Awoke refreshed. Unpleasantness of last night seemed to have been forgotten. The Reverend Withrow was nowhere to be seen, but his Imps had set out an excellent breakfast for My Dear and me. I agreed that she could take our carriage to go visiting in town, as I planned to spend all day in the parsonage reviewing cases. But I had hardly begun the day’s work when a courier came in with a strange message from Kale. It read: "I am sorry if I have given you any offense during our brief acquaintance, but if I have I beg you to set it aside and assist us for the sake of the peace of our small town. Inspection of our furnace reveals signs of sabotage. As you have graciously offered to act as inquisitor in this matter I beg you to come to the glassworks and take our evidence. Yr. Srvt., Vincent Kale." It seemed that my efforts to simplify matters had only succeeded in entangling me more deeply in local controversy, but given what had passed between Withrow and me the night before it was too late for me to relent and let him have the reins of the investigation. I accepted transport to the factory from Kale’s courier. Upon my arrival I assured Kale that I had no dislike for him and any antipathy on my wife’s part, if antipathy it really be, was no more than a woman’s flight of emotion, illogical, influenced far more by the discomfort of travel and certain disturbing news from home than by Kale’s own behavior, and probably already forgotten.
The warped furnace was far from ready to be lit again, but most of the glass had been chipped away, and a couple of engineers crouched inside the crucible, pounding away at its inside. We joined the foreman who had been on duty at the time of the explosion and Benediction Dalton, the elder owner of the mine, who stood gazing at the furnace and speculating tersely to one another. The work floor was otherwise deserted, the finished glass gone. Kale pointed out a little bolus of white powdery residue which had been left on the floor. Apparently one of the glassworkers, being a former employee of the mines, had recognized the lumps of matter left behind when they scraped up the glass as the same as were left behind by detonations of the blasting powder that was used to blow up the sides of mountains in pursuit of copper.
"There couldn’t have been more than a gallon of powder in your furnace or your whole operation would have gone the way of Barkley Peak’s east face," the old miner said. "We’d hardly miss a barrel of it up on the mines. The men take great handfuls of it and pack it in mortars. Stack ‘em at the base of the cliff like bricks. We don’t frisk ‘em on their way home, neither; we’re not a gold mine."
"What about on our end, then?" Kale asked his foreman.
"It’s only works gangs that strike the kegs and grind up the stones," the foreman said. "Ain’t no gang of men could agree in secret to set a hazard like to kill or maim their fellows. But I known stones to come in blasted d__n near to powder already. Could be some miner spied some ore he thought precious, he swapped it out for a kegful of blast powder left unguarded, and our men never saw no difference."
"You and me both know every stone we sell ye for pigment, and I know the blast powder. Ain’t no fool could mistake one for the other," Dalton snapped.
The foreman thought about this, unhurriedly. "Then somebody poured that powder down the pipe and run off fast. It would a heated to burn in a couple three minutes."
"One of the men poured it in while we were touring the pigment room, knowing he wouldn’t be recognized behind his mask," I said.
"This is your fault," Kale said to the foreman. "You said the men wouldn’t work the pigments without full facemasks."
"And so they wouldn’t," the foreman said.
"If we can’t identify the person behind the mask, perhaps we ought to consider who had a motive for the crime," I said. Kale and the foreman had been staring at one another in a contest of wills, but now all eyes turned on me.
"I will speak with the widow," I said. Kale was kind enough to grant me the use of his carriage once again for the journey to Riley’s plantation.
- ▼ 2007 (10)