Elouise forced herself into a facade of calm as the sound of heavy boots on stone tile approached. Her nonchalant demeanor was her last resort. Yakking at these people would only get her into more trouble.

Rapping at the prison bars behind her signaled their arrival. She cocked her head at them as haughtily as she could, giving the hair braid a flip to her back for emphasis.

“Miss… Harrington, was it? Arrested at the residence of Clockmaster Kirreny for murder of Mr Ioan Kirreny,” the bailiff read out.

“I confess no such thing,” Elouise almost snarled.

The bailiff opened his mouth angrily to respond, but a gloved hand stopped him. “Lady ‘Harrington’. Please, cooperate,” a voice Elouise knew she couldn’t trust snake to her ears. Judge Gregor stood just out of the light that shone through the tiny cell window, staring at her with an ugly look in his eyes.

“McGregor. Your ‘peelers’ still your personal whipping boys?” Elouise grinned. The charade was off. Francis McGregor, or Judge Gregor as he so upgraded himself to in line with his promotion from bailiff to judge though some questionable methods. He had seen Elouise one too many times for her to go past him with any other guises other than ‘thief’.

He bristled at the raw mention of his Irish name,  especially from a pocket-picking wench who believed herself to be better than him, a Judge. “I see you have progressed your evil doings to murder, Montoya,” he seethed.

“It wasn’t me,” she stated, rather strongly.

“Then explain the blood on your boots and hands. And why you were accessing Kirreny’s workshop from the roof in the first place.”

“The workings of clockwork are almost magical, are they not? You can’t blame me for wanting to know how exactly they work. I was just about to inquire to Mr. Kirreny but alas, I found him in a manner of… unavailability,” Elouise put her hands together.

“So you confess to extorting him for information and upon his unresponsiveness, you killed him?”

Elouise’s eyes flashed. What an accusation!

“I said no such thing!” her voice raised.

“And as such,” McGregor continued, “you will be held for trial. Should you be found guilty, may God have mercy on your soul.”

The bailiff remained silent, and Elouise noted a sense of hostile satisfaction he shared with McGregor. With an extremely smug smile, they left Elouise in her cell.

Elouise sunk to the floor, confounded. Why was he so insistent on pressing Kirreny’s murder on her without even questioning about the method? A piercing scorch wound like that was bound to raise questions, but he seemed eager to pin the blame on her without even figuring out how a mark like that could even happen. He was covering up something, and she was his sacrificial lamb.

Thank God she managed to hide her rapier before the police came. Running away from the scene was probably the worst thing to do, so she channeled all her panic into concealing her carried weapon. Damn, why did she scream and alert the clock maker’s wife?

The poor woman. Hearing gunshots from Hugh’s coronation, her scream and seeing her husband with his chest gone must have sent her into hysterics. Sent her running into the street shouting bloody murder, with Elouise standing right in the center of her husband’s pool of blood.

Elouise managed to shove her rapier behind a workbench just before the police from the coronation ceremony two streets away came rushing in and capturing her. She was a little surprised Hugh was not among them, expecting him to jump right on his first case as constable. But he wasn’t there.

Elouise felt a little relived. He probably was given the day off or something,  and gone to celebrate with his fellow graduates. Judge Gregor was someone she didn’t want him to be anywhere near. He wouldn’t stand a chance against his cold-blooded ruthlessness. If McGregor found out about Hugh’s lineage, he would squeeze him dry with her as a bargaining tool.

Elouise smacked her hand to her head. She was in a right mess right now. Face to face with the biggest slag of a judge and a little out of options. She needed to get out, and lay low for a while. Her gaze shifted from the floor to the bars of the prison, looking for weak spots. The hinges might be able to be pried with the right tools. She turned her attention to the window of the cell, which was at the level of the floor outside. Problem is, that floor was the courtyard of the jurisdiction building, surrounded by a rather high wall.

The safe ways out was either in a transportation wagon, or a body bag. Neither of which she fancied at the moment. The dangerous ways out was either running out, or sneaking out, both punishable by decision of the judge. And she really didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. She bit her lip and buried her head in her hands.

“Ahh. Slyph,” a voice called. Elouise raised her head to see a scruffy invalid smiling at her from the neighboring cell. “In a bit of a pickle?” he flashed his yellow, beer-stained teeth. Elouise smiled uneasily back. “Murdered a man, eh? Finally managed to stand up for yourself then,” he leaned onto the bars separating them.

“I didn’t kill him. A lightning bolt did,” Elouise muttered. The man straightened at the words. “Lightning bolt?” his eyes widened and he began giggling.

Elouise sighed. “Never mind. You’re probably too drunk to understand.”

“Tell me,” the man coaxed. With painful recollection, Elouise recounted the wound of the dead clock maker, and the scorch mark she found on the wall.

The drunk was silent and still while listening, until Elouise, annoyed, thought him to be asleep. But when she finished her story, the man jumped up with a loud exclamation, so loud the bailiff from upstairs rapped his cane against the door to the prison cells below.

“I know what killed him. I know,” the man whispered maniacally, reaching out to her.