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.

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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?”