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March 1 – An Unexpected Opportunity

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A few hours after talking with Tepic, Bookworm headed northeast to Loki’s Absinthe Cafe. Not to drink, of course–she told herself that firmly. But there was to be a meeting of city business leaders there, and… well… she was curious. When she got there, she greeted those she knew, and looked curiously at those she didn’t. She decided to stand in the back by the doors, leaving the tables free for those more likely to participate in the discussion.

As the meeting got going, she was also prepared to be bored. Industry, after all, was not one of her interests. But then something caught her ear, and she was certainly not bored anymore. One of the men, whom she hadn’t met before, introduced himself as Nicholas Herding, a provider of entertainment to fine gentlemen, with fine ladies in his employ.

Bookworm paid little heed to the rest of the proceedings, which included demonstration models from Nathaniel Lorefield and Avariel Falcon. Her attention was focused on Mr. Herding. Was this indeed the man Fly Copperfield had asked her to find? His appearance did fit the admittedly-vague description Fly had given her. And he continued to make reference to the work of his female employees, which, while somewhat veiled, was clear enough to Bookworm.

Indeed, once the main meeting ended, and Mr. Herding sought out Mr. Mornington for conversation at a nearby table, Bookworm eavesdropped shamelessly. Mr. Herding was sounding out the hotelier about using rooms in the Brunel for “intermittent customers.” The near-constant turnover of renters, however, thankfully (to Bookworm’s mind) precluded such a deal.

Bookworm decided that she definitely needed to have a chat with the man, but she didn’t want quite so many witnesses nearby. So she quietly slipped outside, and waited near the doorway. Several minutes later, he stepped outside. “Mr. Herding,” she said, stepping forward.

He looked around, appearing a bit surprised. “Miss Hienrics.”

“I wonder if I might have a word with you…” She smiled winningly at him.

He arched an eyebrow, then smiled back. “Of course.”

“Would you prefer to sit?” She gestured to the tables arranged outside. “Or shall we walk together?”

Mr. Herding looked around. “We can walk if you wish; this is a nice evening.”

Bookworm nodded, and walked a few steps to one of the bridges over the canal next to them. She looked around. “I’m not sure which way you need to go.”

“I was heading towards the Port, but can walk your way for a bit, Miss.”

“The Port is fine, sir.” She smiled again.

“Very well.” Mr. Herding smiled back, and they walked across the bridge, toward the Port.

“I should like to hear more about the… work your ladies do.” Bookworm looked up at him demurely.

“Ah.” He looked a bit uncomfortable, but continued, “They are young women of talent who I mainly recruit in the streets. I can see at once that they will have talent. I am merely helping them to shape up their skills to entertain gentlemen.”

“Yes, I’m sure,” she blandly replied. “You’ve had quite a few employees, I would guess?”

“Oh, yes, quite a few. I have branches all over New Babbage, with regular employees.”

“I’m hoping you might remember one in particular. A Miss Amnelys Copperfield.”

He looked down at her thoughtfully. “Which name do you say?”

“Amnelys Copperfield,” she replied slowly. “She would have been in your employ last year.”

“Ahh! Amnelys, of course. She was in my employ for over a year, but disappeared suddenly a few months ago.”

“Disappeared, you say?” At his nod, Bookworm said, “And when was the last time you saw her?”

“May I inquire as to why you are interested in Amnelys?”

Bookworm kept her expression bland. “Oh, I was contacted by a relative, hoping I might be able to track her down.”

“I see.” Mr. Herding frowned slightly. “I saw her last at the Party given for the Grand Opening of that Wax Museum across from the Town Hall. That was back in October last year, I think. I haven’t seen or heard of her since.”

“Did you speak with her at that party?” She stopped walking, looking up at him.

He shifted uneasily, trying to smile again. “I made an appearance and saw her there, so I went to talk to her, naturally. I did not stay long.”

“May I inquire about the nature of your conversation?”

“Oh nothing in particular. Just the usual, about the party.”

“Nothing to indicate that she wanted to… disappear?”

He frowned again. “You are a member of the Babbage Militia if I understood well?”

“I am.”

“Are these questions part of your job, or are you asking them personally?”

“Well, as I said, a relative of Miss Copperfield requested that I make some inquiries about her,” she replied a bit dismissively, as if it were an off-hand matter. “ learned that you were often seen with her for some time.”

“I was her employer.” He shifted nervously again. “She… may have expressed a wish to leave. But sometimes my employees do, when they are feeling a bit tired. And change their mind the day after. This was of no concern to me. I was certain she would be fine the day after.”

“Evidently, she didn’t change her mind.”

“Apparently not.” He sighed. “I am really sorry I cannot be more useful to you, Miss.”

“Or, perhaps, she had her mind changed for her, to something else entirely…” When she saw him shrug, she decided it was time to start pressing him more, and her expression hardened. “It is interesting you say that you heard nothing about her after that party, considering she died there–poisoned. It was the talk of the town for weeks afterward.”

Mr. Herding’s expression went blank for a second or two, and then he put on a shocked expression. “Poi… poisoned?”

“Oh, come now, Mr. Herding. I find it difficult to believe that a businessman such as yourself would be ignorant of the goings-on in the city.”

He shook his head sadly. “I had to leave town shortly after the party for business in New Toulouse.I completely missed the news of the City’s goings-on for the rest of the year.”

“And none of your employees bothered to tell you about it when you returned?” she skeptically asked.

“They don’t all know each other,” he replied. “Amnelys is…. was… a shy lady and did not have many friends among the other employees.” He sighed, a bit dramatically to her ears. “Oh, poor Amnelys. This is really hard to learn all of this, Miss. I would appreciate if you gave me some time alone now.”

Bookworm shook her head. “Mr. Herding, people saw the two of you sitting together at the party. They witnessed a discussion that became an altercation. You left, and very shortly thereafter, she died. Rather… interesting timing, wouldn’t you say?”

His face darkened. “Coincidence,” he replied shortly. “Why would I poison one of my employees?”

“Oh, I can think of several reasons off the top of my head.”

“Do you mean you are accusing me of murdering her?”

“Let’s say… you’re a person of interest.”

“I could return you the compliment,” he said with a grin. Bookworm did not look at all complimented. “Without proofs, though,” he continued, “you won’t be going very far in your investigation.”

“Well, Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson were kind enough to hand over to me the evidence they collected at the party. You may be sure I’ll be studying it very carefully.”

“What kind of evidence?” he asked warily.

“I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to say,” she replied with a demure smile.

He shrugged angrily. “Very well. I am innocent of what you seem to accuse me so I don’t really care about those evidences.”

Bookworm smiled, as if hiding a secret. “Well, I really shouldn’t keep you from your… business. If I find anything more, I’ll be in touch.”

“If you must,” he said curtly. “I bid you a good evening, Miss Hienrichs.”

“Good evening.” She watched him depart, feeling more sure of Fly’s assessment of the man. She hoped that, sooner or later, he’d take the bait about the evidence that had been collected at the scene. The longer he waited, after all, the greater the chance she might actually find something. She’d have to remember to warn the ghosts to keep an eye out for him.

‘I’d better go and actually collect that evidence, too,’ she thought, looking back west toward the residence of Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson. This was certainly a good impetus to some more investigation into the matter… especially as her search for Beryl had not yet yielded anything encouraging. She headed in the opposite direction from Mr. Herding, ready to listen to whatever the investigative duo could tell her.

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