Theodore paced the confines of his cells after the spriggan commander left. He couldn’t afford to be detained while Oboe’s fate was still uncertain. He needed a way out.
If there were a lock he could try to pick it, but there was no such mechanism. He was sealed inside by plant growth controlled by magic. He tried to pry the brambles apart and found them as rigid as steel. The floor was a bedrock of stone. Even if Theodore had though to bring a handsaw or shovel it would not have helped him. No amount of force was going to work here.
Rupert, the pooka jailer, yawned and smacked his lips. He was the one in control of the vines, but he seemed ready to doze off again. If his work ethic was this abysmal, perhaps he was dimwitted as well. Theodore wondered how gullible he was.
“Hello? Cadet?” Theodore leaned against the vines. “I’ve finished inspecting the cell. You can open it.”
“Huh?” He shook himself alert. “What’re you talking about? You’re a prisoner. You stay in the cell. That’s your job. My job is not letting you out. It’s simple.”
“No, I am not a prisoner.” Theodore gestured towards his uniform. “As you can see, I am an official jail inspector. I was sent from the capital to insure your prisons are safe and meeting all regulation.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. The commander was mean to you.”
Theodore took a gamble. “Isn’t she mean to everyone?”
Rupert couldn’t help but nod. “Yeah, that’s true.” Something clicked. “Wait a second. You’re trying to trick me! This is like the time that captive promised to feed me grubs if I let him out.” He bared his teeth. “There weren’t any grubs at all! Only lies!”
“No, no!” Theodore struggled to keep his poker face. “I am an inspector. I refer you to consider Laien city ordinance 113.2-B. All prisons are required to be graded annually for compliances in safety and security. So far your jail is doing very well in the security category.”
Rupert beamed. “Of course it is! My thorns are the strongest there are!”
“But you’re doing poorly in the safety department.” He sniffed, and pointed at the animal droppings in the corner of the cell. “This is unsanitary. How often are these cells cleaned?”
Panic struck. “That’s not my fault! The Spriggan guard keep bringing in captives to fill cells faster than we have a chance to clean!”
“That’s no excuse,” Theodore said. “Have you tried rotating prisoners between cells? That would enable you to get cleaning done where it’s needed most.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Rupert admitted.
“That’s why these inspections are routine,” Theodore said. “Now, I notice the vines are very dry. What is your policy in the event of a fire?”
The jailer’s face turned toward embarrassment. “I don’t think we have one.”
“Let me see a map of your facility. We can plan a fire escape route together.”
Without any argument, Rupert opened the cell. They met at a table where the pooka brought out a pencil to sketch a crude map of the briar patch jail. Together, they collaborated on the most efficient route for Theodore to escape.
“I feel safer already,” Rupert said.
“You should still run drills to make sure everyone is familiar with what to do. Now, do you have a filing system? How do you keep track of inmate records?”
“Oh. I don’t think so.” Rupert scratched his head.
Theodore gave him a stern look. “How do you know where a captive is and when they are ready to be released?”
“Usually Benny keeps track of all that in his head. He’s got a real good memory.”
He shook his head. “That isn’t good enough. You’ll make fewer mistake if you enforce a system to keep track of everything.”
Before Theodore realized what he was doing, he was instructing the pooka on proper filing etiquette. He went so far as to design a system where inmates up for parole would have their files automatically refiled into the warden’s desk inbox, and a color-coded registration system for assigning inmate locations.
They were interrupted when a uniformed leshy stepped into the room and caught them.
“What’s going on in here?!”
Theodore froze. It wasn’t until that moment that he realized he’d lost control of himself.
“Benny!” Rupert said. “This human is helping us make a new system so we know when to let inmates go!”
“What? Really?” Benny’s face sagged with relief. “That’s wonderful! I am so sick of having to remember everything. I just made stuff up half the time.”
Theodore let himself breathe again. That was a close call and he couldn’t afford to push his luck much further. He needed to get back on track and find Oboe.
“I have a theoretical question for you both,” Theodore said. “Let’s say a nameless fairy comes back to the Circle after years of exile. Where would she be kept in your jail here?”
“A nameless?” Benny ran his fingers through a mossy beard. “They wouldn’t keep a nameless in the Outer Circle jail. It’s too serious a crime. They’d haul that scum to the Inner Circle dungeon to be tortured and stand trial.”
Worry spurred Theodore to wrap this up. “Very good. I plan to inspect that jail next. How do I go about getting there?”
“That’s easy.” Rupert said. “Just grab a boat at the dock. The Inner Circle is the island on the center of the lake.”
Theodore smiled. “One last thing, while I’m investigating your security, I’d like to have an idea of the patrol routes for your city guards. To check for weak points, you understand.”