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Tepic looked back at Bookworm, and though it nearly broke her heart, she said, “If money isn’t found to pay for this, Beatrixe will be removed… and she’ll die.”
“What!?” Tepic rounded on Canergak. “I was right, yer a monster, yer is! Yer can’t do that, not ter Miss Rouse!”
“I won’t do that. You shall,” Canergak said coldly. Tepic looked from him to Bookworm, and back again. “Who got her hurt? Who is responsible for her being down there? It was not I.”
“We was rescuin’ Beryl from you, yer ejit!”
“But Tepic, it wasn’t Beryl,” Bookworm said softly. “Lisa and I told you that.”
“But… but…” The distress on Tepic’s face grew.
“Do you care about Beatrixe Rouse? Do you want her to live?”
“Course I does! More ‘n yer does!”
“Prove it,” Canergak said shortly. “Pay for her care, and keep her alive.”
“Yep! Done!” replied Tepic, a measure of cheer returning. Bookworm sighed. “Tepic… this is going to cost a *lot* of money.”
“Don’t matter, do it? She’s a friend, ain’t she?”
“I am being generous,” Canergak interjected with a hint of satifaction, “when I estimate the cost to be 2000 quatloos so far.”
Tepic turned pale and staggered a little. “‘Ow much?!”
“It could easily reach 3000, or 4000, before she can survive without assistance.”
“3000… or…” Gulping, he sat down abuptly. “Yer… yer… wants it *now*?”
“If you agree to pay it, I will make sure she continues to get care.” Canergak studied Tepic intently. “The question is, how do you propose to raise it? I will not accept stolen coin. I expect a paystub, or a receipt of a transaction.”
Tepic looked up at him, ashen but determined. “‘Ow much a day?”
“Ten quatloos a day sounds fair to me.”
“Ten!” Tepic cried, outraged.
“I am not sure how much the resident factories offer.”
“Ain’t nuffin like that!”
“But I have an arrangement with Mr. Popplefot,” Canergak continued. “If you worked for him for a few hours a day, I would consider that as the payment.”
“In the blackin’ factory?”
Canergak nodded. “It is an offer. Or, you can find a way to raise the money yourself.”
“I’ll do it,” Tepic said stoutly. “But Miss Book has ter promise yer won’t turn off the machine till Miss Rouse is better!”
“I promise you, Tepic, I’ll make sure he keeps his part of the bargain.” That, at least, Bookworm could promise wholeheartedly.
Tepic was still glaring at Canergak. “Don’t trust ‘im not ter weasel out of it, but if yer standin’ fer him, then we gots an agreement.” He walked up to the administrator, spat in his open palm, and held his hand out. Canergak looked down dubiously, while Bookworm hid a grin.
“What, exactly, do you think you are doing?”
“Sealin’ the bargain.”
Canergak looked at Bookworm seriously. “I would feel more comfortable sealing it through you as he shakes your hand.”
‘Coward,’ Bookworm thought, rolling her eyes. “Is that acceptable, Tepic?”
“‘S not what we usually does… but if yer standin’ in fer ‘im?”
“Apparently.” She worked up a mouthful of saliva, spat into her hand, and clasped Tepic’s, as Canergak reached out and briefly took her other hand. Tepic shook hers, his manner serious and intent, then leveled his gaze on Canergak again. “I ain’t forgot what yer doin in the Asylum, mate, but yer got ter look after yer friends. Yer would know, if yer had any.”
“I have many friends,” he replied calmly. “They all started much the same way, distrusting everything I do, working for me to try to discover what I’m doing, trying to be subversive. Baldas, Murgam, all of them.” He turned to Bookworm, seeming to dismiss Tepic from his mind. “Miss Hienrichs, would you like to see what I’m doing below? I have the time.” She nodded.
“I gots work ter see to, if I’s gonna get yer money.” Despite that statement, Tepic looked as if he would linger there a little while longer. Bookworm looked down at him. “Good luck,” she said.
“Ain’t luck as is needed, Miss, just hard work.”
Bookworm nodded and smiled at him, then turned to leave. She paused in the doorway, though, looking back. Tepic was leaning against the iron lung, peering at Beatrixe, seemingly whispering to her. “I must be cruel only to be kind,” Bookworm whispered before she followed Canergak to the elevator.
((To be continued…))