“Bloody hell!” I breathed.
“Putain de Merde,” Jacques was saying.
Richard picked himself up off the floor and turned to me. He met my eyes. I knew what he was thinking. He wondered if I didn’t trust him. After all, it was his father who’d stolen Harry away. And Richard had worked with Nathan Ainsworth during the incident involving Ned Black’s Assembler. I hadn’t trusted Richard then. Did I trust him now?
I reviewed all that had just happened in my head. I could see it as if it were happening all over again. I had that ability, a sort of playback kind of mind, which helped me piece things together and more importantly gave me an edge in finding tiny details that tended to mean a lot when put together with additional information.
I had seen Richard’s face. Given that, I was pretty certain that Richard had been as astonished as either Jacques or I had been when we saw Harry grabbed and taken. Although he’d recognized his father, I believed he hadn’t expected it. Nathan Ainsworth had somehow travelled through space to reach out and grasp Harry Crenshaw and whisk her away. Richard had realized what was happening a beat or two ahead of me, true. But to be fair I had to write that down primarily to the fact that it was his father and Richard knew how Nathan thought. I hoped, and yeah it was definitely a hope, that Richard figuring out so quickly what was happening didn’t mean he'd expected it.
Well, what if he had? He knew his father. Knew his interests. Understood his motivations. Richard might well have suspected, or might even have been pretty sure Nathan would be drawn to the Crenshaws. He might even have guessed that Nathan, once Geoff had been killed, would go after Harry. He might even have feared it. Did that change how I felt about Richard? I'd pass for now. I wasn't quite ready to commit myself, one way or another on that.
“Bloody hell,” I repeated. “I need a drink. And we need a plan to figure out how to get her back.”
Richard watched me warily. Jacques was too dumbfounded to say anything other than a few muttered French curses.
“Nearest pub?” I asked Jacques.
“Oui. Come with me.”
The pub, well bar, was busy even this early in the evening. But we found a table near the back and slumped into the chairs. I was feeling as if I’d been cut off at the knees. Poor Jacques, who’d apparently never seen that sort of science in action before, was nearly in shock. And Richard... Poor Richard. He was glumly staring down at his ale wondering, no doubt, what he had to do to stay away from his maniac of a father. Okay, I was wondering the same thing.
“All right,” I finally said aloud, after we’d each had two drinks and enough time to get our hearts back under control. Well, from shock at least. So far as I knew, none of us were in love with Harry. Yet.
Jacques looked up at me from over his wine, and leaned back in his chair doing his best to look attentive. Richard did not look up. He looked, well, broken. As if this last straw had finally smashed through those nerves of steel.
“Jacques, just to catch you up on the situation, the fellow who kidnapped Harriet Crenshaw was Nathan Ainsworth. He’s on my most wanted list. The British government has put a substantial price on his head, and he tends to be interested in any state-of-the-art science or alchemy, so far as I can tell. He’s...”
“My father, a fully-formed bastard, and sadly, brilliant.”
Jacques, who’d been looking far too confused, seemed to ‘see’ more clearly now that the relationships were out in the open.
“What’s his interest here? Specifically?” I asked, giving Richard my most professional look.
“I haven't been in contact with him since he disappeared in London, so I can only speculate,” Richard replied. He looked as if he expected me to not quite believe him.
“Speculate away,” I said, waving at the serving lad for more drinks.
Richard sat back and gave it some thought before he finally offered, “I expect his interest here is somewhat similar to mine. I also am willing to speculate, hopefully without sounding too self-centered, that my father has found a way to follow my work and has possibly learned about the Crenshaws’ experiments from my correspondence with them.”
I nodded slowly. It made sense. Nathan had wanted Richard to defect with him, defy the British government and steal or destroy Ned’s Assembler. Richard, even back then, had been doing work in a sort of similar area of alchemy, that of exploring ways to move object through space. Ned’s crazy Assembler had done that, even though that wasn't its primary purpose.
So if Nathan’s interest was in that sort of science and alchemy, it only made sense he’d be doing his best to keep a close eye on Ned and Richard both. And thus, due to the connection established by Richard, on the Crenshaws. The problem I had with all of that, was: whose side was Nathan Ainsworth on, besides his own. I had no doubt he'd betray whoever was currently helping him, but it did make a difference if he were allied with someone in it for the money or with some government in it to get a leg up on the Empire.
Was Nathan Ainsworth currently allied with the French? And, extending that thought, did I dare trust Jacques? Jacques could easily be a French agent assigned to keep an eye on us and do what he could, unbeknownst to me, to foil any attempt we might make to retrieve Harriet Crenshaw and her work and move it all back to a territory safely British. Why, he might even know who killed Geoffrey Crenshaw and understand the entire situation far better than I’d been able to piece it together so far.
Then the thought came to me, entirely unbidden: was I really certain Geoffrey Crenshaw was even dead? Could it be a hoax of some sort, so they could hold him, and force him to cooperate with them? But then, why kidnap Harriet? Well, maybe because they’d have to threaten her to get him to cooperate. Or maybe he'd already admitted she was as necessary to their work as he?
My head was spinning with all the possibilities.
I caught Richard’s eye in an effort to convey my confusion not to mention suspicions but I’m not sure he noticed. He was too locked in his own head. Still in shock by the appearance of his father, perhaps. And probably worried, I thought, that I was suspicious of him and wouldn’t trust him. It was at that moment that I decided: I was not suspicious of Richard. I’d seen genuine shock and dismay on his face when his father suddenly showed up. I didn’t believe he could have faked that.
“I do not understand,” Jacques said, shaking his head helplessly. “What happened? How could someone have...” As to Jacques, however, the jury was still out.
“Let us just say that the science or alchemy or whatever it is regarding the movement of objects from one location to another, is familiar to us,” I replied. “Both Richard and I have seen it before, done by someone else, but with, well, very advanced equipment which made it possible.”
Richard stared out at the middle distance then said, “I’ve been advancing some of the methods Ned discovered. I've managed a translational device of my own. Highly guarded at Bletchley Park. I have no idea how my father...”
“He’s got lots of ties still in London. In England and throughout the Empire as well, I dare say,” I replied. “He has financial allies who might be feeding him information, or possibly spies of his own. Or,” I added, staring hard at Jacques, “perhaps another country’s spies are working with him.”
Jacques had the curtesy to look embarrassed, and turned red. “I assure you, Monsieur Rory, I am not, nor have I ever been, associated with such things! Mon Dieu. I never knew such things even existed! Especially not here in Le Vieux Carre!”
I can’t say I believed that. But, even so, I needed help. So I let it go for now.
“Richard, is there some way we can... I don't know. Get Harry back?” I asked.
He met my eyes. “Not certain. I need her notes. And I expect the important ones were taken long ago. Unless...” he said, his eyes narrowing.
“Unless?” I asked.
“Unless she kept copies at home, and hidden well enough that whoever is searching for such things won’t have found them.”
“And what could you manage if we can't find any notes?” I asked.
“I’ll take a look at her equipment. Perhaps I can reverse engineer it enough to understand the principle. Or perhaps marry it to my own work and come up with something. I’ll try it, Kevyn, but I can't guarantee anything.”
“Right,” I replied. Better than nothing. And who could guarantee a damn thing any more? “All right, then. We’ll got to the Crenshaw house and see what we can see, and then we’ll get back to the laboratory. I’m not letting you out of my sight, Richard.”
He looked up, a flash of anger showing in his eyes at that comment. I expect he thought I had said it because of my suspicions of him, so I commented, “We can't afford to lose you too.”
He held my eyes for several heartbeats too long, then finally nodded.
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