Theodore descended the stairs and stepped into the chill of the city dungeon. It was a vast complex of iron hidden beneath the capital’s cobblestone streets. The entrance was bare, occupied by a few metal stools. This was the colder face of the government he served.
“Hello?” Theodore said, approaching the office window.
The silhouette of a clerk moved, obscured behind a pane of barred and tinted glass. Theodore waved to try and get their attention.
“Knight Detective Whitechain sent for me,” he said.
There was some indiscernible muffled speaking. He or she seemed irritated.
“What?” Theodore said.
There was harsher muffled speaking. Theodore craned his ear to hear but it was no good.
“It’s about an interrogation,” Theodore said.
“Name of the inmate is Oboe. Last name…” Did Oboe have a last name? He knew gnomes did. Why hadn’t he ever thought to ask? “Unknown.”
The clerk walked away. Theodore waited, and waited, and began to suspect he had been abandoned. He squinted into the tinted glass and was startled by a loud, buzzing click. A vault door groaned open to reveal Conrad Whitechain.
“Ah! Theodore. There you are.” He grabbed his hand to shake. “Thank you for agreeing to assist. Everything is in order. The suspect is ready to be questioned.”
Theodore followed, the iron door thundering shut behind them. Somewhere deep in the complex a person was screaming and yelling at the top of their lungs. The voice echoed down the cramped corridors of the prison.
Conrad smirked at Theodore’s unease. “The inmates are rowdy in the morning.”
They passed rows of unoccupied cells. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this place,” Theodore said. “It’s so… alienating.”
“Justice demands a price,” Conrad said. “We cannot coddle criminals. An enemy of order is a threat to society and they will be treated as such.”
Theodore might’ve agreed a few days ago. He wondered if he was destined to occupy one of these cells. “Have you learned anything?” He hoped he did not sound as anxious as he felt.
“Very little,” Conrad said. “She freely admits to the crime but refuses to tell us how to find the prince.”
“Have you had to use… force?” Theodore said.
“Torture is forbidden by the treaties, and I find it shameful, but I suspect the king will lift the ban if things turn desperate enough.”
Theodore worried. “We don’t need it. She seemed sweet tempered.”
“Don’t be fooled by an innocent façade,” Conrad said. “Keep in mind what she did. You cannot know anyone’s true character until they have been tested by danger and temptation. That’s something your father taught me.”
This again. Theodore ground his teeth. “I believe you learned more from him than I ever did.”
Conrad chuckled. “Well, maybe I just had the ears to listen.” He looked up at the overhead lights and his eyes filled with memory. “I failed Advanced Knight Training my first time through. Came close to quitting. I was weaker than the other cadets. That was a fact.” He gave Theodore a vulnerable look. “Sir Grayweather encouraged me to keep trying. Said he had a son like me. Saw the same potential in both of us. Now I see that for myself.”
Theodore let out a snort. “My father was a stubborn fool. I’m not cut out for this sort of work. It was a mistake for them to make me Ranger Deputy.”
“Yet here we are.” Conrad opened his arms. “Every report I’ve heard says you’ve done better in the job than any deputy in decades. I see him in you. This suits you, whether you want to admit it or not.”
Theodore held his tongue. He loathed to be compared to his father, but there was no point in arguing. The detective could believe whatever he wanted so long as it helped him save Oboe. If Theodore couldn’t escape his father’s shadow, he might as well use it to his advantage.
“I suppose you’re right,” Theodore said.
Conrad grinned. “Of course I am.” He said as he unlocked the way forward.