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At the time Arnold had appointed, Lisa Fargazer tapped quietly at the front door. Arnold must have been waiting, for the door opened right away.
“Hello,” Lisa replied as she stepped inside. Had she looked at Arnold more closely, she would have seen that he looked as if he’d had a rough morning. But instead, she was looking around, remembering her other time in the building.
The harsh and unnerving metal interior had been covered up with wood and red wallpaper, and black and white tile had replaced the metal floors. “As you can see,” Arnold wryly commented, “we’ve changed things.”
Lisa nodded. “Because of Tepic and me?”
“Partly. You’re why we added bars to the stairs.” Lisa snorted in amusement, and he continued, “But the walls were already going to be changed.”
They stepped into the room off the entrance. It actually was a nice place to Lisa’s eyes, with a cheerful rug on the floor, and comfortable chairs by the fireplace. A chair and a couch were situated to one side, with a large desk and two bookshelves at the back wall. She relaxed in the warmth of the room.
“This is the office,” Arnold said. “Feel free to read any of the books, if you can–I doubt anyone will stop you. But be sure to put them back.”
Lisa nodded, letting her eyes run along the shelves, wondering if there was anything there she’d be able to read and understand. She looked forward to finding out.
Arnold led her across the hall to a room with a large table. There were a few dishes still on it, and even her human nose could pick up the scents of a recent meal. “The kitchen is the same as always,” Arnold said. “It just looks less… intimidating.” Lisa guessed she’d be spending quite a bit of time down here. So be it.
She followed Arnold back into the main hallway, and up the stairs. He triggered the mechanism to raise the bars that blocked the top, and they stepped into a smaller hallway. Arnold led her to the left, gesturing to an empty room. “This is going to be Dr. Solsen’s room. He can’t stay at hotels forever.” Further on was a narrow room with four boxes. Doors gave access to each, and she could feel warm air around them. Arnold gestured at them. “Steam boxes.” After a moment, he asked as he led her down the hall, “Do you have any questions?”
“What will be my duties? Just cleaning, or would there be more?” She wanted to be sure she could handle what was coming.
“Just cleaning for now,” Arnold said, and she nodded, looking relieved. “We’ll find more for you to do as it becomes apparent you can handle it.” He opened the familiar barred door that led to the cells. “But I don’t expect you to deal with… them. Not yet.”
Lisa looked around, her eyes wide at all the changes. Before there had been a few rooms that had been outside of the locked down area, but now everything was behind the gate. The cells themselves were now separate boxes rather than lining a wall as they had before. There was a window for each room and now there were pictures showing the person contained within.
Unerringly, Lisa’s eyes went to the picture of Tenderpaws, and she stepped forward, peering in the window. She saw a figure lying on a bed, staring blankly at the ceiling. “He hasn’t moved,” Arnold told her. She sighed and put a hand on the window, wondering where his spirit had fled.
“Him or the other,” Arnold continued.
“Other?” Lisa was startled, and looked into the room next door, where another figure lay, unmoving. She looked back at Arnold, but he had moved down the hallway, and she followed him. He’d paused in front of one window, looking in. Lisa started as she saw the man inside, wrapped up in a strange jacket. The man sneered at them, cruelly. She felt her own lip curl up in a snarling response, before she controlled herself.
“Don’t mind him,” Arnold warned her, “whatever he tells you.”
“Goin’ to get ou’ one day,” the man snarled, his voice muffled by the glass, but still audible. “And when I do, we’re goin’ to find ou’ wha’ sound a cat makes when its neck is wrung.”
“He says things like that a lot,” Arnold said wryly.
Lisa shook herself a little. “Ugh–unpleasant man.”
“Many of the people in here are unpleasant. Others… have just needed a little help.” He sighed as he led her out of the block of rooms. “If you can deal with them, and Canergak, you shouldn’t have any trouble.”
Lisa nodded, and followed Arnold up more stairs. He indicated a room to one side. “This will be an office for the new doctor. A surgery room, I’m hearing. I’m not sure I like that…” Lisa wasn’t sure, either, and resolved to keep watch when this was finished.
Arnold gestured to another area. “This will have individual rooms for people to stay in while they work here–if they have to stay overnight.” Lisa nodded again; she wasn’t sure she’d need to use one when they were finished, but it was good to have that option.
“And finally, the bell tower,” Arnold said as he led her up a last set of stairs. They emerged into a cavernous room of wood and stone. Lisa looked up at the workings of the clock that faced north, toward the city, and the six large bells that hung from the rafters. She smiled, remembering what Tepic had told her about his expedition into this very room to silence those bells. “Have they been repaired yet?” she asked.
“They won’t be,” Arnold replied. “Canergak told them not to, that the ‘experiment’ was over.” He shrugged. “Why he wanted to see what bells did to people who are mentally unstable is beyond me, but I can tell you that we didn’t learn anything. Except that, yes, it makes them worse!”
“Hmph. It would make even the sane worse,” she commented sourly.
Arnold nodded. “We were all getting riled up about it. If Tepic hadn’t done something, I would have. Eventually.” Lisa grinned at that.
“There is something else I need to tell you about,” Arnold continued, looking grim. “Bookworm Hienrichs came here earlier.” Lisa frowned, then nodded, remembering that that was someone in the Militia. “I’m suspected of murder.” As her eyes widened in surprise, he continued, “I’m fairly sure it was one of Rasend’s victims who did it, though, from when he had escaped.”
“Who has been killed?”
“One of Cortman’s men,” Arnold said. “And one of Beatrixe’s. Penn and Yolinde, apparently. Both of them worked here.”
“Hmm.” Lisa’s eyes narrowed. “Well, I can’t really feel at all sorry for Cortman’s man. They’re nearly as bad as he is.”
Arnold stared at her, and finally continued, “Beatrixe’s man was only about nineteen–a few years older than you are now.”
Lisa grimaced, but nodded, understanding what Arnold was trying to do. Even now, the pragmatism of her cat nature tended to win out over the empathy of her human body. Though she would fight fiercely to protect her cat friends and family from unnatural death at the hands of humans or other creatures, death was still an ever-present aspect of their lives. One of Lisa’s sisters had died this past spring, due to complications giving birth to her litter. Another of her sisters had lost most of her litter to the sewer flooding a few months ago. Such things happened.
Arnold’s next comments, though, recaptured her attention, and made her realize this was, indeed, serious. “They both fought back from the look of it, but were torn apart. I think it was a Fik’ama’n,” he concluded, using the Feline term for a werewolf. Lisa felt a little sick at that news. “I’ll tell the cats to look for it,” she said. “Though it’s not so easy tracking scents in this cold.”
She paused, remembering. “And actually, speaking of Cortman…”
“What?” Arnold looked interested.
“The cats tell me he went to Mr. Lighthouse some time ago. Then, after a while, to another man, who smells of medicines.”
“He’s sick. That’s one reason I wanted you not to come until I cleaned. I scrubbed down everything I could with peroxides. I can’t catch human plagues, myself.”
“Still, he’s not been to the… regular doctors. Dr. Watson, or Dr. Sonnerstein…”
“That’s not good.” Arnold sighed. But then he seemed to dismiss Cortman from his mind, and led her down the stairs, back to the main floor. “If I get arrested, for a little while, go ahead and do what you can here.”
Lisa nodded. “If you want to hide, though, I’ll help.”
Arnold shrugged. “Why hide? If I’m taken and they kill again, I’m cleared either way. And they will kill again.” He looked at her, very soberly. “Lisa… don’t travel alone. And I don’t mean travel just with cats–travel with someone.”
Lisa was startled. “Why?”
“Because you’re working here now. Who knows if that makes you a target or not… perhaps not. But still–be careful.”
She nodded thoughtfully, though she wasn’t sure how she could arrange to have someone go with her to and from the Sneaky Vole. Perhaps she should sleep at the asylum, after all…
They stepped outside the main door, and Arnold handed her a set of keys. “Try these,” he said. Lisa took the set, remembering how to use such things from her escape from Ambrose’s lair. Arnold indicated a key, and she turned it in the lock, opening the door.
Arnold nodded. “So long as the doors aren’t bolted, you should get in without issue now.”
Lisa closed and locked the door again, then put the key ring in the pocket of her skirt. As they both walked to to the Sneaky Vole, she looked at herself. “I… I should get some different clothing, shouldn’t I?”
Arnold smiled a little, “I can give you an advance, so you can get some clean clothes.”
“Thank you.” Lisa thought she would ask Tepic’s advice about that. She still didn’t really have a firm grasp of the concept of money.