Bookworm pushed back from the desk with a sigh, and got up to pace the room. A few months ago, she’d arranged with her friend, Miss Elleon Bergamasco, to have a special celebration at Miss Elleon’s establishment, the White Rabbit, in late August. It was to be a combination of a birthday party for herself, and the opening of a small exhibit of photographs from her travels throughout the western United States. She was hoping to use the time as a way to gauge interest in her work–if there was enough, she just might open a small shop to sell copies of them.
Then came the stunning news of the change of ownership of the White Rabbit. Bookworm had spent the next several days trying to learn what she could of the new owners. She knew Miss Namori was involved, but there seemed to be others as well. And the more she learned about them, the less comfortable she became, until she’d reached this pacing phase.
‘I can’t do it,’ she thought, coming to an abrupt stop. ‘I can’t associate with these…people.’ She would cancel the White Rabbit engagement and, perhaps, have a scaled-down version elsewhere. Maybe at the Paleozoic Museum, so Miss Elleon would still derive some benefit.
With that decided, Bookworm sat down at her desk again to craft her letter.
Dear Miss Namori,
I had contracted with Miss Bergamasco to hold an event at the White Rabbit in late August. However, with the recent change of ownership, I wish to cancel it. With the long friendship Miss Bergamasco and I have had, I feel I owe it to her to have her host my event wherever she can. I do hope you’ll understand, and I wish you luck with your new venture.
After sealing the letter in an envelope, Bookworm went outside. It didn’t take her long to find an urchin, and a few pennies given to him ensured the swift delivery of her letter to Miss Namori.
Bianca Namori looked the letter over and shook it, as if airing out the fearful stench laced within its words. She signaled to Charise, who read the letter and smirked slightly, offering a few pearls of wisdom to her before sitting down next to her on the edge of the desk.
“That Miss Hienrichs has a bit of nerve for a homely old woman…perhaps you should let her go on the deal? No need having her heart fail for fear of the family ‘destroying’ her.” Charise sighed, placing the letter face down on the table.
Bianca snatched it up and shook her head. “These people don’t realize that business is still business…good or bad. Should she fail to keep up with her end of the business, well…that’s just rude. Send Shiro to visit Miss Elleon…have him persuade her of the complications that might occur should we lose this payment of debt HER husband racked up. Then grab me a couple parchment papers…I have a contract to…sign.”
Charise looked at Bianca, confused for a moment before she, in turn, smiled and nodded knowingly.
“Oh…Cogfather…how you train us all,” Charise said, rising and doing as instructed.
A few hours later, a contract was drawn up, and signed by both Miss Elleon and Miss Book, surpisingly enough.
“Breaching contract is just so beneath Miss Hienrichs, is it not?” she muttered to herself, and handing it to Ming, for delivery….
Bookworm sighed as she entered Militia headquarters, after having run around and about Port Babbage after the fugitive Henri Metier. She’d seen him hoisting himself out of the sewer in front of Cuffs, and had accosted him, hoping to bring him in for questioning. But he ran, evading her one shot at him. When she caught up to him, near the southeast steps to the City Hall level, he’d taken several shots at her.
“Come now,” the man had said. “You do know you’re interfering with a blood feud, right? Is nothing sacred?”
“Such feuds are not welcome here!” Bookworm had called back, as she sheltered from his shots. “It’s no good, Mr. Metier. The whole of the Militia is looking for you!”
“They are?” he replied. “Shame, then. Guess I’ll have to finish it while being hunted still.” With that, he’d dashed back to the same sewer entrance, and disappeared down it, laughing, before she could get close. As she didn’t have a lamp with her, she had no desire to go in after him. Instead, after warning a bystander, Mr. Islay, about the man, she went to Militia headquarters to report what had happened, and to warn the other Militia members to be especially watchful around the sewer entrances.
She’d seen the letter addressed to her sitting on her desk, but the report came first. Now that it was written, she could turn her attention to it. She read the short note, then looked at the contract. Then reread them, back and forth, several times.
“But…but this is…I never signed *this!*” she exclaimed. Anger burned inside her that Miss Namori would do such a thing to her. But what could she do?
‘I’ll go to City Hall,’ she decided. ‘Mayor Tenk should know about this.’
Bookworm entered City Hall quietly, looking around. There didn’t seem to be anyone about, so she made her way across the hall quietly. She’d never been to the Clockwinder’s aerie high above the city, but she thought she knew how to get to it. She hurried across to the elevator, ready to call down the car.
“Ahh, Miss Hienrichs!” The voice made her start violently and whirl around, papers clutched to her chest. Mr. Underby stood there, an attempt at an affable smile on his face. “What can I do for you?” he asked.
“I want to see the Clockwinder,” Bookworm replied.
“I’m afraid he’s still indisposed. Please, allow me to be of assistance. What is your problem?” He sketched a bow.
Bookworm considered arguing the point, but one look at Mr. Underby’s cold eyes told her it would be useless. She looked down at the papers she was carrying, and suddenly wondered what Mr. Underby would make of them.
“Someone is attempting to extort me, by holding me to a contract that I did not sign,” she explained shortly.
“Oh, my,” he said heartily. “Contracts, as I am certain you are more than aware, can be rather dicey to fight against, but extortion! We certainly can’t allow that sort of thing here in New Babbage–or to such a pillar of our community! Do you know who is doing this?”
Bookworm silently handed over the copy of the contract, and Mr. Underby bent his head to scan it. When he raised his head again, his smile had gone as cold as his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Miss Hienrichs,” he said softly, handing back the paper. “A contract is a contract. My hands…and yours…are tied.”
“I see,” she replied, her heart sinking within her. She left City Hall without another word.
‘So this is what we’re coming to,’ she thought as she hurried home. ‘We have a criminal group moving into the city, and an acting “mayor” who fully supports them. This…is not good.’