The sheriff showed up a few moments later and apologetically served Jeremiah some papers. Colonel Rotan had decided to sue Mr. Clifton over the lawn incident and had named both Jeremiah and Mrs. Peterson in the suit.
Jeremiah went in search of his assistant but found that Francis was not at the workshop. In looking for Francis, he came across Francis’s appointment book, opened to that day’s date. He found both a wealth of client meetings and a current block of time devoted to one Miss Amelia Tibbits.
Jeremiah headed straight to Amelia’s house. He found her sitting in the parlor, laughing with his former assistant. Jeremiah’s rage could not be contained.
“Unhand that fair maiden!” Jeremiah said.
“Jeremiah!” said Amelia, “What are you doing here?”
Francis looked up. His smile didn’t fade, nor did his confidence.
“Let’s take this outside and settle it like gentlemen,” Jeremiah said.
“You sure about this?” Francis asked, cracking his knuckles.
“Absolutely not!” Amelia said. “I will not have you brawling like fools on my property.”
“The end of the lane, then,” Jeremiah said.
Francis cracked his neck. “Yes, let’s,” Francis said. He had had his days in the boxing ring too.
“No,” Amelia said. “Stop this foolishness right now.”
Neither Jeremiah nor Francis heeded her words.
They strolled to the end of the lane, where Francis beat the ever-living tar out of Jeremiah.
Francis went back to his apartment and left Jeremiah to crawl back down the lane and lick his wounds. Amelia, however, did not accept her duties as nurse as willingly as Jeremiah had hoped.
“But I did it for you,” Jeremiah said.
“How?” she asked. “I specifically told you to stop this nonsense.”
“I was defending your honor…”
“I can take care of myself.”
“He’s harmless,” she said. She touched a washcloth to one of Jeremiah’s wounds and he winced. “Oh, stop it,” she said. “He knew you hadn’t been around here lately, so he tried his hand.”
“But you were…”
“Really, Mr. Brown? The visits go by more quickly if I laugh at a joke or two. You, however, cannot seem to stop making a joke out of yourself and your invention.”
Jeremiah stood up and backed away from her. “This is all your fault,” he said, suddenly angry.
“How?” she asked.
“You’re the one that blamed me for the things people were doing with my inventions,” he said. His voice neared a shout. “You were the one who gave me this idea!”
“The idea isn’t flawed; it’s the invention.”
“You mean the inventor!” he shouted.
“Nonsense, Jeremiah,” she said.
He pointed his finger at her. “Inventor. Invention. They’re one and the same.”
She gave him a look that froze the blood in his veins.
“Those eyes could haunt a man to his grave,” he said.
She breathed out a long breath. “I’ve never known you to make something I can see that doesn’t work like it’s supposed to.” She crossed the room and wrung out her cloth in a basin. “With your automatic conscience,” she continued, “I can’t see it and it doesn’t work like it’s supposed to.” She turned and looked into his eyes, both now ringed in dark skin from the fruits of his temper. “So I don’t believe you made it.”
Jeremiah looked at the floor. The weight of his failure finally lay on his shoulders. The world was not ready for this invention, or, perhaps, he was not ready to invent it—probably both. To tell the secret of the automatic conscience to anyone, even to Amelia, would be to steal its life’s breath, to forever relegate it to the dustbin. He alone could bear this invention’s burden. He alone could bring it to life. He alone could see it through, and he’d failed. He was not the inventor he’d thought he was.
“Even with all your talent and charisma,” she continued, “you can’t force people to believe in something. You can’t force them to make better choices.”
After a moment he looked up at her. “Perhaps that was my error,” he said.
Something in his tone felt off. “What are you talking about?” Amelia asked.
“The mind is a funny thing,” he said. “It believes what it chooses to, but there are factors in that choice I hadn’t considered.”
“What are you talking about?” Amelia asked again.
“My cleverest invention of all,” he said.
She grabbed his wrist, fear overtaking all other emotions. The word caught in her throat as she said, “Jeremiah?”
“Thank you,” Jeremiah said. He lifted her hand off his wrist and, in a sense, gave the hand back to her. He nodded to her and walked out the door.
To Be Continued…