We proceeded directly to the Crenshaw house next. It had been ransacked as we’d expected. Paperwork was strewn all over the study, the desk drawers lay in pieces as if they were searching for hidden compartments. It reminded me all too much of Ned Black’s place on Bermuda. Had it been Nathan Ainsworth here? The police had gone through the house right after Geoffrey’s death, Jacques told me, and he also said it had been turned over when he’d seen it. He couldn't say, however, if it had been searched again. Given the mess, I completely understood why he was reluctant to say.
Considering all of that, I doubted we'd find much that might prove useful, but we looked anyway. And Richard gathered up what he could. Papers, drawings, small notes he found amidst the detritus on the floor. He searched diligently. Finally he bundled up what he’d found, determined to go through all of it more thoroughly and more leisurely.
Then, just before we were ready to leave, I suggested we go through the place once again, this time looking for any possible hiding place where Harry and/or Geoffrey might have kept their most valuable documents. I was hoping, probably unrealistically, that whoever had searched the house had been in too much a hurry, and had had no idea where to actually check.
I wasn't particularly hopeful about this as in my experience cerebral types didn't generally think in terms of anyone breaking and entering, but it wouldn’t hurt to give the place a more in depth look round.
I confess, as I searched I thought about Harry. I wasn’t, I realized with some surprise, in that great a hurry to get Harry back. Not because I didn't want to, you understand, but because I believed I understood Nathan Ainsworth, based on our encounters in London.
He’d kidnapped Ned’s mother, back then, in an effort to force Ned to cooperate. Although he’d held her against her will, and there were at least implicit threats, He’d never harmed a hair on her head during her ‘ordeal.’ No, Nathan Ainsworth was not a thug. His preferred methods were persuasion and bribery. He resorted to violence when he felt threatened and saw it as his only option. Or so I hoped.
On the other hand, it was quite possible that whoever he was working with might be less reasonable. How desperate were they? Would they have Nathan’s patience? Might they torture either Harriet in order to make her talk? Make her tell them whatever it was about her and her brother’s inventions that these people wanted to know? Even perhaps force her to create anew the invention and make use of the translation device for their own purposes?
Because of that possibility, I certainly didn’t want to waste time in rescuing Harriet, but I did want time to consider all the myriad possibilities and dangers an attempted rescue might entail. And I wanted to plan as deeply and as carefully as I could, any actual move against Nathan Ainsworth and his possible allies.
I doubt I was much help in searching as my mind was pretty much occupied. Nor was Jacques of much help. That brought it down to Richard, who did not disappoint. I knew him to be brilliant. I just hadn’t expected him to be practical as well. Thus it was he who found the most important and useful cache of papers we could possibly hope for.
He explained to me that evening how it was he'd even looked where he had. As he’d walked through the house and grounds, he’d remembered something regarding the garden from his correspondence with Harry. She’d mentioned how much she enjoyed spending time outside, and that she generally took time each afternoon to write up her and Geoff’s notes sitting in the shade of the gazebo which sat at the far end of the garden, off on its own. He’d seen it whilst wandering around thinking about her, and he’d checked it. It had been left entirely untouched earlier, whoever had been searching had apparently been ignorant of this particular habit of Harry’s. Richard had pictured her there and after looking over the simplicity of the gazebo he’d looked in the only place that made sense. Just above the table she’d used for her writing, he’d found a loose board up near the ceiling. She was quite tall, so it would have been within her reach if not within the reach of most women and many men. Behind that loose board, Richard had found, wrapped carefully in waterproof materials, a treasure trove. There, annotated in neat and precise writing, were both her and Richard’s work notebooks.
I gave thanks to the gods of Suspicion and Mistrust that Harry had proven a bit more practical than I’d given her credit for.
Richard’s eyes lit up the moment he opened one of the notebooks. I knew we'd found something useful. At last.
By the time we’d found the notebooks it was quite late in the evening. Richard and I headed for the guest house. He was clutching the notebooks as if he were afraid mere shadows could steal them from his hands. Or perhaps he was afraid I might.
Jacques had left us. I was still unwilling to trust him totally, and explained my concerns and doubts to Richard. He looked surprised at first, and then weary. “It’s .. I just want to create wonderful things. How it always comes down to secrets, and some mad scramble for a perceived advantage by some government, or some industrialist...I ...” Richard shook his head in dismay.
“I know. I understand. But, Richard, you can't hide your head in some hole and pretend the world is kind and gentle. You have to evaluate and imagine how others might be tempted to use your discoveries and devices for advantage in some way. Can you understand what I mean? Can you accept the desire to possess such things? And the fear that someone, the wrong someone, will use that power for evil?”
He looked over at me, but said nothing.
We arrived at our lodgings then and were treated to a late supper by a most understanding proprietress. We didn’t share with her what had happened to Harry, thinking it best to keep that as quiet as possible.
After we'd eaten, Richard excused himself. He went directly up to his rooms to peruse the newly found notebooks, I was certain. Me, I went out into the warm and humid evening, to sat on the comfortable veranda that gave me a place to forget the day’s events and some time to enjoy the scent of exotic flowers in the rich and lush garden. The wind sighed through unfamiliar trees and bushes, the breeze making the evening seem cooler than it otherwise might. Frogs croaking and an owl hooting, such familiar noises, made it all a bit less alien and far more inviting.
Our hostess, Madame Louisa Lafitte, joined me after perhaps a half hour, bringing me a glass of the apparently favorite beverage of the area, a mint julep. It was odd, but strangely appropriate.
“You look tired, Monsieur Rory. And somewhat sad.”
I sat there sipping my drink and looking out over her garden, thinking of the talk I had had just this morning with Harriet regarding what had happened to her brother.
“It’s been a long day,” I replied finally. “And not a very satisfactory one.”
She nodded. “I see. You are a policeman, non?”
“Oui. I am.”
“There must be far too many difficult days for one such as you.”
I nodded agreement. “But there is always hope that I can right a wrong, or find and deal with someone so no one else suffers.”
She was quiet, swinging on her swing, and sipping her drink. After some time she finally offered, “Perhaps I should tell you something.” Her voice told me she'd been pondering this bit of knowledge for some time, and that she was still unsure as to how I might react to it.
“Please do, Madame. Anything you have to say will be of interest to me,” I replied, turning my full attention on her.
She hesitated, then offered, “We here in New Orleans do not much enjoy being at the centre of a maelstrom. Intrigue and secrets and possible wars. We wish only to be allowed the freedom to live our lives in peace.”
I nodded. I completely understood. “I sympathize,” I replied. “I’d like nothing better than for you to see no such things. But there are men who seek advantage. And your city, and this territory ... They are a very wonderful prize.”
She muttered a mild curse. “And you are one of these men, who see us as a prize?”
“No!” I protested. “I’m here for one thing. I simply want to find out what happened to Geoffrey Crenshaw and protect Miss Crenshaw.” I fought back a stab of self-hatred. I’d already failed at that.
“I see,” she said and fell silent again. We listened to the sounds of the night for some time. The creak of her swing was a regular addition to the other natural sounds of the nighttime.
Finally she offered, “There was a man here, today. He asked after you. I told him I did not know where you’d gone. I asked for his card or his name. He refused to provide either. Since then, I’ve seen him walking along the street. He seemed to be watching the house. Be careful, Monsieur Rory. I do not believe this man means you well.”
“What did he look like?” I asked.
She did her best to describe him but nothing at all stood out enough to help me figure out who he was. He could be anyone I’d seen or someone I’d never seen.
“I believe he works for the Gendarmerie. Something in the way he walks,” she added. “Military, comprendez-vous?”
“Oui.” I swallowed. “I thank you for sharing this with me. And for the warning, Madame Lafitte. And I promise, I will do what I can to keep him and anyone else away from your guest house, and ensure you are not in any way in danger.”
She shrugged, as if that last were of little or no import.“Just do not get yourself or Monsieur Ainsworth killed here, mon ami. I have no interest in having my garden and house haunted by your restless spirits.”
She got up then and smiled a sad little smile. She excused herself politely saying she was turning in. I watched her walk away.
I sat there for some time, staring out at the night and wishing I were still a simple inspector who didn't know a thing about spies and mad scientists and even madder industrialists who cared nothing for the people who got in their way.
I got up and walked in the garden, making my way to a partly secluded bench near a small fountain. I looked back at the house. The lights of the room I believed Richard to be in were burning brightly. I expected he’d be awake nearly all night lost in those notebooks.
Me, I expected I too would be awake. But alas, for reasons other than anything productive. I’d be merely tense and nervous and waiting for the other shoe to drop. It always did.
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