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Bookworm was in her library at home when she heard a tentative tap on the front door. She went and opened it, and saw a young Moreau standing there, his ears twitching nervously, who she thought she recognized.
“Hello,” she said. “It’s Wisp, isn’t it? Come in.” He looked up and nodded, smiling a little, and stepped inside. “What brings you here?” she asked him.
The fox-boy bit his lip and, from under his cloak, slowly pulled out a top hat. He also took his journal and opened it to a picture of Beryl, pointing to it. Bookworm looked from one to the other, her eyes widening. She hadn’t found any sign of Beryl, for all her looking, and she’d just about decided that he must have left town again. But now… “Where did you find this?”
He beckoned to her, evidently wanting to bring her to the place. Bookworm grabbed a hat and followed Wisp outside. They traveled along one of the canals, until they reached an area of several warehouses, and the Babbage Cabbage eatery. By the bridge above the Cabbage, Wisp stopped and pointed to where it had been found.
“When did you find it?” she asked, scanning the area. She watched as he held up two fingers, then made a motion of something going across the sky. “Two days ago?” He nodded. “Have you and the other urchins looked around here for Beryl?”
The fox-boy flipped through his journal, showing her first a picture of Lilith, then of Tepic, and made motions of looking around. “You didn’t find anything else, I take it?” she asked. He tapped his nose and shook his head.
Bookworm nodded and went down the stairs and past the Cabbage, looking around carefully, trying to see if anything looked unusual. She saw several small canal-side docks for the warehouses, with boats and piles of crates, but nothing that looked like it would help her quest. Finally, she went back up the stairs, and found Wisp still nearby, watching her. She smiled wryly. “Nothing I could find. If his hat was caught up in the thaw, it could have floated down from just about anywhere along the canals.” She sighed. “I should write Dr. Maddox Lionheart about this.”
Wisp’s ears perked up. He turned in his journal to a picture of Dr. Maddox, pointing to it. He mimed writing, and pointed to himself. “You could get a message to her?” Bookworm asked. When he nodded, she asked him for a sheet of paper from his notebook, as well as a pencil. As he handed over both, a hail from the other side of the canal caught her attention. She spotted a cat-Moreau she hadn’t seen before.
“Good evening,” he called, and she replied distractedly, “Good evening, sir.” As she turned her attention to writing her note, she noticed that Wisp had taken out another pencil and was making a quick sketch of the stranger as he moved on.
Bookworm finished scribbling her note, which explained to Dr. Maddox what little she knew of Beryl’s disappearance, and her hope that might be able to come and provide assistance. She folded the paper up and handed it to Wisp, along with a coin. “Thank you, Wisp, and good evening.”
Wisp smiled and nodded, bowing slightly, then ran off. Bookworm decided to take one more look down below, while there was still some light. She had no better luck than before, and was about to climb the stairs again, when she heard footsteps above. A wolf-Moreau was staring down at her from the walkway above. His expression didn’t seem particularly affable, though he said, “Good evening, madam.”
“Good evening,” she replied, starting to climb up. “Do you live or work in this area, by any chance?”
“I work for Miss Solano.”
“Ahh, yes.” Bookworm knew Miss Solano owned property here, including the Babbage Cabbage. “A friend disappeared some time ago. His hat was found here two days ago. Might you have seen or heard anything that could help?”
“No, I’m afraid I’ve seen nothing at all.”
She shrugged. It had been a long shot. “Well, if you could spread the word with people in this area, I’d appreciate it. Any news can be brought to me, Lieutenant Hienrichs, at either Militia headquarters or my home, which is west of here.”
“I will, if anything comes to light.” He still didn’t sound very cordial, but she didn’t feel up to pursuing it. “Thank you, sir. A good evening to you,” she replied, thinking she might go down the west side of the stairs and quickly investigate that area of the canal.
The wolf-Moreau, however, had a question for her. “Have you seen a little runt of a cat? He’s supposed to meet me here.”
“There was a cat around here earlier. I don’t know where he went.”
“Thank you. Good evening, madam.” He muttered something else as he went toward the warehouse entrance, but Bookworm didn’t catch it. She watched as he entered the warehouse, then trotted down the other staircase.
She spent several minutes looking around that side, but still found nothing beyond warehouses and docks. As the light began fading, she sighed and decided to give up for that day. Climbing the staircase, though, she thought she heard a familiar voice. She hurried up the rest, and saw Maddox Lionheart there with Wisp, staring at the same place Wisp had shown her.
“Dr. Lionheart!” she exclaimed, startling the pair. “I didn’t know you were here.”
“I… I must be seeing things. Book?” Bookworm frowned at the doctor’s less-than-focused gaze. “Are you all right?” she asked.
“I am not sure,” Dr. Maddox replied. “What has been happening here?”
Bookworm sighed, shaking her head. “Too much. Beryl went missing a few weeks ago. I’d begun to think he might have left the city again, but Wisp just showed me that they found his hat here.” Wisp nodded corroboration, his ears gently twitching.
“Yes. Someone found her hat. But why here?”
Bookworm blinked at the change of pronoun. “If it was lost before the canals thawed… it could have been lost anywhere along them, and only fetched up here now.”
“I… I must admit, I don’t remember that far back at this point.” Dr. Maddox smiled wryly. “My sleep has been… erratic, to say the least.” She sighed and continued, “It makes me shudder to admit that I don’t know much about my employer’s current events, either. The old bat.”
“Hmmm, yes. Well, I can tell you about that in a bit,” Bookworm replied grimly. “I’d been hoping you might be able to give me some insight about what might have happened to Beryl, but it sounds like you can’t.”
“I might. But as for anything else you’d like to know, and I would like to know as well, not so much.”
“Tepic was with Beryl when h–*she* ran off. I’d suggest you talk to him–maybe you can see something in Beryl’s behavior. I did also ask a gentleman who was here earlier to spread the word around the folks who work here, in case someone saw something.” She saw Wisp open his journal and point to Lilith, and make motions of looking around. “And the urchins have been looking, too,” she added with a smile.”
“Even the urchins don’t know where Beryl is?” Maddox asked, startled. Wisp looked down, his ears, flat, and shook his head. “That is serious, then. Perhaps we can go someplace a bit less open to discuss this? I feel as though we may or may not be… watched, here.”
“Would you want to go to the asylum?” Bookworm asked. “You could talk to Lisa, too.”
“Of course–I’ve missed the child. And it may do me well to be… out.”
Bookworm raised an eyebrow at that, but let it go as she led the way south to the asylum.
((To be continued…))