I watched silently as the metal bars blocking the entrance to West's cell opened with an unpleasant screech. Hovering behind, a correctional officer shifted from one foot to another as he practically breathed down my neck. "We're not usually allowed to open the doors before the mastclock strikes." he said, moving in front of my path.
Meanwhile, West watched the confrontation from his cell, leaning against the wall beside his bunk, a small smile playing on his face. "The door is already opened," I said, in my most pleasant tone, "so, do you mind?"
The nervous man still seemed reluctant to let me pass, so I held out my warden's badge. "I need to speak with him," I said, "It's a tad more important than keeping up with the mastclock." After a moment of hesitation, he nodded, and shuffled out of my way, thankfully missing when I involuntarily rolled my eyes. Stepping into the cell, I looked down at Leo as I crossed my arms.
"That poor man," he said, a mischievous glint in his eye, "He's only trying to do his job."
"At least, his job is safe," I bite back, leaning down as I placed a hand on the bunk above West. "Because of you, I might lose my mine."
West considered this for a moment, eyebrows raised. "What do you mean?" he asked, "Hey, if someone heard that I have a crush on you… it was just a joke-"
"Nothing so childish," I cut him off, "A magistrate has requested that I come to the Court House." My jaw tightened. "Magistrate Sobath."
Eyes widening, West scooted forward on his bunk, until our faces were inches apart. "Don't go," he said, sounding genuinely alarmed, "Tell him you can't go!"
"Tell him I can't go?" I repeated, my eyebrows rising. "Are you crazy? He's a magistrate." With a sigh, I sat down next to the teenager, resting my hands in my lap. "West," I said, "You need to tell me what this is about, so I don't go in there blind."
There was a pause from the kid, and I looked over at him expectantly. His face was rigid, a frown spreading across his lips. He moved to sit next to me, his legs hanging over the side of the bed. "Nothing happened," he said, "I attacked a magistrate." Without looking at me, he continued to speak. "So, if they ask you anything, just tell them that."
"It's obviously a lie," I said, "Or there's something more that you're not telling me."
"There isn't," he replied, looking at me with narrowed eyes. "Don't you dare go in there asking questions," He reached over and grabbed my wrist, his skin hot on my own.
"You'll get hurt," he said quietly. Staring at him with surprise, it took me a moment to remember to pull my hand out of his grasp.
"That's none of your concern, Pentecost," I said, using his real name, "This is part of my job." When he didn't reply, but continued to stare at me with a concerned expression, I stood up. Who was protecting whom, anyway?
"You're the prisoner, remember?" I asked, reminding myself more than anything. I stuffed my hands in my pockets, and glanced out the door with a sigh. "Don't worry," I said, "I'm not stupid, and I certainly don't have a death wish."
He seemed unconvinced, so I placed a reassuring hand on his head. "I just wish you would stop hiding everything,"
Slapping the hand away, he stood up abruptly and grabbed my collar. "This is beyond you," he said, forcing eye contact. I felt myself waver under the teenager's intense gaze, bringing my fingers up to his hand. When he refused to budge, I pushed against his chest with a little more force than was probably needed.
"West!" I yelled, temper flaring, "Learn your place!"
He looked up at me, the light dancing in his eyes. "I'm sorry," he said after a moment, with a contrite tone. I didn't believe it for a second. Biting the corner of my lip, I shook my head and started to back out of the cell. If he wasn't going to help me, than what was the point of arguing with the kid? West watched each step I took with unnerving focus, the mirth in his gaze quickly draining. "Wait," he said, stepping towards me.
I paused. "What?"
"If he asks you anything," he said, "Just tell him that I never said a word to you."
"You haven't," I replied.
Nodding, West sunk back down in his bunk. "Right," he said quietly, "I know."
Turning around without another word, I strode down the hall as the CO turned the crank holding West's door open. As the loud clash of metal hitting metal rang out, my thoughts flew over to the mainland, where Magistrate Sobath was waiting for me. West… he couldn't have been any less helpful, and I was walking into the hornet's nest.
Waller was pulling his well-worn overcoat on when I walked into the med-wing. When he saw me approach, he nodded and pushed his chair under his desk. "I'm coming," he said gruffly, stuffing a cigarette into his mouth. "I've been meaning to catch up on some paperwork at the Court House, anyway."
"You don't need to…" I trailed off ineffectually. Truth of the matter was, I wouldn't mind having him there.
He smiled at the lack of forcefulness in my words, and shook his head. "I do," he said. "You've never been there before."
This was true. My father had invited me to visit several times, but I had been too preoccupied with the social scene of Austrene during the weekends. A field trip to the main political hub of the empire seemed interminably boring to my teenage self.
Maybe I should have gone with him.
I nodded, and together we walked down the hallway. Outside on the grounds, COs' watched us with curious expressions as we made our way to the Stea-Flo dock. The sight of the prison doctor and a young sub-warden heading towards the docks must have seemed very strange indeed.
"I hope no one from the Court House don't bother my mother," I say as we step on the midday Stea-Flo. The captain nodded at us, and we took our seats on the empty ferry. "She has a party tonight at the mansion."
I had been invited, but going to yet another one of my mother's ostentatious galas seemed like mental torture, especially with all of her society friends breathing down my neck to get married to one of their children, be it man or woman. Declining politely when she had called, I listened to my mother nag about how ambition-less I was for several minutes before hanging up.
"Your mother is Caroline Eddowes, right?" Waller said, stuffing a cigarette back into its case after it refused to light in the windy sea air. "The charity queen?"
"Yes," I replied, rather dully. "She's quite generous." With a sigh, I tried to comb my hair with my gloved fingers, after it had been buffeted around by the strong gusts. "Do I look too atrocious?" I asked, turning to him.
Amused by my change of topic, Waller shrugged. "At least you have hair, young man." He rubbed his balding pate, and shook his head. "Back to your mother," he said, "If you get into some kind of trouble, she would have influence, right?"
"Not enough," I replied, leaning back against the bench with my hands behind my head. "She doesn't have any real political power, like my father did."
He nodded, and we sat in silence for several minutes as Waller contemplated my predicament. While we rode along, the stea-flo hit the cusp of several waves, sending a light spray of salt water over us. Grumbling, I pulled out my newsboy cap, and placed it over my head. "That won't do much good," Waller said as he set his gentleman's top hat over his own head.
"And yours will do any better?" I asked with a quirk of my eyebrow, as I nudged his hat into a slight, jaunty tilt.
"I didn't say that." He pulled another top hat out of his seemingly endless satchel, and handed it to me. "We're going to the Court House," he said, "You'll have to dress a bit more formally."
Blanching, I looked down at my clothes. They were at the height of fashion.
Sensing my disbelief, Waller let out a slight chuckling rumble. "They tend to be a bit more conservative there than on the brunch circuit," he said, "We'll have to stop by a clothier, and pick up something a tad less garish."
"Garish?" I sputter. Appraising my clothing again, I had to wonder if maybe the old man had a point. My waist coat was a bright silk orange, while my frock coat was a luxurious red-purple hue. My lip curled. "You mean something more brown, don't you?"
"Brown, black," he said. "Anything you would find at a funeral."
The city streets of Austrene were paved with cobble stones, which made the carriages rumble along in a jarring manner. Past the outer, more dubious, shops and red-light district, one could find basically anything the heart desired, as long as they had the money to pay for it. I, myself, went shopping on Main Street often, which had an unobstructed view of the Court House.
The building always emanated an ominous feeling, and happy shoppers would cross the street to avoid it. Staring up, I wondered if I could just call in sick.
"I know a good shop," Waller said, oblivious to my nervousness. "He does good work."
Sighing, I tore my gaze away from the building, and looked at Waller. "Do I really have time to get an entire new outfit?" I asked.
"You can't go in like this," he said, tugging at my vest. "You won't be taken seriously."
That would probably be a good thing, I thought, however I obediently followed the good doctor as he continued down the street, steam carriages chugging alongside us. The noise of all the machinery was deafening, but comforting compared to the relative silence of the prison island. I had always preferred to be on the mainland, with it's hubbub and lack of dangerous criminals.
"Here we are," Waller said, stopping in front of a quaint-looking tailor's shop.
"Here?" I said, taking in the sagging support beams, and musty windows. A faded painting of a foot-powered sewing machine was barely visible on the shop sign that declared 'Toady's Thimbles'. "How cute."
"Don't be rude." Waller replied. "Many high-ranking officials come here." He nodded for me to go ahead, so I pushed open the door, a tinkling of a bell heard overhead. Walking in, I found the walls covered with dozens upon dozens of coats, and fabric samples. Looking over at Waller, he gestured for me to keep moving.
"You know him," I say, trying not to sound childish.
Throwing me a slightly annoyed frown, Waller stepped past me, and walked to the back room. When I heard some loud chatting, I decided to scan the clothes while the doctor caught up with his friend. Running my hand along one of the waist coats, I shuddered at the thought of being clothed in dirt brown from head to toe.
My mother never restricted the amount of money I could spend on clothes, and when I saw a new trend start to emerge, I was sure to jump on it. Colorful waist coats were the newest fad, and I already had one for each hue in the rainbow. In this cave, there were only shades of brown to black. Perhaps this was why the aura around the Court House was so serious?
Picking a pair of gloves up from the counter, I admitted to myself that at least the tailor had a good sense for quality. The fabric of the gloves ran over my hands like water. Stuffing my own into my pocket, I pulled on the fanciful gloves, and admired how they shone like a diamond in the rough. The 'rough' being the somber death march of clothes found in this old shop.
Hearing the tinkling of the front door, I turned to find a young man, probably a little bit older than myself, walk through. His attire was more similar to the clothes I was currently snarling at, however I had to appreciate the subtle hints at taste. For instance, the lining of his frock coat was a decadent silk, even if it was brown. Either way, the clothes looked quite expensive.
"Hello," he said, his voice a slick bass, "I was recommended by a friend…?"
Confused for a moment, my mouth gaped open clownishly, until I realized that he had mistaken me for an employee. Still, I couldn't help it. "What did you do this friend to make him hate you so much?" I said.
This time, the man was confused. Slowly he realized my joke, and a small smile played on his lips. "I take it you don't work here?"
"Ah, no." Pulling the gloves off of my hands, I lay them back down on their glass case, and put my own back on. "I too was a victim of a friend's practical joke." As I said this, I cast a disdainful look at the clothes around me.
"Come on now," the man replied, walking further into the shop. "It isn't so bad, is it?"
Shrugging, I crossed my arms as I leaned back on the case. "Not for you great-aunt's funeral," I replied, quirking an eyebrow at him. He nodded, and joined me by the case, leaning against it in the same fashion that I was.
"Then, I suppose, you prefer the type of clothing that you're currently wearing?"
Holding out my arms, I showed him my cufflinks, which were in the shape of handguns. "I like a bit of flare." I said. "Is there something wrong with having a little fun?"
He took hold of my wrist, and brought the cufflink closer to his face. Letting out a slight chuckle, he turned to me, smiling. "I suppose not," he said. "I apologize for my drab appearance." Letting go of my arm, he pushed away from the case and took a turn around the room, staring at all of the coats. "Although," he said with a small smile, "I don't think the tailor would appreciate you disparaging his clothes in his own shop."
"Was I being rude?" I asked, not really caring. After a moment of silence, my conscience got the better of me. "I suppose I was."
Laughing, the man shook his head. "A little," he said. "But now I have to ask, if the clothes are so detestable, than why are you here?"
With a snort, I pointed at the Court House across the street. "I've been summoned," I growled, "by some all-powerful magistrate." Holding my arms out wide, I looked down at my clothes. "My trusted friend has informed me that these garments will be too shocking for the magistrate's delicate constitution."
"Is that so?" the man asked, crossing his arms. "So you're here to… tone it down a bit?"
He nodded, and took another stroll around the store. "How thoughtful of you," he said, a small frown playing on his lips. What pissed him off? As I was about to ask what his problem was, I heard shuffling from behind me, and glanced around.
"Ah," came the voice of an old man stepping out from the back. "Magistrate Sobath, I was told you were coming in." Jerking my head back to the man I had been talking to, I found him looking at me with a knowing glint in his eye.
Ah, just a quick note.. this is my first time writing in first person, and for some reason I got it into my head that it had to be written in present tense... well no, that will not be happening anymore.