((Feel free to comment!))
“Miss Namori, I really must protest. This is outrageous!”
Bookworm Hienrichs paced a little in the dining room of the White Rabbit, where she was meeting with Miss Bianca Namori to discuss preparations for her event in a few weeks. Miss Namori had presented Bookworm with, as she termed it, “the bill so far.” It was certainly not a reassuring phrase, and the details had only made things worse.
“A charge to rent the dishes, plus an extra charge to ensure no cracks or chips in them, and that they’re clean? A charge not only to rent the exhibit space downstairs, but also to hang the pictures, and to repair the nail holes afterwards? A charge for food I can understand, but an extra fee to ensure it’s *fresh?*”
“What? You do not want us to make sure you have the best quality? The contract allows me to charge incidental fees as needed, Miss Hienrichs,” Miss Namori replied calmly, filling out the work orders as she half-way conversed with the woman before her.
“And what’s this large order of caviar doing on here?” Bookworm continued, waving the sheet around. “I *never* asked for caviar!”
“Really? Tsk, tsk…” came the bland reply. “You should have told me. I thought you’d certainly want caviar for such a…festive occasion. Well, since I bought it on your behalf, to ensure you had the best of the best…you still have to pay for it.”
Bookworm stopped her pacing abruptly, looking angrily at Miss Namori. “I can’t afford all this,” she said in a low, tight tone.
“If you can afford that dress you are wearing, you can afford this,” Bianca replied with a curl of the corner of her lips, matched only by Bookworm’s unimpressed scowl. Bianca shrugged and rose, placing her fingers together. “Oh, well then, what a pity.” There was no softening of Bianca’s gaze or voice. “Perhaps you can get a loan. I know some people who would be more than happy to do such business with you.”
Bookworm blanched at the thought. She knew full well that if ever she put herself in debt with Miss Namori or her associates, she’d never get *out* of debt. “No, no,” she said hastily. “I’ll find the money.” ‘Somehow,’ she added mentally as she turned to leave. Perhaps Mariah would help…
Bianca nodded, but stopped as Bookworm turned away, her eyes wide as a thought entered her mind. She remembered Underby’s constant complaints regarding this woman, and realized the great opportunity to really get back at her. “Miss Hienrichs?” Bookworm paused at the call. “There is…something…something else you could do.”
Reluctantly, she turned around. “And what is that?”
“I’m sure you’ve heard about our new boxing venture, just across the canal from The Gut,” Bianca said, and Bookworm nodded. “Well…I am sure you are not surprised…but…The Family owns it. And, well, we have a ladies’ night coming soon. A ladies’ *boxing* night, that is.” Bianca gave a Cheshire-cat grin.
“Heh,” Bookworm replied. “And who are you roping into *that?*”
“Well, *you,* for one, my dear.” Book stared at Miss Namori in shocked amazement, as she continued. “I will waive the incidental fees for your event–*all* of them–if you agree to box that night.”
Bookworm stared at her, stunned, for a moment, before her brain caught up with what Bianca had said. That bit of emphasis told her everything. If she didn’t agree to this, Miss Namori would continue the punitive charges. Even if Book could get help from Mariah, the more she paid Miss Namori, the more she’d find to charge her for. She’d bleed them both dry.
“All right,” she said abruptly. “But I want to see a *mutually* agreed-upon contract for this. One witnessed by an impartial third party.”
“Oh, my. One might think you didn’t trust me.” Bianca turned an innocent gaze on Bookworm, a gaze met by one of pure skepticism. She chuckled, knowing the superiority of her position, and settled into the negotiation.
It didn’t take long to create the draft of the contract. Bookworm agreed to box on the stipulated day, and to actually put effort into her boxing–which put paid to her half-formed plan to take an immediate dive. She also agreed she would have no claim on any of the admission money or betting take on that evening. In return, Miss Namori agreed that the incidental fees she had been charging for the White Rabbit event would be waived upon the completion of Bookworm’s match.
Once two copies of the contract had been written out, Bookworm stepped outside the White Rabbit, whistled shrilly, and waved over one of the dock workers who’d looked up. She explained to him that he was wanted as a witness to a contract, and ushered him inside. She read the copies over again carefully, then signed them, followed by Miss Namori. Then she directed the dock worker to read and sign them as a witness.
He read it, and looked up at Bookworm, startled. Her stormy gaze, however, precluded any comment from him. His lips twitching suspiciously, he bent back down and signed both copies. Taking Bookworm’s coin with a touch of his cap and a “Thank’ee, miss,” he left. Bookworm took her copy of the contract and left quickly. Mariah was not going to like this.
Mariah, indeed, did not like it. First came a nosepinch worthy of Baron Wulfenbach, then came the castigation, mainly boiling down to, “What were you *thinking?*” Bookworm waited for the storm to die down a little, and then began her explanation. As she talked, the anger in Mariah’s expression died away, replaced by some grimness and some resignation.
“All right,” she finally said. “Under the circumstances, I guess this really is the only solution. But *damn,* I really hope you can break free of them once this is all over.”
“As do I,” Bookworm replied with equal grimness.
“Well then, we’d best start practicing,” Mariah said, gesturing outside to the courtyard. “Let’s see how much boxing I can teach you in a week.”
((Knowledge of the fact that I’ll be boxing in the ladies’ night can be common knowledge IC–that dock worker certainly isn’t going to keep quiet a juicy piece of news like that. The full reason why, though, won’t be known.))