Esther pursues justice from the incident at the Doworth Theatre.
| Esther thought it odd that the doorman should be so shocked to see her, yet he greeted her cordially enough upon entry. Passing through the doors, she made her way to the reception desk. It seemed quite the excessive distance to travel to reach a reception desk, with it placed in the far rear of the sitting room. As she approached, her confusion grew.
There was no sign of the receptionist, at all. Drawing within several feet of the desk, she could make out what appeared to be the man’s torso leaning sideways in his chair. Stopping before the desk, she waited for the man to re-emerge from beneath his desk. Impatiently, but lady-like, nonetheless. Eventually, the man rose forth with a ledger, the cover of which he investigated, then lay it next to another ledger on the desk. Opening it, he began to compare the entries.
Gretchen, faithful as ever, cleared her throat at a volume that made it clear they were finished with waiting. Esther couldn’t keep her eyes from flicking disapprovingly towards her handmaiden. The receptionist jumped as if bit.
“What, in heav-” he began in alarm, then his eyes found her, and his face turned aghast. “L-l-lady… Vaunderhauss,” he stammered in reverence, shock plastered to his face. “H-how can… the… House of City Justice help you?”
“I require an audience with the commissioner, and the constables leading the investigation.” She waited for his response.
He sat there, wearing the same gape, eyes bulging.
“The investigation of last night’s incident,” she didn’t feel like saying too much about it here and now.
His eyes bulged even more, as he gaped.
“As both a victim and a witness to the incident, I find it prudent to provide my testimony.” She was wasting time with this, and losing patience.
He remained frozen with that same gape.
“Well, are you going to speak?” She lost her patience. “Or do I require a form of submission?” She placed a slight sting of heat on that last part, motioning towards a bracket of incident submission forms.
“No, n-n-no,” he finally began recollecting himself. “No, my lady. No.” He abruptly stood at his desk. “Please, Lady Vaunderhauss, allow me to assemble the audience you require. I shall return promptly.”
He turned to jog away.
“Oh,” he shot back to place, “and, please, do make yourself quite comfortable.” He motioned to the open sitting room. “Someone will be along shortly to provide refreshment.”
He started jogging off again.
“The lady will receive their audience in the commissioner’s office,” Gretchen’s voice halted the receptionist in place, wheeling him around. “She does not wish to speak of her affairs so openly,” and she waved about the interior of the sitting room. “Somewhere, where she can speak more confidentially, would be best.”
She left no room for argument.
“O-of course,” the receptionist deflated notably. “Of course. Please, my lady, do come right this way.”
With that, he stepped clear of the desk, and ushered both women from the sitting room.
Passing through the constables’ sitting quarters proved odder still. As the policemen in the room caught sight of her, they all grew quiet. Conversations ceased. Jokes and quips hung suspended indefinitely. Games stopped. Silence dominated the room with her passing.
Ascending two flights of stairs, they reached the offices at the top floor. The offices of City Justice high command. Approaching the center-most office, the receptionist took hold of the door, and cracked it open, poking his head through the gap.
“Pardon, Commissioner,” his voice came muffled through the door, “but Lady Vaunderhauss in here.”
There was a sharp breath from inside the office, and the receptionist mumbled something inaudible. Another sharp breath, and the receptionist’s head nodding awkwardly. A long moment of silence. Nothing happened. Esther felt her patience running thin, once again. Such ungracious behavior.
“Well, send her in, man!” barked a voice from within the office. “Send her in.”
The receptionist scrambled, throwing the door open. He turned, holding the door open, and ushered the two women into the office.
Esther walked straight up to the commissioner’s desk, eyeing a man who appeared proudest of his mustache. Commissioner Lathrop, was this one’s name. He appraised her with the same shock as she had received from the other lawmen.
“Lady… Vaunderhauss,” he managed. Then seeming to remember his legs, he stood. “How can I help you this day?”
“I did not receive a summons this morning, Commissioner,” her voice came cooly. “I find that most troubling.”
“Summons, my lady?” he extended the S in summons, giving voice to his confusion. Or an attempt at it.
“I expected to be summoned by your department, to acquire my testimony of last night’s incident.”
“Testimony, my lady?” his eyes grew with panic. “Incid-” his eyes lit with recognition, and he gaped. “Ah, yes, of course. Last night’s tragic incident outside the Doworth Theatre.”
He appeared hurt.
“I am so very sorry for the horrendous treatment that has befallen you in our fair city. If there is anything I can do to amend this wretched business, please ask it freely of me.”
Esther allowed the silence to build. She wanted to see if the discomfort aided his memory.
“Uh, my lady,” the commissioner started, “you mentioned your testimony?”
“I did,” she firmly crushed all doubt.
The commissioner cleared his throat several times.
“Yes… well, given the upstanding nature of our personal, my lady,” he droned, “and the high regard we hold in finding the truth, I deemed it best to leave you to your privacy.”
The corners of his mouth twitched slightly, an attempt to smile reassurance. Though he seemed petrified. Esther couldn’t stop herself from blinking in disbelief.
“You deemed it best to leave me to my privacy?” She stared heatedly into him. “After being victimized by four members of this department?” The commissioner appeared taken aback, then gradually began to shrivel before her. “Four members of this city’s law enforcement. You deemed it best to leave me to my privacy?”
“I didn’t want to trouble you any further, my lady,” he pleaded. “Given the business of your visit, and the dreadful state of last night’s affair, I found distancing on our part to be far preferable. Rest and recuperation is often most appreciative, and to a travelling woman such as yourself, no doubt.”
“What would be most appreciative, Commissioner,” her voice became rigidly firm, “would be for this department to see my family’s crest as something other than a flamboyant broach pin.” He shrivelled further. “I should not have to report of my own volition. I should not be unexpected, nor be ignored. I expect to be approached when my honor has been wounded, by those who intend to restore it.”
She drove him into the floor with her eyes.
“What would be most appreciative now, Commissioner,” she affirmed, “would be for an audience with yourself and your constables investigating this matter.”
“Investi-” his confusion turned to dread, accompanied by the light of recognition. He gaped, “Ah, yes. Yes, of course, the investigation.” He didn’t sound very convincing. “Do allow me to send for my constables, then.”
He hurried right of the desk, to a side door. Opening it, he thrust his head into yet another office.
“Camsden,” he barked, “get me the constables investigating the Doworth Theatre incident.”
“You mean from last night?” a confused voice came from the office.
“Yes!” the commissioner barked more aggressively. “Bring them here, along with materials for recording. Lady Vaunderhauss has been kind enough to provide her testimony.”
“Yes!” the commissioner barked more fervently. “Get to it, man. Quick as you can.”
Scrambling came from within the other office. The commissioner went to close the door, but then swung it back open.
“And be sure to attend, as well,” he stuck his head back into the depths of the room.
“Yes!” the commissioner bellowed, before shutting the door forcefully.
He turned back to Esther, looking like he had just run a mile.
“Would you care for refreshment, my lady?” he offered.
It would be a while yet before the constables had all been assembled to the commissioner’s office, and loner still to provide her testimony. She felt drained. Her stamina, like her patience, was fleeting. She honestly could use the pick up.
“Tea, please,” she sighed.
The tea tray Esther and Gretchen were using lay across the refreshment table with a third of its contents missing. Esther’s own cup and saucer sat empty on the tray, while Gretchen held hers in her lap, still nursing the beverage.
Commissioner Lathrop sat hollow in his chair, while his constables busied around him with their paperwork. The chief constable, Camsden, supervised their progress.
“Well, my lady,” Camsden chimed, “on behalf of this department and this city, I thank you for your most prompt response in the pursuit of justice. To be exposed to such deplorable behavior in our city is appalling. That you would carry yourself so graciously during these tumultuous times, is the very height of nobility. We owe you and your most noble house a great debt.”
“Indeed,” Esther let the word lie flat.
“Well,” Camsden began cautiously, “if that is all, then, you are, of course, free to-”
“My lady will also require a copy of the report,” Gretchen set her cup and saucer on the tray, then recovered a pamphlet from beside her on the sofa.
The pamphlet she had been carrying was actually Esther’s personal pamphlet. Unlike the one she used for business, this one dawned a fine textile cover presenting a field of silky green framed in glossy black. The trim work matched that of her business pamphlet, and her house’s colors stood boldly at the center displayed by a coat of arms.
Within the field of green, a silhouetted image of majestic Port Hogen sprawled across the cover. It depicted the capital city, Castle LeBoungoch, and the shimmering Jorvauntic beyond. The entire view appeared as if the artisan had stood upon Mount Rauhnvr when tracing the scene.
It was a lovely sight. One that got attention, for it left no doubt as to who she was. The men in the room all eyed it with dread. Camsden appeared to stop breathing, while Commissioner Lathrop lost all color.
“She is very keen,” Gretchen continued, “to document all business transactions, regardless of the nature.”
She held the pamphlet expectantly, staring the men down with stone to match Esther’s.
“O-of course,” Camsden deflated slightly. “Of course. Very good, my lady. We shall… have someone operate the printing press, shortly, and have you on your busy way.”
“Very good, chief constable,” Esther’s tone remained flatter than ever.
“My lady,” Camsden started, “would you perhaps prefer that we deliver your copy to your place of stay, once it’s finished? The printer will take some time, I’m afraid.”
“I will be fine waiting here, chief constable,” she left no doubt. “Once I am finished with this matter, then I will be on my way home.”
“Back to Port Hogen?” Camsden inquired. “So soon?”
“I was to be on my way home this morning, chief constable,” she bore down on him, all emotion vanished. “However, legal matters need to be attended.”
Ice hung in the air.
“Y-uh-yes,” Camsden stumbled. “Yes, of course. We shall have your copy promptly, my lady.”
Gathering their paperwork, the constables, ushered by Camsden, filed out towards the working quarters. The door closed behind them, leaving the two women with the commissioner once more. He wore an expression suggesting he was seeing a ghost.
“Commissioner,” Esther gently rattled the man from his daze, “my handmaiden needs to collect some affects from my carriage. Would you see that she has escort?”
“Of course,” he spoke with defeat. “Of course. I shall have someone escort her immediately.”
“Thank you,” then Esther turned to Gretchen. “Perhaps the next two books of the series?”
“I will bring the next three, my lady, just in case.”
Esther couldn’t help smiling appreciatively. Gretchen smiled broadly in return, then prepared to leave.
“Would you care to have your tea refreshed, my lady?” the commissioner offered.
“Please,” Esther accepted.
Esther was starting to reconsider the commissioner’s offer for a third pot. At the time she felt perfectly sated and hydrated, leaving the second pot nearly untouched. It had made sense then to decline, so as not waste anymore of the bitter leaves on her account. Ellencore blend always did taste rather odd to her palate. Now, however, she was succumbing to fatigue, losing all interest in the histories of imperial economics. Fourteenth edition, for that matter. That was such a tumultuous time for the empire. So intriguing. Yet she had been rereading the same line about Baron Wolheimar’s clandestine attempts to, something, five times now. She needed a pick up. Again.
Before she could make her decision, the office door opened.
“Excellent news, my lady,” Camsden bustled into the office, looking quite self satisfied. He presented a City Justice pamphlet, extending it to her.
“Our staff were most expedient, and have completed the copying process ahead of schedule.”
She took the pamphlet, flipping it open to a legal cover sheet, analyzing.
“Not according to my lady’s schedule, chief constable,” Gretchen casually exclaimed. “The copy is appreciated, of course.”
“O-of course,” Camsden replied, quite off-put. “Of course. Well, we certainly won’t keep you any longer.”
“Just one more thing, chief constable,” Esther halted any further farewells. “I still must examine the contents of this report.”
“M-my lady?” Camsden showed his confusion.
“It is prudent that I ensure these documents are presentable within a court of law.”
The color drained from Camsden’s face. He looked dumb-founded. The commissioner looked as though the lid of his coffin had just been close over the top of himself.
“My lady is very thorough,” Gretchen pointed.
“Y-yes,” the word oozed from Camsden’s mouth. “Yes, course of. Very good, my lady.”
He pushed the door shut, then drifted towards the commissioner’s desk. Sitting in a chair off to the side, he looked like a man preparing to accept his fate. Pure dread plagued both men.
The more of the report Esther read, the more heated she became. That heat quickly built, gathering in intensity. She read their vague claims, and grew annoyed. She read their ridiculous lies, and became angry. She read their complete mockery, and became incensed.
Fingers tight around the pamphlet cover, cheeks tingling, breath coming like fire. She grit her teeth, despite herself, and stared fury into the men, like a tempest descending on two tiny ships. Standing, she abandoned Gretchen to the sofa, leaving the handmaiden in confusion. Holding the pamphlet out before her, like the piece of rubbish it was, she gradually paced towards the desk.
“What is this?” Esther hissed each syllable.
Both men looked to be contemplating jumping out the rear window in retreat.
“A fiction for the press sheets?”
She threw the pamphlet onto the desk, as if hucking trash. It clattered, bursting open, and spilling its contents into the commissioner’s lap. Jumping, both men watched in horror as the tempest engulfed them.
“Is this what you intend to have me believe? That I was not present? That I did not see with my own eyes? Not once is my name mentioned. Not once! Am I to believe that I simply do not exist? That I am a spectre?”
“Lady Vaunderhauss, please-” the commissioner pleaded.
“They enticed me, Commissioner Lathrop!” she let loose all her rage, and the commissioner coward before her, seeming to lose all breath. “They tried to allure me with lewd advances and vulgar quips. Tried to bribe me with my own rightful property. My family’s property. Am I to expect this kind of treatment every time I must visit this backwards city? Is my name so low that I warrant this insolence? This mockery?”
“Lady Vaunderhauss,” the commissioner blubbered through his tears, “I am so, so sorry. We have acted most horrendously to you and your most noble house. This disrespect is most intolerable in us. Please, allow me the opportunity to amend this matter. I will do so with all my power in office as this fair city’s commissioner.”
“Please, forgive us, Lady Vaunderhauss.” Camsden took up the begging. “Forgive us our indecency. We owe you a great debt, my lady. Please tell us, how we may redeem ourselves and this fair city, in the eyes of both you and your most noble house?”
She eyed them each individually, noting how attentive they were to her words. Her demands. She allowed them to hang for a while longer before addressing them.
“I want those four brought here,” she hissed finality. “Now. I do not care how many men it takes. I don’t care how long it takes. I want them leased in, and kenneled. Drag them in, if you have to.”
“They will sit before me, and explain themselves to me, in this office. The constables leading this investigation will re-evaluate the perpetrators before re-submitting their documents. They will also explain themselves to me, and record their own confessions.”
She waved at the scattered pages before continuing.
“This entire falsehood will be rendered null and void. The revision shall prevail as the official legal documentation of this case. I expect a copy be made available for my own personal records.” She finished.
“Yes, my lady,” the commissioner managed to gasp. “Of course. It shall be done at once.”
He was completely defeated. Crushed, like an insect. Turning to the bemused chief constable, he proceeded.
“Camsden, I want you to take the constables out to every watch station in this city, if need be. Find those four, and bring them here.”
“The ones leading the investigation, sir?” Camsden inquired. “Before her ladyship can uh… speak with them?”
They both turned towards Esther, unwilling, or incapable, of addressing her.
“It would be best if they went to round up the four in question,” Gretchen inclined, fully recovered from her earlier confusion. “There is little need to involve those outside this investigation. Also, my lady would prefer they all be present together. Makes her inquiry more efficient.”
The commissioner turned back to the chief constable, staring momentarily.
“Yes!” the commissioner exploded.
The sudden outburst at the chief constable caused the man to jump out of his chair. Racing for the door, the commissioner’s bellowing chased Camsden from the office.
“Don’t just laze there. Get your feet marching out of this office, immediately. Take every constable, if you have to. Find those four!”
The door slammed behind Camsden as he disappeared. The commissioner sank into his chair, sighing in defeat.
“May I offer you another tea, my lady?” the commissioner offered.
“Would you happen to have anything other than Ellencore?” Esther could certainly use tea right now, just not any more Ellencore blend.
“I have a shipment of Kalru Maangan that came in a few days ago.”
As if anything from West Lysia could be considered exotic. Though, as she thought about it, this far north, anything from Lysia was probably considered exotic. The Thessilians she had met certainly seemed to think so.
Still, Kalru Maangan grew proper tea, at least. Their blends far surpassed anything processed in this country. Likely they would ruin the tea, but she was parched enough, from her last tirade, to allow them this small chance. Could the House of City Justice in this city defend so much as a beverage?
“That would be lovely, Commissioner,” Esther accepted.
Satisfied that all the documents were in order, Esther placed her copy of the revised report over her copy of the original. It was infuriating that she should have to keep some wretched filth, but filing all documentation was important to her. Important to her business. Her family’s business. Even these lies required proof of their existence. All the papers slipped snuggly into her personal pamphlet, and she folded it close.
“I cannot begin to describe just how much I respect you, Lady Vaunderhauss,” the commissioner breathed in awe, and shame. “Your diligence in pursuing justice in this matter is most impressive. On behalf of myself, this department, and this city, I thank you for your efforts. We are all greatly indebted to you and your most noble house.”
Esther handed the pamphlet to Gretchen, who in turn placed it into a handbag she had retrieved from the carriage along with the books. Editions thirteen through fifteen sat in the bottom of the bag, along with a third edition of old Aethish folk tales and a crocheting set.
“Perhaps you should carefully consider that,” Esther cautioned, “the next time one of this city’s more upstanding members wishes for me to visit. There are so many places where I can invest my family’s business.”
“Of course, my lady,” the commissioner sighed in shame.
Standing, Esther allowed Gretchen to open and hold the door.
“Good evening, Lady Vaunderhauss,” the commissioner managed softly.
“Good evening, Commissioner,” she regarded him before turning back to the door.
Staring out the open door, a thought suddenly struck her. Her eyes widened with surprise, both from overlooking it and for having thought of it at all.
“What of the army academy?” she spun around, sounding more desperate than she had intended.
“The Docksbury and Combs Academy, my lady?” the commissioner looked up at her in confusion.
“Yes,” she reasserted herself, regaining her calm. “The army sergeant involved in this matter would be from the academy. I think it fitting that his command receive a copy of the report as well.”
“It will already be enroute to the academy, my lady” the commissioner informed, devoid of all emotion. “By way of coureur. Our printers are instructed to automatically print duplicates for all parties involved, you see.”
“Very good, then,” Esther approved, feeling much better. “Good evening, Commissioner.”
Without waiting for his mumbled response, she turned, and stepped from the commissioner’s office.
An escort stepped forward, beckoning her to follow. Obliging, she allowed herself to be led through the building, though she willed the escort to move faster. She was probably already walking as fast as was socially acceptable, yet she couldn’t help but desire to be out of that awful building, already. Still, she followed the escort, trying not to tread on his heels.
At long last they reached the entrance. The escort took hold of the door, and pushed it open into the night. He held the door, ushering her from the building. Stepping out into the cool night, Esther felt like she could breathe properly again for the first time in hours. It had been a very long day.
“A pleasant evening to you, my lady,” a cheerful voice called out from behind the entrance door.
Wheeling around, Esther found the same doorman from earlier, standing casually. He smiled and waved politely, while a second doorman, she didn’t recognize, stood rigid in place, eyes bulging in surprise. Probably the original doorman’s relief.
As much as she wanted to blaze fury at the poor man, she couldn’t bring herself to do so. Instead, she huffed out her frustration, and bid the doorman a pleasant evening in return. He beamed in positive delight, waving more enthusiastically.
Turning, she rolled her eyes heavenward before continuing her descent down the steps. Approaching her carriage, her valet opened the door smartly, allowing her to duck into the vehicle without slowing her stride. Finding the front seat, she sat with a heavy sigh. Gretchen followed soon after, taking her seat towards the rear of the vehicle. The door shut behind them. Then shoes clicked on the walkway, and the carriage jostled slightly as the valet climbed into the passenger seat up front. A moment later, and the driver motioned the horses forward with a whistle and light toss of the reins. The carriage rocked as they drove off.
At that moment all the energy evaporated from Esther’s body. She left so tired. Her inn suite was still quite the drive away, yet she couldn’t wait to get back. She desperately wanted to take a long, long bath. She felt so dirty, so violated. It had been a very long day.