disparate bits (some quite large) of machinery lay in various states of undress, as it were. I noted an area where gears and other small parts were soaking in buckets of something that smelled like engine oil. Others were in baths of turpentine. Shelving, which looked newish, had been added to one area and held bits and pieces which seemed to have already been cleaned or repaired and perhaps set aside for future use. Equipment, and yet more devices, were spread out on the floor around a large half finished device that looked, well, something I imagined might look vaguely like the internals of a clock the size of Big Ben.

I tore my eyes away from studying the room to look over at Harry, who was standing not far away from me. She was still, seemingly frozen, and I thought for a moment she was swaying slightly on her feet. Her face was sheet white, her lips pinched, her eyes huge pools of emotion. I’d been afraid she’d react badly to coming here again so soon. I’d doubted she was fully healed emotionally from her ordeal. But she’d refused to be left behind. And, come right down to it, she had a right to be here with us.

She turned her head then as if aware I was watching her. She straightened her back, and clenched her fists.. Her lips set into a grim line and she walked further into the room, all determination and glorious courage. “I was in there,” she said, pointing toward one of the rooms along the outer walls. “Geoff was over there. I think he was updating his notes and checking on the state of his work.”

I could see a stain on the scarred flooring near one U-shaped arrangement of work tables. I had no doubt the stain was from his blood. He’d been bashed over the head, and had bled profusely. Yes, I could imagine him bent over his work table, writing in his notebook. Perhaps bent over, examining some bit of machinery, and annotating what he’d been doing.

“Do you generally keep the doors locked? Especially at night during a storm?” I asked.

She shook her head no. So much for my idea that perhaps whoever had killed Geoff was known to him. Anyone could have entered, especially under cover of a thunder storm, and no one been the wiser. We’d not be able to whittle down suspects in that way.

Richard had come to the laboratory with us and was weaving his way throughout the lab, taking his time and looking over equipment and tools. He seemed to be lost in his thoughts, and mostly just trying to take the place in generally. I expect he felt right at home.

I heard a noise behind me then and whipped my head around, suddenly tense and on edge. But it was only Jacques Lambert standing in the open doorway. I'd told him we'd be here and had even invited him to come along. He’d told me he’d join us here.

Harry, too, whirled at the sound, going so far as to raise an arm in front of face as if to protect herself from an unexpected attack.

I said nothing but found the sudden instinctive defensive posture with respect to Lambert surprising. He was hardly an imposing sort. He was short and rather stout, and his face was nearly cherubic, truth be told. He was far from anyone’s idea of a brigand.

Jacques came further into the room and stopped near Harry. He bowed at the waist to Harry, keeping his eye firmly on her whilst he did so. I’m certain he was as surprised as I at her reaction to his arrival. “Mademoiselle. Pardonnez moi. I did not mean to startle you. Monsieur Rory told me you would be here and I came to be of assistance. And to inform him and consult as to the facts of the case.”

Harry backed up several steps, nearly backing up right into Richard’s arms. She sensed him at the last moment and whirled. Richard had reached out, quite instinctively, and now caught her and steadied her.

Her face turned bright red and she pulled away from him, as if his touch had burned her skin. “I’m fine!” she cried, glaring at him.

Richard, thrown off stride by the vehemence in her voice, backed up, dropping his arms to his sides. “I.. I realized you weren't aware I was behind you. I didn't want you to ... to turn an ankle.”

“My ankles are my own business,” she retorted, far angrier about things than seemed reasonable to me. But then Richard was remarkably handsome, or so I’d been told by several ladies. Was she attracted to him and was now angry at herself for being so, so soon after her brother’s death? Or was she hiding something, and the pressure of doing so making her far more emotional than the situation called for?

Inspector Lambert made his way further into the room and ran his eyes across the place much as Richard and I had been doing. “It seems,” he offered after a moment, “much as it was when we came at Mademoiselle’s call,” he informed us.

Harry flushed again and stepped off to the side, putting me between herself and Richard. She glared at Richard then turned her angry gaze on to Lambert. “Hardly the same,” she told him. “Many things have been rearranged. Your police, or your spies, no doubt,” Harry accused, “trying to steal our work.”

Lambert looked startled that she'd made such an accusation. “Miss Crenshaw, I assure you my people have touched nothing!”

“But,” Harry licked her lips nervously, looking around, “someone has.” It was clear she still suspected someone had been into her work.

Richard stayed where he was but asked, “What’s been disturbed, Miss Crenshaw? If you can point to what is different, it may tell us something.”

“Harry! Call me Harry!” Harry reminded him angrily.

“Harry,” he amended contritely. “Have any of your notes or experiments themselves been disturbed?”

She cried out at the thought and hurried toward one of the back rooms, the one she'd indicated was where she’d been working when her brother was attacked.

We followed her, and were standing at the doorway to the room when we heard her exclamation of dismay. I stepped past her to get a clearer look at the room.

It was quite easy to guess where she must have been working when the murder occurred. Tools lay out neatly arranged on a worktable. With them, still in pieces, lay the body and parts of a small device of some sort. I could easily picture her crouched over it, intent on what she was doing, and not perhaps hearing the murderer or murderers enter the lab through the main doors.

The room also contained a small desk. It was in total disarray. Papers were strewn on top of it, and around the floor near it. Some were crumpled as if whoever searched them was angry not to have found something specific. Notebooks which had perhaps been in a drawer, were scattered about, and the all the drawers had been pulled out and lay on the floor, several broken. A cabinet nearby had been rifled and its doors left partly open; its contents were strewn over the floor. Whoever had been here had been quickly searching through everything in the room then casting it all aside when he didn't find what he were looking for.

Harry, who’d stood rooted to the spot where she’d stopped to survey the disaster, uttered a partly suppressed groan and finally willed movement into her feet.

But I grasped her arm to stop her, when I saw her begin to move. “Wait,” I ordered. “Let us look around a bit more first.”

“My work, our work!” she ground out, unshed tears brightening here eyes, and her anger and upset bringing color to her cheeks.

“Yes, I know,” I said gently. “Just a moment, to see if anyone left something that can help us discover who it was. Then you can go through what’s here to discover if anything is missing.”

She studied my eyes, looked a little mutinous, but finally, her shoulders slumping, she nodded agreement.

I stepped forward, aware Richard had moved to stand next to Harry. Lambert followed me, taking a pen out of his pocket which he used to prod at a few piles of papers to see if there was anything under them.

I just looked around, running my eyes over the entire scene. It felt.. Off. As if ... As if it were staged. Something wasn’t right about it, that was all I knew, and that was the only way I could put what I sensed into words. I wasn't sure what alerted me to it, but there was something badly amiss here.

I glanced over at Richard, who was wearing a frown. He sensed it too, I knew. We both turned toward one corner of the room, Richard rushing toward it. I turned to look back at Harry when she suddenly let out a yelp. Jacques drew a weapon.

Someone, a male figure, began to phase into existence directly behind Harry. He was all too familiar. He wrapped an arm round Harry and pulled her into a cold embrace, putting a cloth over her mouth. As he did so his eyes were locked on Richard. Harry struggled against him, trying to pull away but he was too strong for her.

Richard, who was the closest of us to Harry, let out a curse and then launched himself at the intruder, but it was too late. The intruder, and Harry, disappeared. Richard landed where they’d been, sprawling on the floor, clutching at only empty air.

The man who’d abducted Harry? It was Nathan Ainsworth. Why was I not surprised.



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