In Which We Attempt Escape

Miss Higgenbottom came to, bound hand and foot laying in the straw littering the floor of the cell. She was spitting mad – or would have been, if it weren’t for the dry old rag shoved roughly in her mouth. She could wriggle a bit, but with her rheumatism and the predicament she found herself in hardly thought it worth the effort. A clatter of young, untrained boots came from the wrought-iron staircase outside her prison; she promptly feigned unconsciousness. This situation simply would not do, and she intended to learn what she could before she unleashed the fury that can only be unleashed by a spinster of a certain age.

As anticipated, the two guards who tramped their way into the prison were barely of age to serve; mere pups, the pair of them. Furthermore, Miss Higgenbottom’s nose had already detected a clue; they were both extremely intoxicated, and one of them had very recently been sick. She dared to open one bespectacled eye just a slit – the tall, gangly one was sitting on a barrel; the shorter, plumper one was sprawled on the ground. He belched; the two broke into gales of laughter. Gangly choked out, between guffaws, “I – ha! – I think you’d better sleep it off down here, pal, before the Cap sees you like this. Don’t worry, Dave; I’ve got your back. You just keep the old broad company, and I’ll come back for you when I can. Sleep tight, mate.”

When he’d left, Clara Higgenbottom opened her eyes fully, and met the gaze of the incapacitated Dave. They were roughly the same build, the same height; he should do. As she gazed into his eyes, glaring the glare of her people, the young man eventually got to his feet and shuffled to the door of her cell, unlocking it, untying her. Once her hands were free, she pulled the rag from her mouth, made the youth shut his eyes for decency’s sake, and began undressing. She snapped her fingers, and he undressed as well – his eyes still closed. “It’s a good job I’ve got such a firm grasp on mesmerism – honestly! If he’d been less drunk, or if they’d thought to blind-fold me – I couldn’t even chant! Still, Clara, get ahold of yourself; this’ll do, this’ll do.” She dressed the young man in her skirts and bonnet, rifling through the pockets of her apron before she tied it around his waist. She shoved him into the hay and bid him sleep before binding him as she’d been bound, and, irritated, put her spare spectacles on his sleeping face.

Quickly dressing in his abandoned uniform, she thrilled with a hypocritical shiver -if she’d caught young Fidelia in such garments as she was donning now, Fidelia would never hear the end of it. Still, needs must when the devil drives. Fully dressed, now, in the uniform of  – well, it wasn’t the city police, at that, was it? Fully dressed, now, in the uniform she didn’t quite recognize, Clara Higgenbottom cast a final glamour on the sleeping form and on herself, and began to effect her escape in earnest.


In the small room of a nondescript home in the middle of a busy street, a young man perfectly fills up a blank book. The characters are all in a straight line, all within equal distance of each other. No one would ever think they’re written by a human hand.

This is his favorite pastime. In fact, it’s his only pastime. He enjoys the order and the uniformity. Everything lined up perfectly. No messy scrawls. No letters dancing chaotically on the page.

His home is just as organized. Every little detail in its own place. It’s why he barely entertains any visitors. Those who do come are careful not to disturb his belongings, for the young man has quite the temper when things are in disarray.

A soft rap on his door causes him to pause his work. He sets his fountain pen down beside his book and invites the person on the other side to enter.

The door opens a small crack and a figure glides in, accompanied by the sweet smell of apples. On their first meeting, he found the scent irritating. He would always search for an escape or an open window from which to get fresh air. That changed the longer they worked together.

Beneath the cloak, a voice hisses. Sinister, but also mesmerizing; all characteristic of an Ophidian. “Higgenbottom has been arrested, and the girl has been taken into the fold.”

The man stands and drifts over to his floor-to-ceiling bookshelf. It’s filled with copies of the same book he’s been writing on. Black leather covers all aligned, all bearing his initials on their lower spines.

His eyes methodically scan the rows until he finds the exact book he’s looking for. Carefully, he pries it from its place and then flips through the pages.

FIDELIA JOINS THE DETECTIVE AT VERY LARGE is written on one. Lines of instructions above it have been neatly checkmarked.

A few more pages after that are the words: MISS HIGGENBOTTOM IS IMPRISONED. He brings the book back to his desk and, with a great deal of satisfaction, marks it.

The man is pleased with how smoothly his plans are coming to fruition. Best of all, no one except he and his colleague knows that he is pulling all the strings.

Several other events are set to happen before the grand finale, and from what he’s seen, they should be unfolding soon and in a most dramatic fashion. He simply has to sit back and watch the dominos he fastidiously arranged continue to ripple out. 

For while the man may hate chaos, when he’s the mastermind, he absolutely loves it.

In which an arrest is made and a mystery arises.

“Surrender?” Miss Wiggenbottom muttered to herself. She was a staunch believer in female independence, so ‘surrender’ existed in her vocabulary solely if she ordered someone else to do it. Instead of answering the door, which the policemen seemed to be willing to break down if she didn’t open – which she hadn’t intended to do even for a split second – she gathered her skirts with a speed and agility that would have surprised most people who thought they knew her, and then made for the basement.

She hoped to reach the secret passageway that was hidden behind a large pantry shelf in the cellar, but alas! those pesky policemen were quick and agile as well, and they managed to not only breach the lock on the front door, but also come after her and intercept her before she had time to even reach the bottom step!

That was surprising, as well as suspicious, come to think of it. Were these really ordinary policemen, she wondered to herself, squinting at them as if she were short-sighted, but really to focus on small, giveaway details that might tell her whether they were any other species than human.

Much to her dismay though, she could not detect any of the usual hints at either dryad blood or mist people. No patch of rough, bark-like skin, no greenish tint in eyebrows or beard, no translucent veins or smell of ozone to be detected. And yet.

Something was wrong with these policemen, she knew it. She sensed it, but she couldn’t put her finger on what it was. Where was a detective when you needed one? She was sure that Himself could have solved this riddle for her, easily.

What she did not wonder about, not even for a second, was the fact that she was arrested at all. That, at least, came as no surprise to her.

In Which a Statement Is Made

“Well splendid! If it isn’t the old devil himself!” Nathaniel dashed past Augie and into the hallway which already contained a classically impatient house guest, scanning the floors with a stern grimace.

Considering carefully, the detective leaned against the proceeding banister and gazed on with a bemused moment of silence. He had always admired the thorough intensity in Abernathy’s work on a professional level. Of course, of course of course. Who wouldn’t? In fact, quite naturally, he would be a rogue among his colleagues if such a thought were one he did not indeed think! Absurd not to think it!

Even if this gangly-in-a-handsomely-aged-sort-of-way-with-those-dark-brooding-eyes just so happened to be such a gifted detective who certainly knew everything there was to know about the room right down to the last detail, including Nathaniel’s unconsciously quivering breath and slightly quickened heart beat.

Abernathy was now crawling along the marble tiles, springing from one specific place to another, stepping onto it firmly and poking it with his bony, shaking index finger– all in perfect seriousness. Looking up suddenly, the interest completely vanished from his eyes as he at last addressed Nathaniel’s presence. At this, Nathaniel took his hip from its resting point at the top of the staircase and welcomed Abernathy heartily.

“Did you draw the same conclusion I made about the marble tiles?” He then bluffed, curious about what Abernathy might have so quickly decided.

“Unless you were looking too, perhaps not. But!” came the pointed reply as the lanky fellow now sat on the floor; the two were now looking at one another face to face, exchanging looks of sly skepticism. “At least one of us now knows where you lost your marbles all those years ago.” A beat. Then, as per usual, came the mutual grins and reverent kisses on one another’s foreheads.

“All those years ago, buddy,” Nathaniel spoke, his voice wavering somewhat. “It sure is good to have you back.”

At that, his old friend’s face darkened suddenly. With a mad dash into his fanny pack, Abernathy thumbed through  what could only be described as a mini traveling filing cabinet with far more papers than what seemed possible to fit. At last snatching up the paper he was looking for, he handed it soberly to Nathaniel’s padded hands.

“The situation has gotten well out of my control, I’m afraid. And the mission must be complete tonight. And Nathaniel,” he added with a murmur at the end, watching as the contents of the mysterious paper was read, “recruiting and training her is absolutely imperative now. I hope you know what the stakes will be, and how much must change. How much she must change. And Miss Fidelia,” he called, keeping his head forward, “I know you’re listening to us, and that is certainly for the best considering how little time we have to lose. Come, and let us be off. I will explain on the way.”

As if under a spell, Miss Fidelia obediently followed the imploring voice. The two men in front of her were already clacking their shoes hastily down the marble halls. Where they were headed didn’t matter; for now, it was an excuse to be away from the office, and that’s all that mattered. She could decide for herself when she was in too deep, and that would be that. An excuse would be made for the delay, and life would go on.

But there would be no turning back of any kind, for Miss Higgenbottom had an entirely different problem at the exact moment: two policemen had shown up at her doorstep and had already proceeded to pound at the door, shouting for her to surrender.

In Which Topsy-Turvydom Takes a Troubled Turn

Fidelia blinked for a moment, in silence – was she finally getting her first case? Granted, she wouldn’t be solving it on her own, but this could be her big shot! The rambunctious young lady was about to respond with a resounding “YESSSSS!” complete with an arm-jerk and a little leap into the air when the man and boy before her burst into gales of laughter. Once they got to a point where they could contain themselves, the small child stepped forward, doffed his newsboy cap, and bowed.

“I put his honor up to the whole shenanigan, Miss. I’m Padraig Ignatius McAllister, Miss, but – as I’m sure you can surmise – most just call me Paddy. The Detective generally calls on me when he needs a lovable urchin, street information, that kind of rot – but we both thought it’d be a lark and a half to see your face. Detective Bracegirdle, sir? If you’d take it from here?”

Fidelia, already surprized, was suspicious at this swift reversal – but it certainly made more sense than the cockamamie line about the lad being the true genius detective. And Nathaniel was known for his buffoonery – but to play with her hopes, her dreams in such a fashion? It was the outside of enough. She straightened her spine, steeled her gaze, and prepared to give the Detective-at-Large what-for. Unfortunately, her clear indignation sent the pair before her into another round of laughter.

“I do beg your pardon, Miss Clarenhew,” the detective began, in the midst of another chortle, “you’ve been in my employ – well, my employee’s employ – for an absolute age and you were still taken in.” Nathaniel Erasmus Baldrick Bracegirdle allowed himself another snort. “Please sit down, my dear. Calm yourself. Paddy, some sherry for the lady – be quick about it, if you please! Now, Miss Fidelia Clarenhew – may I call you just Miss Fidelia? It’ll save time – Miss Fidelia. The City really is in a spot of trouble, and you really are quite vital to my plan to save it. Here’s your sherry; that’s a good lad, Paddy, thank you. Where was I?

Ah. Yes. The City’s in peril and all that yet again, and you’re vital to my plan, but that’s not all – mercy, no! No, my dear, I’ve been watching your progress as a junior clerk quite carefully, and I have some rather high hopes for you, given your enthusiasm, dedication, and great-grandfather’s reputation.” In place of honor, above the carved sandstone fireplace in the grand reception room, Fidelia’s ancestor’s portrait glowered at his descendant. “Yes, Sir Abernathy Clarenhew was one of the great minds of his time, you know. Had the foresight to turn his little hobby into this venerable institution, the Deduction Society of West Ryslet – I was pleased to shake his hand at your christening, Miss Fidelia. Apologies, dear girl! I blather on. Will you be my apprentice or not, child?”

Fidelia certainly didn’t remember her own christening, and she certainly couldn’t turn down an opportunity along these lines – but she certainly wasn’t stupid enough to miss little cues, like the eye-contact the older gentleman had been making with the boy. It was almost as though he were looking for confirmation, or permission to continue. Fidelia took a sip of her sherry – she never said no – and decided that it had to be some sort of test. A knock came at the door, and Augie reappeared; “Your pardon for interrupting, lady, gentlemen – Sir Abernathy has asked permission to join your party.”

In Which the Crisis is Somewhat Introduced

Fidelia used this spare moment to tidy up her appearance–pat down the wild mane of her hair, brush off the bit of dust from her skirt. That was sufficient enough to deem her presentable to the Detective, she supposed. She rocked back and forth on her heels and waited for Himself to appear.

The door opened, revealing Augie once again. Fidelia straightened as if to show she had remained perfectly well-behaved in his absence. “Do come in, Miss Fidelia. Mister Nathaniel is preoccupied at present but shall grant you audience in the great chamber.”

This was the first Fidelia has ever stepped foot in the club. “Office girls” such as she were not permitted entry. Only those who held the distinction of Detective could gain access. Therefore, this was a rare opportunity that both excited and worried her.

Every concern she held disappeared at the sight that greeted her. She knew not where to rest her eyes–the intricate patterns on the wall, the ornamented furniture, or the antique displays?–for every design and decor beckoned her gaze. It was quite the contrast from its rather nondescript exterior.

But nothing she’d seen thus far inspired more awe than the grand hallway. Hanging from the walls were the painted portraits of all the great Detectives of history. Fidelia recognized nearly every one: Sir Theophilus Edmund Penhale, who single-handedly dismantled a notorious crime organization in a matter of days; Mamsyr, whose picture was but a vague silhouette for their identity was a complete mystery; Cleophane Higgenbottom, Miss Higgenbottom’s great-aunt and the most decorated Detective of her time.

One day, Fidelia swore, she will have her own framed portrait added to this impressive lineup.

Augie reached the entrance of the great chamber and invited her to enter first. The room was equally as magnificent as the rest of the club. Displayed right in the center of the room was an impressive reconstruction of a city skyline made entirely out of matches. At the last second, she noticed Himself leaning comfortably against an ornate desk.

“Mister Nathaniel, I’ve brought Miss Fidelia here per your request,” Augie announced. Then, with a deep bow, he left the room. 

“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” Fidelia curtsied.

Mister Nathaniel was the club’s most popular Detective. Quite the bumbling buffoon in public, he seemed to solve cases more out of pure luck than genuine skill. But his record thus far was unmatched and, clumsy though he may be, he always got the job done.

“I come with a letter from the Agency,” she continued, handing the sealed envelope over to the Detective. He wasted no time in slicing it open with a thin silver blade he procured from atop the desk. He made agreeable hums and harumphing noises as he scanned its contents.

“Sounds like quite the spot of trouble we’ve found ourselves in,” Nathaniel observed. “Terrible! Most distressing! However will we get out of this?”

And then, from somewhere within the matchstick construction, a soft voice spoke, “You have such a flare for the dramatic, Paddy.”

Nathaniel–Paddy?–grinned as if pleased with himself. “I try, young sir. I find it good practice for when the media gather to report on our endeavors.”

Whistling a jaunty tune, Paddy pushed himself off the desk and approached the source of the voice. He held out the letter, and a small hand appeared from the center of the miniature city to grab it.

Then the small hand turned into an arm and then a body until finally a young child materialized out of the tiny wooden construction.

In a dramatic booming voice, Paddy said, “Introducing the real Nathaniel Erasmus Baldrick Bracegirdle, Detective at Very Large.”

Fidelia gaped at this small, gangly-limbed boy. Was this really the genius who captured the Star Jewel Bandit and solved the Serial Ghost Murders at House Marfleet? He was but a mere bubtion!

“He’s not very large, is he?” she remarked.

“Physical attributes contribute little to the workings of the mind,” he responded patiently. “But I propose we focus on the pressing matter at hand. I have read what is written on this letter, and Paddy’s initial reaction may not be too far off the mark.

“There is an awful plot brewing in our city, and I fear only the three of us in this room will be able to stop it. What say you, Miss Fidelia? Will you help save this city?”

In Which a Lady is Somewhat Introduced And A New Story Begins

“The only rest a lady detective gets is what she takes for herself. Whether ‘tis upon a Sunday when washing should be done or on a Wednesday when one might be fortunate enough to entertain a client, the respite must be seized as it will not be given.

It was on a day such as today, whilst I lounged within my office pondering the great mysteries of life and fashion, that she entered the room. She was tempestuous, a veritable goddess of fury. A wronged woman, she demanded-”

The door slammed open and the young woman who was orating with her feet resting atop the desk immediately sprang into a demure pose. The harridan at the door merely quirked an eyebrow, “Telling yourself stories again missy?”

A dramatic pout flashed across the youthful visage, “Well, it’s not as if I get any other excitement in my life. No one will let me detect so I might as well spin tales.”

The eye roll that greeted this complaint was legendary, young people the world over could only hope to project that much disdain. “You are not a detective, you’re a mere office girl and the sooner you get that through your ninnyhammer skull.” The woman stopped and huffed out a breath of frustration, “You’re just trying to distract me again. Here,” her outthrust hand contained a sealed envelope, “Himself is at the club and this needs to get to him soonest. No dawdling, mind!”

A hand darted out and grabbed the item enthusiastically, “I’ll be there before you know it!” The paper was secreted in an inner jacket pocket as she grabbed her pack and slung it across her back. Girding her bifurcated loins she flung open the french doors and leapt from the balcony. Her pack puttered, instigating a burst of adrenaline through her system before it kicked and and she soared off down the street.

She belatedly slid her goggles down and gave herself a talking to. “Why do you rush off before putting on the hood? You know it gives you a rats nest and then Miss Higgenbottom will tut, dear thing.” She sighed and continued to mutter to herself as she whipped down the avenues before reaching her destination.

The building was not ostentatious, but still managed to convey an air of gravitas and authority. She had often thought that if it were a man the building would have a countenance that spoke of constant constipation. She alighted, pushed her goggles up, and politely knocked on the door.

A decorous doorman all kitted out in a fine array of extravagant gold braid answered. He tsked, “Miss Fidelia, you look a fright. If you must fetch Mister Nathaniel here, could you not take a care?” He sighed at her contumelious mien. “I’ll fetch him. It’ll be just a moment just please, don’t start any calamities.”

Her eyes widened, “Augie, I’m hurt! You know I never start trouble!”

His sigh was aggrieved and loud, “Miss Fidelia, please do not play at innocence. I beg of you do not…” He shook his head, “It’s really no use.” The door shut and he went to fetch Nathaniel Erasmus Baldrick Bracegirdle, Detective at Very Large.