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.

In which the world goes to hell in a handbasket

Bracing himself for more weirdness, Patches followed his erstwhile master. They stepped outside, into the gleaming sunshine of yet another hot midsummer day. The cat was confused, since he remembered it being closer to autumn only a few hours ago. But if settings and places could change and transform, and cats could be multiplied into vampires, what was a little seasonal mash-up compared to all the other incredible things he had recently witnessed?

When he looked around to take in his new surroundings, he already heard the dread Fontanello cry out in disgust: “What in the name of all that is explosive and sharp-edged is that?”

A brief pause, a grinning vampire baring his fangs, glinting like crazy in the bright sunlight. Wickles and Patches were all but blinded by the kaleidoscope of rays the sparkling version of him was sending off in all directions.

Then Fontanello let out a mean, megalomaniacal laugh. “Is this some ploy to take back fiction? Where are you, ridiculous nephew of mine? Where are you hiding? I can’t see with this disco ball boy throwing around his flashing lights! Oh, wait, I’ll get rid of that stupid abomination! How could you send in something so disgustingly pretty?”

He was obviously angry, maybe even livid.

The vampire sauntered through the underbrush, oblivious to insults and threats, enjoying the lovely patterns his sparkle dappled across the trees. Wickles and Patches watched with bated breath.

Fontanello was heard mumbling words to himself, unintelligible from where they had positioned themselves. Was he swearing or … oh no, was that an incantation? Was he calling his army of gray aliens or worse, faceless shooters? Patches glanced up at Wickles, trying to gauge the man’s reaction. Wickles seemed unfazed.

And then he felt the vibration under his paws, even before he could hear the stomping and marching of a thousand non-human feet. Uh-oh, this didn’t bode well. But Wickles still looked serene. Patches strained his eyes, but it was all light and shadow and the dust raised by the approaching army. He caught a glimpse of the dread Fontanello, who’d taken off his spectacles and was waving them around in his hand, gesticulation for the unseen attackers to hurry up.

And then it happened.

Maybe it was only one glint, reaching the ground at an unfortunate angle, hitting the spectacles in Fontanello’s hand, though that would have been an incredible coincidence. Patches no longer believed in coincidence. But whatever the reason, the grass under Fontanello’s feet caught fire, and because is was a bright midsummer day, and the grass was dry and the earth parched, a conflagration sprang up, quicker than you could say “meow”. Blazing, scorching walls of fire, fanned by a sudden wind, another too- obvious coincidence.

“Get back inside!” Wickles screamed against the crackling noise of the raging fire, and Patches obeyed immediately. They turned and disappeared through the door, Wickles closing it behind them quickly, but unhurriedly.

“Oops,” he said.

Patches squinted his eyes and waited for more.

“My original plan seemed better, but you gotta take what you can get. We’ll let it all burn down and simply erect a new world of fiction.”

In Which We Discover New Urges

“Yes, good, good!” beamed Mr. Wickles, enjoying the classic moment of shock after the transformation takes place. It only gets better every time, he thought to himself with a chuckle, quite pleased with himself. “Stare with a touch more brooding and dramatic mystery; it’ll help you get into character.”

Both versions of Patches scoffed in unison and cast their eyes to the ground indignantly, serving only to further please an already gleeful creator. “See? You were born to fit this role.”

Ignoring Mr. Wickles’ comment, Patches tried turned his mind to business. His mind was certainly in an unbearably irritable malaise; visions of home and a warm snifter of milk pleased him more with every passing moment. In his burgling years, his stamina was indeed trained to bear long work hours such as these, yet even so, he could feel his feline form begin to long desperately for a nap. Looking upon the newly-created vampire creature, he wondered what thoughts might have been passing through the sparkly teen’s mind. Were they precisely comparable, or were they being compromised by this— this creature? Fascinated by the boy’s sudden interest in the room around him, Patches watched uneasily after his darting gaze.

Ignoring Mr. Wickles’ comment, the vampire turned his mind to more important matters: where on earth might there be some blood around this place? Surely it couldn’t be far, being in a laboratory and all, he considered with impatience. Trying to remain calm, Patches tried in vain to persuade himself that it was all in his head. Starving now, his eyes became quite suddenly wild and darted here and there. Pulsing and twitching with enormous energy, the boy easily found in himself an urge to hunt as his heightened sense of smell had a mind of its own. Never had he felt so alive, so primal.

Sighing, Mr. Wickles tossed a bag filled with a red liquid to the vampire, the contents of which were suckled with haste and without even a touch of ceremony— much to the horror of Patches, who watched on with disgusted indignation. “There you are then, deary! You must keep your strength up for what is shortly to follow.”

As Mr. Wickles ushered the vampire from the laboratory, eager to launch the plan at last, Patches looked on at the spectacle, unsure of how to proceed. Was he even interested in watching this nonsense as it played out? Knowing this without even so much as turning, Mr. Wickles smirked at the poor feline’s predicament. “Come now, burglar,” he called to him, adding a hint of foreboding as he left the room. “You will not wish to miss this.”