A low but ominous rumble carried through the open windows of Bookhaven. Miss Hienrichs looked up, startled, and peered toward the east. As she watched, a cloud of dust began rising above the level of the rooftops. Given the angles, she judged that it was coming from… Militia headquarters.
WIth a muffled oath, she grabbed her revolver, buckling it around her waist as she ran toward the bridge across the first canal. Within minutes, she’d reached the head of the street leading toward where the headquarters building had been, even as another cloud of smoke rose above the place where the hospital was – or had been.. At first, all she could see was a large cloud of dust and dirt, with debris scattered around on the street. Finally, she saw some figures through the smoke – one of which, she realized with a wince, was Miss Solano, who noticed her at the same time and came over.
“This is terrible for you, Hienrichs,” she said, though her tone gave that the lie. “I hope you got everyone out. I assume you have Mr. Eliot locked up safe somewhere else.” She paused. “He is safe, is he not, Hienrichs?”
Bookworm, peering through the dust, saw two of the militia who had been left on duty. “I will find out, Miss Solano.” She hurried away before the woman could say anything more. “What happened?” she asked the two militia men intensely.
“Don’t rightly know, Captain,” one of them, Jackson, replied. “We heard a rumbling below, and the whole place started shaking apart. We barely got out in time.”
Bookworm looked over at the wing with the cells, which was still partially intact. “What about the prisoners?” She sighed as they shrugged. “We’d better go see.”
Carefully, they picked their way through the rubble toward the cells. One wall had partially collapsed, letting them look easily into now-empty cells. The floor had collapsed down, and the three of them carefully peered into the darkness below.
“Looks like it’s down into the sewer, Captain,” Jackson said. “Reckon they both got out that way, since there’s no sign of them up here.”
Bookworm nodded, then started as a shower of bricks clattered down. “We’d better get out of here.” They quickly scrambled back toward the street – and none too soon, as the rest of that wing, with a groan, gave up the fight against its precarious balance and settled down to join the rest of the building as rubble.
“Spread out and look for them,” she told the two men, and pass the word on to the rest of the militia.” They nodded and moved off, disappearing north.
As Bookworm rejoined the onlookers, Miss Solano accosted her. “Well?”
“My folk are accounted for, Miss Solano,” she replied reprovingly. “And your man… is not in the rubble. Nor, apparently, anywhere on the grounds.” She frowned. “He appears to have escaped.”
“Hmmm,” was all Miss Solano said, looking thoughtful.
“I have sent out word that he is to be recaptured.” She added ironically, “I trust you will tell him to turn himself in if you happen to see him?”
“I very much doubt he’ll come back to the warehouse,” replied Miss Solano.
At that moment, Bookworm heard a familiar, though somewhat shaky, voice say, “Maybe 80 feet was a bit off the mark.” Bookworm peered around, and called out, “Miss Rouse!” She saw the figure of the mouse on the other side of a loose pile of rubble. As Beatrixe started picking her way toward her, Miss Solano said, “Hienrichs, just a friendly warning. I’d watch your throat.”
Bookworm whirled around, frowning at the threat. “And why is that?”
“Because Eliot’s loose. I’ll be watching mine, as well.” She shrugged. “I have damage assessment to do now.” With that, she turned and walked away.
‘And if he’s wanting to kill you, Miss Solano, why were you so concerned that he survive?’ Bookworm thought, sending a hard stare at the woman’s back. Finally, still frowning, she turned her attention back to Beatrixe. “Miss Rouse, were you digging your tunnel just now?”
“Oh, yes, I was. And then I hit this empty pocket and plowed through it before I could stop the dang thing.” She gestured toward where the hospital had been, and where, with the dust finally settling, Bookworm could just make out some sort of large machine poking up through the rubble of that building. “And then the tunnel went and collapsed behind me, so I had to dig out.” She looked around. “Anyway, what happened here?”
Bookworm rubbed her forehead, sighing. “You did, I’m afraid, Miss Rouse. Your tunnel collapsed the militia headquarters – and the hospital.”
“Oh, is that what I tunneled into?” She looked around again. “Oops. Don’t think boss is going to be happy about his little cupboard space collapsing.”
“I don’t think so either, Miss Rouse. And I think, next time you need to dig a tunnel, you’d best have someone double-check your calculations.” More militia members were finally arriving, along with those ready to clean up – and scavenge – the debris, and Bookworm turned her attention to overseeing it all, even as she pondered where a temporary office might be installed.