Lisa was sweeping the front hallway when she heard the door open. Looking up, she saw a familiar figure enter. “Hello, Beryl!” she said, excited to finally see him again, but also feeling tentative, wondering if he might still be angry with her.
Beryl looked up at her, then down at his paws. “Sorry. I’m tracking in more snow, aren’t I?”
“It’s all right,” she replied, even as he carefully wiped his feet and sat down on the bench by the door. She glanced behind her, looking to see if anyone was nearby. Seeing no one, she sat down beside him. “How was your trip?” she asked, wondering if he’d tell her why he left.
“It was unsuccessful,” he replied softly. “I did not find my family.” Lisa sucked in her breath sympathetically, but before she could say anything, he continued, “Well, I didn’t find many of them.”
“But you found some?”
He looked at her, his eyes shadowed. “Men had found them. Most of them had fled, but not the young ones. I found four in a city–three jailed, one on the streets. The rest…” He shook his head. “I saw things I’d rather not talk about.”
Beryl paused for a moment and then mused, “Canergak is going to hate me more than he already does.”
“Why?” Lisa blinked in surprise.
“Did I ever warn you about what might have happened to Arnold? That he could have become…” Beryl struggled for a moment and then said, “Well, no more sane than Mary Ann Clyton–the one who always screams and thinks she and everyone else is turning into rats?”
Lisa frowned, searching her memories. “No–I don’t think you said that.”
“It was always there, on the edge. I’m glad you never saw them that bad, eating paper, tearing up books…” He shook his head. “And that’s just the nice things I can say about it.” He paused. “Two of them were like that. And they were going to be… sent somewhere–an asylum. To someone interested in ‘that kind of work’.”
Lisa’s eyes widened at that, and Beryl nodded. “I don’t know for sure if they meant Canergak. But if they did–he’ll never get one of them. The other… well, we’ll find out. That one was still sane enough for–” He broke off, and finally said, “I helped the last. That’s what matters.”
Lisa looked at him solemnly, but didn’t push for more details, sensing it was much too painful. “I’ll watch the new patients, and let you know… would it be someone who looks rather like you?”
“Completely. Though their eyes are different–golden brown.”
“I will watch,” she said again, nodding. Then she held his gaze intently, wanting to finally tell him the idea she’d had for weeks now. “Strifeclaw… I think I have an idea how to get into Canergak’s secret rooms.”
Beryl’s ears perked up. “How?”
“Earlier this year, you said that Beatrixe saved you from a… metal being, right?”
“Perhaps she can do something about the metal dog.”
Beryl stared at her a moment. “You want Beatrixe to handle this?” he finally asked.
Lisa nodded. “She’s nice–I think she’d be willing to help.”
“It’s risky. She’s not exactly… well, you know how she is.”
“It’s more risky for us to try to confront it again,” she countered, shrugging.
“It’s more risky for her,” he argued. “She doesn’t realize she’s in danger. It could tear her apart and she’d be wondering why she can’t stand up.”
“We’ll be there, too. We can pull her out if it gets too dangerous.”
He thought it over a few moments. “I’ll admit she has a way with the things. If someone were to distract it…” After another moment, he said, “Yes. I think it’s worth a try. But when–next time he leaves town?”
“I’m not sure.” Lisa frowned in thought. “Whenever we do this… that’ll be the moment I have to end my working here. I want to be sure the others will be ready to carry on without me.”
“Next time he leaves, then. Which shouldn’t be long–he hates the cold.”
Lisa nodded, though a little reluctantly. Much as she wanted to find Canergak’s secret, the thought of change coming so soon was a bit unsettling. “I’ll make sure the others are trained in what they need.”
Beryl made as if to stand up, but then leaned back again, staring at her. “Lisa–are you ready? Ready for anything?”
She pondered the question for a few minutes. “I think so,” she finally said. Beryl frowned and shook his head at her. She smiled a little. “”All right–I’m probably not ready, as I don’t know what will happen. But this still needs to be done.”
“I’m sorry, Lisa. For everything.” He looked at her with sorrow in his eyes, then stood up and moved to the door. Lisa frowned after him. “What did I say about taking too much on yourself?” she said sternly.
Beryl sighed as he opened the door. “I never wanted to hurt another cat. This is your choice, but I got you this job, let you think you could do it. And you have. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t be sorry for what you have taken on yourself.” Glancing back, he softly said, “Good luck, Lisa,” and swiftly left, letting the door close ponderously behind him.