Bookworm was busy in the main library, puttering around with the books she’d bought in America and had had shipped over to Babbage, when she heard her name shouted outside. Hurrying to the window, she saw a familiar face peering in. “‘Ello, Miss!” called Tepic.
“Tepic!” Bookworm smiled, and gestured to the door, inviting him inside. As he moved off, she hurried to the door and opened it, letting Tepic blow inside on a chilly breeze before she closed it again.
“Heard yer were back, Miss. Thought I’d drop in.” Tepic smiled, and Bookworm returned it.
“I’m glad you did.” She gestured to the windowed turret room. “Come and have a seat in here. I’m afraid we don’t have much of the furniture in yet.” She settled down on the wooden window seat, Tepic perching beside her. “It’s a nice place yer got built here,” he said, gazing around. Then he turned his attention back to her. “Did yer have a good holiday, Miss?”
“Well, the result was good,” she replied with a wry smile.
“But yer missed all the fun an’ excitement!” he exclaimed.
‘That’s one way to look at it,’ she thought, shaking her head. “How are you?” she asked. “I heard you’d been captured by the Man in Blue.”
“Oh, yes–right sneaky one, he is. An’ he don’t keep his word, neither!”
“How so? Other than not warning us when he was supposed to?” she finished sourly.
“Well, he told me to leave me stuff on the Dock, an’ it would be safe, then threw me notebook in the water,” he replied, some indignation still apparent. “Mr. Tenk gave me a new one, though, so it’s all right.”
“Tell me about it,” Bookworm said. She was anxious to hear a first-hand account, even though Tepic’s stories could be… garbled sometimes. She listened intently as he told her how he’d tried to stay hidden, but was finally cornered in one of the trams, and taken to their hidden submarine. He told her of the other prisoners–the two men and, later, Beryl. And he told her what he’d learned of the plans of the Man in Blue and P.J.–that they wanted to try to bring about a revolution in the city by shorting first the urchins, then others of the poorer classes, of affordable food.
Bookworm shook her head grimly at that, wondering if PJ might still be planning to try. ‘I’d better inform the militia and city officials, just in case,’ she thought.
“The bloke in blue were most upset yer weren’t around no more,” Tepic said, breaking into her thoughts. “Said he had someone would pay for yer. I reckon he were gonna send yer to Arabia, fer the White Slave Trade!”
Bookworm sat bolt upright. “What?!” she yelped.
“Well, might not’ve been that,” he admitted. “He did mention selling the other two heroes to their worst enemy. Maybe ‘e meant that for you, too–but I dunno who that could be.”
For a moment, she stared at him, her mouth hanging open. Finally, she managed to say, “But that’s… that’s monstrous!” She leaped to her feet and began pacing back and forth, thinking furiously. “Couldn’t be Dr. Obolensky,” she muttered to herself. “Even if he is somehow still alive, he wouldn’t stoop to something like that…”
“Well, couple years back, there were some blokes takin’ the older lasses off the streets. Course, we settled them…” Tepic said, but Bookworm, lost in her own thoughts, didn’t really hear him. “And if Professor Parx were somehow that annoyed with me, I think I would have known that by now…” She suddenly stopped in her tracks. “Cavendish?” she exclaimed. “Could it be?”
“Who’s he?” Tepic asked curiously.
Bookworm blinked, suddenly remembering that Tepic was still there, and looked down at him. “Oh–someone I had a run-in with last summer, in America. I’ll… tell you about it some time.”
“Oh, a Yank,” Tepic said dismissively. “Can’t be as classy as Dr. O.”
Bookworm sat back down, unable to keep from smiling a bit at that. “So tell me the rest.”
“Well, don’t remember much more under the water,” he said a bit sheepishly. “Had a bit of a shock. But I got better!”
“So I see,” Bookworm replied, nodding. “And I’m very glad you did.”
“Beryl were a hero, as usual. ‘E got me out safe. Shame we don’t know what happened after we got out.”
She smiled, making a note to track down Beryl once he returned to the city, so she could get the rest of the story. “Well, I hope you’ll come to me if you need anything for the upcoming winter.”
“Ain’t gonna be a good winter Miss,” he replied, a rare grim expression on his face. “There’s lots of young ‘uns out there, an’ we lost most of our stores. Reckon yer gonna have ter get all the decent folks tergether, Miss. Us as have been around can get by; them others… well…”
“If I think of anything that can be done to help, I’ll let you know.”
Tepic stood up. “Well Miss, good ter see yer back, but I got me rounds ter do!” Bookworm accompanied him to the front door and opened it for him. “Good to see you again, too,” she said as he left. Turning around, he waved. “Bye!” She watched him go, then shut the door and sought out Mariah to tell her what she’d learned.
Mariah frowned as she finished. “Do you think Cavendish will come here himself?”
“I don’t know,” Bookworm replied with a shrug. “I wouldn’t think he had the resources yet to do so. But then, I wouldn’t have thought he’d have the resources to… ‘buy’ me.”
“I think we need a watchman,” Mariah said. “Someone reliable, not like that excrescence…” She wasn’t able to continue, remembering the man they’d hired to watch the neighborhood–whose silence had promptly been bought by the Man in Blue.
“I have a thought about that,” Bookworm mused. “I’ll go now and see if I can make arrangements. If they agree, they’ll definitely be reliable.”
“You’ll see.” Bookworm reached for a coat and put it on. “Well, actually, you *won’t* see.” She grinned at Mariah’s confused look. “I’ll explain later.” With that, she headed on a trek across the city, to a certain graveyard…
((To be continued…))