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May 31 – A Bargain for Tepic (or, Bookworm Digs Herself in Deeper)

“Mr. Canergak. Do come in.” Bookworm had opened the door of her office when she saw Mr. Canergak in the front area of Militia headquarters. After a week of attempts by various people to help Tepic, she’d sent word to Canergak that she wanted to speak with him. She was bound and determined to end this, one way or another. “Have a seat,” she continued, gesturing to the chairs by her desk. the small man nodded and sat down heavily in the chair, as she resumed her own seat behind the desk.

“You wanted to see me?” he asked.

She nodded. “Tepic is still working.”

“So I have heard.”

“His health is not improving.”

“Is that what you have called me here to say, again?” His tone was impatient. Her own was adamant. “This must stop, Mr. Canergak. He could die if this continues.”

“And what do you want me to do about it? I’ve already told him it is his choice to work there or not.”

Unsure of just how much Canergak knew about Tepic – especially the things Dr. Sonnerstein had told her – she did her best to explain while skirting the full details. “But it isn’t – not entirely. He feels a… particular obligation that is continuing to push him to work. Only you can end it. Only you can tell him that he is free of all obligations.”

“But he isn’t free of all obligations yet. I’ve merely told him he’s free to pay how he chooses now.”

“How much ‘debt’ remains?”

“Quite a substantial amount was paid by those that wished to end his suffering early. But that was never going to be enough.”

“How much more?” she impatiently asked. “How much longer would he have to work? Weeks? Months?”

“Even I can’t say that. It’s not a matter of numbers now.”

“Then what is it?” She was determined to get to the heart of the matter.

He seemed, however, unaffected by her intensity. “Let me ask you a question. Do you now believe me when I told you that Tepic was not like us?”

“I do.” She had, actually rather suspected that for a long time. Dr. Sonnerstein’s words had only confirmed that feeling. To her, though, that didn’t matter.

“Then it means you’ve learned something.” He nodded. “Knowledge is far more precious than any currency to me.”

And there is was – the opening she’d been looking for. Quickly, she leaned forward. “I am prepared to bargain with you, sir.”

“Oh?” His tone was even, bored, perhaps, but she knew her next words would change that.

“I have recently found some of Dr. Martel’s notebooks.”

At that, he sat up and stared at her intently. “Indeed?”

“They were mixed in with other pieces of evidence from other cases, in a box labeled something else entirely,” she said as she reached into her desk drawer and drew out one of the notebooks. “Hence the difficulty, you see.”

“Of course.”

“I am still looking into the question of who ultimately owns them. However… I would be willing to turn them over to you. But in exchange, you must release Tepic from all obligations regarding Miss Rouse and the debt incurred for her care.” Bookworm had, the previous day, found time to talk to Lisa Fargazer privately, telling her of this plan. Lisa had been dubious at first, but had finally agreed when Bookworm reassured her that she’d only turn over notebooks containing Dr. Martel’s early work, which she thought would be least dangerous.

Canergak did not look convinced yet. Bookworm stood and turned to her filing cabinet. She opened a drawer, took out a notebook, turned back, and set it on the desk in front of Canergak. He examined the notebook carefully as he took it into his hands.

“It is an interesting proposition and one I would gladly pay if the offer is genuine. I would not want someone to come banging on my door in a few months wishing to attempt to confiscate the work.”

“That may be a matter for the courts to decide. I have been in touch with some authorities in Caledon, where he was originally from.”

“Then I’m afraid that this is not a trade at all.” He started to put the notebook back down in front of Bookworm.

“I’m sure you’d have time to copy any information you wanted,” she added quickly. He paused as he considered that prospect. “If you are willing, this first notebook is yours now.”

“You are correct. I am willing.” He looked at her, obviously wondering what was coming next.

“The rest,” she continued, “I will give to you when you convince Tepic that he no longer owes any obligation to you, when I see that he has stopped working himself to death, and his health at least starts to improve.”

Canergak shook his head. “I will want them in my possession first; it is how these things are done. Payment first, and then a debt is cancelled.” Seeing her own skepticism, he continued, “Having them in my possession while speaking to him will be part of the ceremony, so to speak.”

“And if I am not satisfied that you have convinced him?” Bookworm asked, her eyes narrowed.

“You would take them back. But I doubt very much that you will be disappointed.” Bookworm leaned back in her chair, considering these words from the asylum administrator. “Remember, I have him only while I uphold my end of the bargain,” he added. “Should I try to cheat you, I would be cheating him as well.”

“All right,” Bookworm finally said. “I will agree.”

“Then we have an accord.” He reached forward, his hand outstretched. She looked at it for a few seconds, and finally grasped it. “We do,” she replied.

“I will see to a meeting with Tepic shortly, because this must be done properly.” Canergak stood up. “The reason that paying the debt was useless is part of the problem. Beatrixe Rouse is still in the hospital, and every moment she spends there she accrues more debt. It could never have been paid till she was released.” He nodded and stepped to the door. “Good evening, Lieutenant.”

“Good evening.” She watched him go, pondering what he’d said. Was she going to come to regret this bargain? ‘I wouldn’t be surprised,’ she thought wryly, ‘but hopefully Tepic’s release will outweigh it.’

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