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A Minor Misdemeanor

By Firecadet

Humor / Adventure

Chapter 1

Jenny snuggled into the threadbare, stinking blanket, trying to retain some warmth in the cold cell inside Newgate prison, huddled into a ball on the narrow straw pallet that was serving as her bed for the night, a far cry from the warm, eiderdown quilted bed she normally slept in, at least partially as a hot water bottle for the other occupant, her wife, Madame Vastra. For a few moments, she wondered about taking advantage of the lock picks that lived in the heel of her boots, concealed behind a plug made with boot-blacking and cork, She quickly decided otherwise, though, simply because she would have little chance of actually making it out of the building.

Eventually, she managed to drift off to sleep, pondering how she'd ended up behind bars in the depths of Newgate prison.

When she deposited the tenth tray of empty glasses in the kitchen, Jenny waved over the new maid, Alex.

"Alex, could you take over the drinks for a bit?" She asked the other girl, trying not to notice the certain resemblance between them. She was sure Vastra was going to behave, though, largely because of some rather grisly threats Jenny had made, involving phrases like 'ice' and 'river'. She had also suggested to the other maid that Vastra was a tad unbalanced, mentally. That hadn't taken much convincing, thanks to what she privately saw as one of the more ridiculous views of the Victorian public, that deformation was a divine punishment, and if someone believed that God didn't like someone, that they were mentally unbalanced was easy to believe as well.

"Where are you going to be if I need you?" Alex asked, looking nervous at the prospect of serving so many drinks to the rich, famous, well-connected and socially mobile elite that crowded the redecorated drawing room and dining room, freed from the greenhouse environment that Vastra usually maintained, and replaced with simply painted walls, hung with what Vastra assured anyone who asked were expert reproduction copies of more famous paintings.

In all honesty, Vastra hadn't stolen them herself. She'd acquired them after the resolution of the Caldwell museum case, when she tracked down the thief, known in the papers as "the ghost", because of his skill at leaving no evidence behind. A forensically aware criminal was almost unheard of in Victorian England, but he'd left a scent trail, after walking into a pot of geraniums inside the museum while relieving the collection of three old masters, worth, in total, around one hundred and twenty thousand pounds.

That had been all Vastra needed to track him down.

Unfortunately, when she arrived, a pistol had been discharged at her, filling the room with powder smoke, but doing little to inconvenience a Silurian wearing an FBI issue ballistic vest, even without the ceramic insert.

Jenny had been outside, being inconspicuous by reading a newspaper, with a nine millimetre semiautomatic pistol in a pocket sewn into her dress, which also concealed a fifteen inch bowie knife, along with her own ballistic vest. Any attempt to relieve her of her purse, or any other item, would have ended badly.

Vastra had made sure there were separate dishes at the table that night.

"Down the Pig and Hound." Jenny said. "I need a drink, and some time to think."

"Don't be too long." The other girl pleaded.

"I won't be." Jenny replied, before slipping out of the kitchen door, into the packed stable yard. The variety among horses was surprisingly limited to different stars, with the occasional sock being the only thing to break the almost uniform choice of chestnut horses.

The coachmen were gathered around one of any universe's constants: a metal bin with holes cut into it, with various branches, remains of scrap furniture and quite possibly some of Jenny's firewood keeping the impromptu brazier stoked.

Her heels, short as they were, were still unsuitable for the slightly uneven pavements and roads she had to cross, and she nearly did her ankle in several times, before finally arriving outside the pig and hound.

The pub door was open, allowing both heat and sound to spill out into the cold February evening, with skies clear enough that Jenny had seen stars from the rear terrace of the house. The light of a blazing stove also spilled out into the night, bringing with it a hint of tobacco smoke.

Inside, the taproom was crowded with people, some of them wearing the simple garb of a labourer, with a pint glass in one hand full of small beer, while others wore the less utilitarian garb of the shopkeeper, and had pints of their own. The local policeman, the officer who'd been assigned the paternoster beat for the last year, after fifteen years service in the metropolitan police force, was sitting in a corner, demonstrating the ability of a police officer not to notice anything that might cause them to forget that this is their local.

Jenny wandered up to the bar, making her way with ease through a crowd that knew better than to make the friendly advances pioneered by the half-drunken man, as the last man to pinch her backside, for instance, had needed three weeks before he could resume counting the takings with his right hand, after she broke two fingers and his thumb.

"Evening, Sam." She greeted the bartender, noticing as she did so the small knot of apprentice lawyers and clerks gathered in a corner by themselves, marked out by their distinctive top hats.

"Evening, Miss Flint." Sam replied, smiling at her. "What'll it be?"

"Have you got any sherry?" She asked.

"As it happens, I do." The bartender replied. "We found a case last night."

"I think I'll have some, then." Jenny responded, knowing full well that the case had likely been acquired in a fashion that PC Miller might just have wanted to discuss with the landlord.

Without further ado, a small glass was produced, from under the bar, and a generous measure of sherry was poured into it. The pale liquid was surprisingly cold, with hints of juniper, along with crisp berries. Refreshed, she decided to order another one, which was delivered as smoothly as the first.

When she'd finished her second glass, she examined the vessel more closely, before gently tapping the base with a fingernail. It rang in the same way the best crystal did.

Shaking her head, she put down her glass, before tossing a shilling onto the counter, and heading back.

The return journey was less hazardous, mostly because she had crossed over to the opposite side early on; avoiding the multiple cobbled side-streets and carriageways she'd nearly done herself a mischief on during her walk to the pub.

The slight warmth of the sherry made her a little too relaxed, and she used her key to enter through the front door.

Inside, the party was just as rowdy as the pub she'd just left, although different garb was on display. Ball gowns and tailcoats were much in evidence, as were knots of simpering teenage girls, clad in embroidered gowns likely to cost more than a navvy's annual wage. These knots were orbited by well-dressed boys of a similar age, and here and there, a female would break away from a knot, and ensnare a male in talk of dresses, horses and music. Sometimes, a mature female would swoop down, and separate the pairs with the phrase "and now you must meet..." addressed to one of them, leaving the other to re-enter circulation.

As she pushed, or rather, made her way politely through the crush, Jenny felt a hand on her arm.

She turned, to be faced with a young man who appeared older than most in the room.

"Say, what are you doing in here?" He asked, breathing into her face with breath that smelt of good drink and rich food.

"I'm passing through, sir." She replied, trying not to tense. "I'm Madame Vastra's maid."

"Are you now?" He said. "I'm sure I could find you something different to do, for the next while."

"I don't think so." She replied, firmly. "I need to get back to their kitchens."

"You can't take five minutes to pass the time of day with me?" He asked.

Then he leant forwards. "Cm'here."

She reacted without her brain consulting with the muscle groups involved. Rather than an open-handed, stinging slap, she instead delivered a punch to his face, locking her wrist for maximum effectiveness.

The slap of her first on his face echoed around the suddenly silent room.

"She just punched me!" He yelled.

At the yell, Madame Vastra detached herself from a discussion of lace and hemlines, and glided over.

"Jennifer, did you strike this young gentleman?" She demanded of her erstwhile wife, signalling subtly that this was Ma'am and servant time.

"I did, ma'am." She replied, flushing without putting in any effort at all.

"And why, Jennifer, did you strike the honourable young Mr Brown?"

"I have no excuse, ma'am."

"Indeed. Strax!"

After a moment the sontaran butler arrived at the small cluster of activity around the door.

"You called, ma'am?"

"Strax, go up to the end of the road, and see if Constable Miller is in the pig and hound, will you."

"Yes, ma'am. I will seek out the constable, and bring him back here in..."

"Very good, Strax." Vastra said quickly, over any mention of the Sontaran Empire. "And as for you, Jennifer, you will go up to your room and wait there for the constable."

"Yes, ma'am." Jenny replied with a curtsy, before going up the stairs, heading for the garret that served has as an official home, in which she kept garments for her work as a servant, rather than the bedchamber she and Vastra shared, which was locked when strangers were on the premises to avoid some of the more awkward questions involving leather cat suits, katanas, and some of the gadgetry contained within.

After a few minutes, she heard the rattle of hobnails on the cobbled street, followed by the habitual pounding on a door that is the traditional leitmotif of a large, florid-faced and genial police officer presented with such a portal, regardless of the fact that the butler was in fact standing next to him outside.

Fortunately for the door, Madame had taken on a second maid for the season, who opened the door with a neat curtsy and a smile. A few moments later, Jenny heard the rattle of hobnailed boots on narrow wooden stairs, and rose, nervously to her feet.

"And wot, miss flint, did ya fink ya were doin' tonight?" He asked, smiling slightly. "Ya 'now ya ain't allowed to punch t' nobs, don't ya?"

"I know, officer." She replied, focusing firmly on his boots.

"Look, we all 'now ‘ow’t 'appens. Ya 'ave a drunk youn' man, and 'e lays a 'and on ya. So ya slap 'im. 'E gets t' message, an' backs orf. Problem solved. But no, ya 'ad to go an' punch 'im. An' ya now wha' tha' means."

"It means I'm going before Mr Clarence in the morning." She replied, downcast.

"In one, Miss Flint. Now, if ya woul'n't mind 'olding out ya ands, I'll do t' 'onours."

Reluctantly, Jenny held her hands out, before looking away in embarrassment as a pair of darbies were fastened around her wrists, forming a pair of rings connected by a chain, but just slightly too small to get a hand through, although she suspected that if she tried too hard, she might be able to. Not that she would. It'd be an excellent way to get a clip around the earhole.

To her surprise, Miller led her down the back stairs, solicitously holding onto one of her arms, ensuring that despite her cuffed wrists, the results from a trip or slip would be negligible.

Her training with Madame Vastra paid off, however, and she was able to keep her balance on the narrow stairs, despite the lack of access to a handrail.

When they reached the coach yard, Strax was waiting, having already harnessed the horse into the coupe, and was in the driver's seat, holding the reins of one of the city's most put-upon horses. High speed pursuits, mercy dashes and even sprints to achieve a last moment rescue were a fact of life when you were the horse pulling Madame Vastra's coupe. It was fed on a diet that would have been considered excessive for a champion racehorse, but it just about kept the weight off with mad dashes back and forth across London.

The journey to Newgate prison was short, the coupe rattling along the stones for about five minutes, thanks to the lack of traffic, before arriving outside the forbidding gates of the prison.

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