Chapter 17 -  Never Ask Permission

@copyright Jean G Hontz 2010

 

 

Reggie and I met with Jacques at his office: a tiny room, but at least it was private. We all sat down with the investigation’s notes, the few photographs which had been taken, and the evidence collected.

Jacques mostly sat back and watched me assess the record of his inquiry. I’d looked at them before, but hadn't spent all that much time studying them. This time I was looking for specific things: hints, inconsistencies, things that just plain didn't feel right. I know. Real subjective. But that’s what works for me. I’m not a procedure kind of fellow.

Reggie acted bored of it all, tapping his foot and sighing dramatically now and again. He also whined about no tea, only coffee. But I noticed that despite the act he was putting on, he was making certain to see and assess whatever I was looking at. I admired his acting ability.

Once I’d gone through it all once, I sat back and regarded Jacques thoughtfully. He returned my look quite levelly, apparently without guile. Finally I asked, “Could you tell if the house had been ransacked before the murder? Or perhaps after?”

“No certainty I’m afraid. But one of my men did ask the neighbors if they heard anything.” He was shuffling through the notes as he said it. “Here it is. She reported hearing noises only well after the time we've established for the murder. However, Monsieur Rory, there was a storm that night. Only later did the storm abate. During the storm I do not believe she'd have been able to hear anything that would be useful to us.”

I nodded. I agreed. It had been a long shot. “How about mud on the floors?” I asked, glancing at the photos. I saw no evidence of it, but it never hurts to ask.

“Non. But there was none in evidence at the laboratory either. Nor any sign that indicated either place had been broken into after the storm. Therefore, we conclude both intrusions happened before the storm broke.”

Again, I had to agree. Didn't like it, though. It made my theory, one that would easily explain the lack of mud away as unimportant, more likely. If Nathan Ainsworth had accessed the house and lab in the way he had to abduct Harry, we had no idea what order anything might have happened.

I wasn't about to share any of that with Jacques. I wasn’t sure he had any idea that sort of thing was even possible. And, if he did, would he then report it to his superiors if I trusted him with that idea? Even if it was merely to laugh at the lunatic Irishman who believed people could just appear out of nowhere, I’d rather he didn't speak to anyone else of any of it at all.

At any rate I let that go, and considered the other thing that had occurred to me. “Jacques, how certain were you that the dead man was Geoffrey Crenshaw?” I studied the photo of the dead man, frowning at it.

“His sister identified him,” Jacques replied, his surprise at my question clear. “She was nearly hysterical with grief when we arrived, holding the body and sobbing over it. She looked quite certain to me.”

“And what reason would she have for lying about it?” Reggie asked. He startled me with the question.

I sank back in my chair, resting my elbows on the armrests and steepling my hands in front of my face. I could think of several. If Ainsworth had kidnapped Geoffrey instead, it might be from fear he’d kill him. Or, perhaps she truly believed he was dead and Ainsworth had somehow managed to merely make it look like Geoffrey Crenshaw. Or he’d given him a draught that faked death? Then how would he have gotten the body back?

“Just thinking out loud,” is what I actually said. I paused, then added, “I’d like to examine the body.”

“Interred days ago,” Jacques informed me.

“We might exhume it,” I suggested.

Jacques looked genuinely shocked. “I do not believe, mon ami, we could get permission to do so. Surely not if the only reason is the simple desire of a British police officer to take a look at it.”

I looked over at Reggie and wondered if he'd be willing to break into a tomb that night. I did know that here in New Orleans folks couldn't be conventionally buried. The water table was too high. So at the moment the body of Geoffrey Crenshaw was in a tomb not far from here, and I could manage, I thought, to get into it with the right assistance.

Reggie did his best to look bland and unaware of what I was thinking, but I swore I saw a slow wink. Good for you, Reggie. He had serious potential.

I picked up Harry Crenshaw’s statement and read it over again. “The lights blinked twice. How odd,” I muttered more to myself than to anyone else.

“How odd?” Reggie asked.

“That she would notice. It's awfully specific. Thunder is booming, lightning is striking and no doubt illuminating the lab as if in daylight, so the lights had to be dim in comparison. Why twice?”

“She’s a scientist. Aren't they generally precise?” Jacques asked.

“Yeah, in my experience they are. But.. This statement is taken immediately after her brother is brutally murdered. You yourself said she was nearly hysterical when you arrived. And yet in this statement she’s not emotional enough to, I don't know, say, the lights blinked and I heard a noise? She’s composed enough to remember how many times?”

Jacques sat forward and took another page of her statement and read it through carefully. Then he offered, “You suspect that this statement was coached, n’est-ce pas? By myself or my men?”

And that was the question. Was Jacques or his superiors doing it, or did they write the statement up and she just signed it? Would she have bothered to read it through carefully given she'd just found her brother dead? I thought not. Or, was she dictating a statement as told to her by Ainsworth in order to keep Geoff safe? If so, however, why not simply tell me?

No, I didn't believe it had been Jacques and so I told him. But I did believe Harry had been less than honest regarding what she put in the statement. And, given Nathan Ainsworth's involvement, I had to believe the wretched man was somehow the instigator of any possible deception.

And, now that I thought about it, she never really seemed as if she’d felt threatened in any way. I’d put that down to natural courage, or the usual British aplomb, or perhaps the need to go on to complete what her brother had dedicated his life to. But what if the absence of fear had indicated something entirely different?

---------------

“You want to what?” the New Orleans court official said, his mouth falling open.

“It states it there,” I said stubbornly, poking at the paperwork spread out before him with my index finger. This was my fourth or fifth civil servant gatekeeper and I was getting tired of the whole ‘I’m shocked’ routine I kept meeting. I mean, was the idea of checking on a corpse after additional information was turned up from an investigation so foreign to these foreigners? Really?

“Monsieur. As you can clearly see, I’ve already gotten permission from the British Consulate. He’s British. I’d expect you folks to sign off on this without all the angst,” I replied, my temper getting the better of me. Especially after three hours spent going from floor to floor in the Consulate and having to finally beg the Consul General himself to sign the paperwork. Worse, I'd had to remind him of just who I would telephone if he insisted on saying no. Amazing what knowing the Prince Regent can get you within the power structure of the Empire. And, a call from Mallister saying we were to be given carte blanche hadn't hurt either.

Alas, neither the Prince nor Mallister had proven to be a convincing entree into the good graces of the French government. Obviously the Empire had its limitations.

For several hours now I had been seriously regretting my decision to actually seek permission. I should have, I thought bitterly, just gone to the graveyard after dark and opened the bloody tomb myself. Now, if I tried that though, no doubt someone would be there guarding it. Bloody hell.

I stood there looking down at the official, my feet spread, as if I were patient enough to stand there forever pleading my case, and consequently blocking the folks behind me with no doubt far less controversial requests. And the folks behind me were getting restless and muttering unhappy and perhaps threatening comments.

The official looked up at me, then looked over at Jacques who was with me. Jacques gave him one of those expressive Gallic shrugs which seemed to say, ‘The English. There is no understanding their madness, nor their stubborn minds.’

It took another half hour, and I had to face down yet another official, but then that bureaucrat condescended to make a phone call to the Governor’s office. That took only a moment, and I finally had my permission.

Another delay to get official paperwork done up and then Jacques, Reggie and I were out into the warmth of late afternoon sunshine.

We hadn't heard from Reggie’s people who’d been watching over Richard that anything out of the ordinary was happening at the lab so I was fairly certain Richard was still unharmed. And obviously he hadn't blown up half of New Orleans or even I'd have noticed. So I clutched my precious paperwork and motioned an amused Jacques Lambert to follow me. Reggie was bringing up the rear.

“So who do we have to get to do it?” I asked Jacques as we made our way onto Rue de la Dauphine.

“The coroner’s office,” Jacques replied with alacrity.

“Oh, bugger. We’ll waste another hour or two,” I muttered resignedly.

Jacques laughed. “I know the coroner. She’ll be delighted to do this. It is not something she is often allowed.”

“Obviously,” I replied dryly.

 

 

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