Bookworm was clear across in Clockhaven, checking on a possible venue for a future Aether Salon, when she received word of the protest at Militia headquarters. Equal parts frustrated and bewildered, she hurried across the city, sighing over the inevitable fact that there was no tram available when she truly needed one.
As she drew nearer to the street leading to the headquarters, the sight of a thread of smoke spurred her on. Had these protestors really set fire to the building? Had no one been able to stop them? Pounding up the snow-covered street, she skidded to a stop, taking in the scene. A large pile of debris – discarded furniture, wooden boxes, and more – was piled in front of the headquarters building, now smoldering. Several people were standing around, watching as Jed Dagger and Beryl finished putting out the fire, while Max and Cyan watched and assisted as they could.
Sighing, Bookworm approached the group, and was immediately inundated with cries, questions, and statements. As she was trying to sort things out into a coherent picture, she heard a voice behind her exclaim, “What the blazes is going on?”
Bookworm whirled around to see Miss Solano standing there. “Hienrichs, is everyone well? What happened?”
Bookworm felt her eyes narrow. “You know very well what happened.”
“Believe me, I do not,” she protested vehemently. “Until I heard the fire brigade go by, I did not even know there was a fire! I would not be so stupid to take such an action if I’m fighting to prove my man’s innocence. I want Omig freed, not roasted.”
Though she wouldn’t have admitted it aloud, Bookworm realized that Miss Solano had a point there. She turned back to those still around.
“A ‘peaceful’ protest turned into the fire,” Max said.
“At least no one got hurt,” Blossomlove added.
Cyan rolled his eyes a little. “Things got out of hand since only one militia member came out to see what was happening.”
Beryl looked at Bookworm, and gestured to the other firefighters. “We were practicing when we heard calls about the fire.” He patted the hose he was still holding. “The equipment works now, at least.”
“Well, I paid enough for it,” Miss Solano interjected, a bit sourly.
“Were any of you here when the protest started?”
Heads shook all around. “Though I saw someone who might have been,” Beryl said, and looked back over his shoulder. “She’s behind me there. She may know.”
Bookworm looked beyond Beryl, and stiffened a little at the sight of Lilith, leaning against a fence some way down the street. ‘As if I don’t have enough to deal with,’ she thought with an internal sigh. But then she called out, “Lilith! Can you come over here? I need to talk to you.” She saw Lilith fidget nervously, fiddling with something in her hand, and beckoned to her, trying to project reassurance. Finally, Lilith limped down the street, leaning on her staff.
“Lilith, did you see what happened here?”
“I saw a group of people yelling to free someone,” she replied hesitantly. “To stand up for moreau rights, to stop unfair taxations, and many other things.”
“Do you know who?” Bookworm asked.
“Who was in charge?” Beryl added.
“Well… there were only a few I recognized. Leon was there… and a cow… and a cabbit. And a bunny, who was doing most of the yelling.”
Bookworm looked around at the others, deliberately excluding Miss Solano from her gaze. “Did any of you recognize anyone?”
Cyan shook his head. “Sadly, I got here too late, and only saw some some people heading away from the area. Once a fire starts, a lot of people want to get out of the area, so I couldn’t tell who they were.”
By this time, several militia members had gathered, and Bookworm put them to work cleaning up the debris in front of the entrance. “Would all of you follow me?” she asked the others, leading them toward the back courtyard. Miss Dagger, seeing Bookworm had things in hand now, nodded once and went on her way.
As they walked into the courtyard, Beryl said, “I caught sight of the bunny when I got here. Kind of white or greyish fur, I think.”
“Wait–a rabbit?” Miss Solano asked. “Was her name Hoppwell?”
Beryl shrugged, and Lilith said, “I did not hear names.”
“Probably didn’t want to give away who they were, anyway,” Cyan said.
Bookworm led the way around and in through the back door, leaving it open to let the building air out. “Could everyone except Miss Solano please wait for me upstairs?” she asked, gesturing to the staircase. With voiced assent, reluctant and otherwise, the rest headed up. Bookworm, meanwhile, went into her office and quickly returned, holding some folders.
“Miss Solano,” she said firmly. “We found a tuft of fur on the body of Perkins.”
“We also took a sample of fur from Mr. Eliot.”
“No doubt with a proper warrant,” sneered Miss Solano. Bookworm handed over a copy of the warrant she’d made, and watched as Miss Solano looked it over. “Very well,” she finally said. “And?”
“One of the militia members here has a scientific bent for evidence. His analysis shows that the samples match.” She handed over the folder containing his analyses–microscopic, chemical, and other. Miss Solano appeared to study it closely, though Bookworm had no idea how much scientific training she might have. Finally, she said flatly, “Well. That’s rather disturbing.”
Bookworm nodded, and led the way to the back wall of cells. “Based on that, we will continue to hold him. Your other man, however… is free to go.” She was loathe to release him now – the timing would probably make it seem as if she was giving in to the protestors. Unfortunately, she had no excuses left for holding Omig. So she walked over the cell holding him and unlocked it, opening the door wide.
“Omig, go home,” Miss Solano said, her face expressionless. The man scurried out of the cell and headed to the open back door. “So,” she continued, “you have evidence it was Eliot. He has always been a bit… odd.”
Bookworm nodded, getting the sense that Miss Solano was cutting that one loose to face whatever the Militia decided on for judgment. “You may go, Miss Solano,” she said firmly. “But we will be watching. Carefully.”
“Hienrichs, I really had nothing to do with this riot. Let me know what the damages are, and I’ll pay the bill for repairs.”
Bookworm didn’t for one minute believe Miss Solano was completely ignorant, but she didn’t have the evidence to push things right now. “Thank you, but the city will pay for this.” She added in a quiet mutter, “I’ll make sure of that.”
“As you wish. Good evening.” Bookworm watched Miss Solano leave, and headed upstairs.
((To be continued…))