As feared, I’d spent the night mostly awake, tossing and turning. I could not manage to shut my thoughts off. My mind was awhirl with what had happened over the last few days, and it was determined to review every moment in an attempt to make some sort of sense of it all.
Not everything is connected, not everything actually makes sense. This I know. But I’m a creature of logic and thought, and I’m always attempting to look for some significance in things that might not actually contain even a kernel of truth, let alone a dollup of logic. As for significance, well, it might be significant, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is related to what you think it is related to.
In other words, I was probably spinning my wheels. But still, most of how I came to figure things out in my job was by letting my subconscious mind do the actual thinking, and letting my body do what it could to keep me alive and save others who could possibly help me. Alas that the subconscious was currently intent on making the life of my body miserable.
My eyes were bloodshot and I looked a wreck by the time morning arrived. A bath, a shave and clean clothes hardly helped. I stared at the finished product in the mirror. Yeah, it was me. And with luck nothing of what was going on inside would show up on the outside. I had a pretty good game face, so long as you didn't know me all that well. Although the hollows under my red eyes might give anyone pause.
I wondered, as I prepared to head down for breakfast, how Richard had fared with his own search for answers. Had the notebooks he’d found in the gazebo helped? I hoped he'd at least gotten some sleep. Surely he’d have an idea or two, since the science that was driving the action was his sort of thing. His field, not mine. I got paid to figure out who was the bad guy, who we could trust and how to keep secrets safe. Oh and to figure out how to rescue the damsel I had so incompetently lost last night.
I opened the door of my room and involuntarily jumped. Richard was standing there in the doorway, a hand raised to knock on my door. He looked as startled as I did.
“I need to speak with you,” he began without preamble.
“Not even a bright comment regarding what a lovely morning it is?” I quipped to give myself time to recover.
He ignored my comment and just held one of the notebooks he'd found yesterday in the gazebo. In his other hand he clutched what appeared to be a handwritten letter,
I stepped back and motioned him to come on in. I’d have preferred to do this over a pot of tea or coffee but he didn't look like he wanted to wait. Besides, it was probably something sensitive enough we should speak in private at any rate.
He all but shoved me aside to come hurriedly into my room. He securely shut the door behind himself and took a deep breath once he'd done so. I noticed he was still wearing the same clothes he'd been in the night before. He hadn’t shaved, his eyes were more bloodshot than my own, and his hair was a rat’s nest as if he'd kept running his fingers through it to push it off his face.
He headed straight over to my bed and placed the notebook down almost reverently, smoothing the open pages as he did so. It was open to a page somewhere near the halfway point of the notebook. Once he’d done this he turned to me and waved the letter he was clutching so tightly under my nose.
“Take a deep breath,” I advised him. “Explain things carefully and slowly as if you are speaking to a small child. I haven't had coffee yet.”
“This,” he said, waving the letter around again, “this is why I went to the authorities. This is why Mallister contacted you. This is why I asked specifically for you,” he explained. “This is why I insisted we come here in person and that Mallister not just use his assets already in place here.”
“All right,” I replied doing my best to sound soothing and agreeable, as his voice had just an edge of hysteria rather than merely excitement in it. “Tell me more. And let me read the damn letter.”
“It was sent by Harry,” he replied, his voice tight. “I received it the day before I rushed to London to talk to Mallister. It is why I went to Mallister first, before coming here on my own.”
Hmmm. I was unaware he had entree to the palace and such intimate contact with the Prince Regent’s most trusted aide.
Richard knelt down beside the bed and I got down on my knees beside him. He laid the letter on the bed beside the notebook and carefully smoothed it out.
I read it where it lay:
I’m becoming more and more concerned. I feel there is someone watching us. You’ll think me quite paranoid, I dare say. But as you know, this work is sensitive and my brother and I in a rather precarious situation. If we could do this elsewhere, trust me, we would. But New Orleans is essential, and so we remain.
Given all of that, there is something I’d like to ask of you. I beg you to keep the enclosed paper safe. Should anything happen to Geoffrey or myself, I want you to have it. Show it to no one you cannot trust with your life.
I looked over at Richard. It was, I realized, Harry Crenshaw’s handwriting. I recognized it from the paperwork we'd sorted the day before. I had to admit, the writing didn’t look female in the least. No wonder he'd thought her male.
Then he reached into his pocket and produced a small piece of paper. He unfolded it and held it out. “This is what she sent along with that letter. I’ve kept it with me ever since.”
I reached out for it and sank back down on my haunches. I studied the paper. On it were several lines of letters and numbers. They made no sense to me. I couldn’t see any sort of pattern even. I assumed, just looking at them, they had to be some sort of code.
“We could have asked Ned...” I started to say.
“I did,” Richard replied, interrupting me ruthlessly. “His Assembler was still working on it when I left Bletchly Park. So far as I know, it still is. It isn’t any sort of known code. Nor could Ned explain what it was. I was at a loss, as was Ned, so I went to Mallister and here we are.
“But now... Now I think I understand it. And I believe I know what it means, and why Harry sent it to me in the first place. And.. And I think I can use it to get Harry back,” he added, all in a rush, his breath unsteady, his eyes boring into mine.
“How?” I breathed. I realized only then that I’d been holding my breath, hope rising up in my treasonous breast.
He looked away from me thenn and returned his attention to the letter. He pointed at the cryptic lines. “This is the key to translating the notebooks. That’s why Ned couldn't break it. It doesn't mean anything. It’s merely the key to understanding the notebooks, not a note in any cyper itself.”
I stared at the notebook pages open on my bed. Finally I asked, “ But how can it be the key? These are ... Well, they’re just ... Just numbers. The key ought to contains letters too, don’t you think?” I don't claim to be a cypher expert but I did have a little experience with them.
“No, you’re looking at it all wrong. As would most anyone, other than an alchemist, or perhaps a mathematician. Ned didn't know about where it had come from, or he might have made the leap. I didn't until about an hour ago. But now...”
“But now... And you believe you can use it to decypher the notebooks and then we can find a way to get Harry back?” I asked urgently.
Richard nodded, his eyes wide and locked onto mine. “Geoff, Harry and I were collaborating. I know where their assumptions regarding the science began, and I know how they were proceeding. I didn't know the details, granted. And true, my run at the same problem was only smiliar and diverging as it went along from theirs.
“None of us were sure what would work, you see. So we felt a coordinated but varied assault on the problem would provide us enough data and experience to finally develop a device that would work. And whilst developing it we could finally understand why certain geographical areas were so much more prone to convergence. With these notes, and with what there is in the lab, I believe .. Well, I do believe it will give us enough so that we can get her back. No, I’m sure of it,” Richard said lastly, his wide intense eyes locking onto mine.
“You really believe that,” I said.
He nodded vigorously.
I knew he was brilliant. I'd seen it. He was more intellectual than tinkerer, but I did believe if anyone could grasp the concept in its entirety and understand all its implications, it was he. As to building the device, well, I sincerely hoped he could.
“All right. Listen, though. I don’t trust Jacques.”
Richard nodded. “Nor do I. You keep him away from the lab and ensure me some privacy. I’ll handle things there.”
I frowned. I didn't like it, Richard being there alone, without me there to protect him, without backup. For one thing, what was to stop Nathan Ainsworth from showing up and abducting or even killing Richard? And, did I actually trust Richard to stay on our side and not be seduced away by his father’s silver tongue? I bit my lip.
“I knew it,” Richard said bitterly, apparently reading my hesitation and doubt and thinking it was all with regard to my trust in him. He got to his feet, turned away and was heading to the door before I could open my mouth to explain. He slammed the door shut behind himself but I still heard his footsteps on the stairs. He’d been so upset he’d even left the letter, the key, and the notebook on my bed.
I scooped them all up and shoved them into my coat pocket. I followed him, nearly running, taking the stairs several at a time. I could hear voices in the front parlor. Female voices, and then Richard’s far deeper reply.
I hit the bottom of the stairs and hurried round the corner. Then I froze. There, just inside the main entry door, looking positively fabulous and smiling sexily at Richard, who looked waxen as he stared at her, stood Renee LaCroix.
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