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.

Meanwhile…

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.