With play time over, Archerd and Inspector Hew left to walk the distance to Archerd’s first recommendation. The day was promising to be another scorcher, though it was early yet and the heat hadn’t reached its peak.
“First we should talk with Werian Lukey.”
“Another inventor?” Hew walked with the long, easy stride of someone who practiced out of necessity.
“No, not at all. Junk dealer. I frequent his shop on occasion myself, though I usually prefer to make parts that I lack. He has no shortage of people willing to buy his wares around here however.” While inventing wasn’t exactly the region’s specialty — that would be mining and refining — there was an air of invention around the town, a certain indefinable freeness of the imagination that attracted intelligence and creativity in equal measure. Archerd had never appreciated that fact, not truly, until he’d left the year past for that fateful conference. And now he was certain that same atmosphere of intellectualism, so rare in any community, but a mining community especially, was partly responsible for the Conclave’s attention.
“Indeed,” Hew chewed the thought over. “Lead on, Archerd.”
Lukey’s home was a fair distance from the house, located on the main road out of Dolesham that ultimately lead to Holdswaine. It was a fortuitous location for him, being as it was along the main trade route of the community where travelers were most likely to abandon scrap that they no longer had any use for, while remaining close enough to town that the towns-folk’s leavings were accessible as well.
The house was not exactly a palace — the term “hovel” came more quickly to mind — but it was surprisingly comfortable for all its poor appearance. Werian Lukey was working outside cleaning scraps. He was a big, broad-shouldered man who would’ve been quite imposing if he weren’t so gaunt. He worked with his left hand to clean a length of scrap iron held in a vice; his right arm was withered and bound to his torso. He looked up as they approached and grinned.
“Come a slummin’ Dolet? Haven’t seen ya in weeks, I ‘aven’t. An’ you’ve brought the law along too. They haven’t gone an’ made it illegal to clean scrap on me, ‘ave they?”
“Just thought you might be in the mood to sell some information today instead of the usual scrap, Lukey. How’re you getting by?”
“Ah, well enough. Well as ever. If I know somethin’ you can use, I’ll be happy to take yer money for it, sure enough. What’re you lookin’ for?”
“Strangers.” Hew stepped forward and offered his hand; his left, Archerd noted. Lukey shook it. “Inspector Hew of the Dolesham police force. Archerd here tells me you’re the one to talk to about suspicious sorts who may have been buying odds and ends over, say, the last couple of weeks or so?”
“I likely am at that. The town’s not so big that there’s a lotta competition o’er that sorta thing now is it?” He grinned a broken grin. “This ‘ave somethin’ to do with the school gettin’ blowed up?”
“It certainly does, Mr. Lukey.”
“Rumor floatin’ round town was the guy what did it got ‘imself caught in it and won’ be doin it again.”
“That’s true. We believe he might have been working with someone though, and whether he was or not, we can’t assume this is the end of it.” Hew produced a folded sheet of paper. On the paper was a crude sketch of a man. “We think the one that destroyed the school looked something like this.”
“Aye. That’d be the one fella. An’ as fer th’other, well now … that much I think I can vouch for. Firs’ time I met ‘im he weren’t alone. Had another fella with ‘im. Small guy, slim. Older. Seen ‘im around before, sold ‘im some scrap bits now ‘n then. Name of … Pilch, it were.”
“You said you sold him some scrap? Do you remember what he was interested in?”
“You better believe I c’n do that,” and he rattled off a list of descriptions that Archerd had to pay careful attention to, nodding as the man spoke. When Lukey finally trailed off, Archerd drew a bill purse from his belt and counted out a decent sum.
“As promised, Lukey.”
“That’s mighty genrous ‘o you, Dolet. I’ll ‘ave to save some ‘o the best for ya, ‘stead of sellin’ to Pilch, if ‘e e’er comes by this way again.”
Hew shook his head. “No, it’d be much better if you did sell to him again if he returns, and then make sure you let us know what he was after once he’s gone. It’d be best if he didn’t know we’ve been here at all.”
Lukey glanced down at the money in his fist and grinned. Hew quirked a smile of his own. “There’ll be more in it for you if you sell him any more without mentioning us.”
“We ‘ave a deal, inspector sir. Pleasure doin’ business with ya.”
They took their leave and started toward the police headquarters, roughly central in the town. “A name and rough description, that’s something. What did you make the list of supplies this Pilch bought?”
“I recognized several as good matches for what you brought to me last night, but the quantities are wrong, unless he was planning to build several of them. 3, I should think. Lukey couldn’t supply everything he’d need, so they must have another source, or else they already had some of what they’d need. In particular, the shaped casing bothers me. It’s difficult to imagine anyone local being able to supply that. Either they brought those with them, or they had them custom-made.”
“Why go to the trouble of bringing some pieces and not others?”
“Difficulty with transport I suppose. Nothing he supplied them with would serve as an explosive agent, and that concerns me. Of all the things I’d have expected them to acquire locally, that’s the most important, since everything about the design suggests to me that the explosive agent is volatile. I can think of no other reason for cooling equipment inside, as just a single example among many.
“Further, I can’t yet fathom why they needed such an elaborate design. Was it purely a mechanism, if you’ll pardon the expression, by which Pilch can eliminate his ‘partners’? If so, what does he plan to do with his remaining bombs? I’ve too many questions, and I find suddenly, Inspector, that I don’t envy you your job as much as I did just yesterday.”
Hew chuckled. “Indeed, they sometimes paint the job with a rather picturesque and heroic brush, don’t they? Alas, it’s not always that way, as you’re now learning.
“My questions are whether Pilch was working with more than one associate, and if so, does he plan to eliminate them similarly. I’m not sure how he’d plan to accomplish that after the first one, though, as the word is all over town that the original saboteur died in the attempt.
“More importantly and more pressingly though, if he has or could have several other explosive devices, then where and when is he planning to use them?”
By this time they were drawing near the police headquarters, a handsome building of dark brick, all columns and arches and topped with towers upon which officers could get what must have been a breathtaking overlook of the town.