Lisa was scrubbing the floor near the ground-floor offices when Professor Vartanian left one of them. “Ah, Lisa,” he said, spying her. “Will you have finished enough of your duties to go to that observatory opening this afternoon?”
She paused in her scrubbing and looked up at him. “I think so, sir.”
“We seem to have taken on a good bit of new staff lately,” the professor mused. “It’s relieved some of your work load as well, hasn’t it?”
“Yes, sir. Though…” She trailed off, looking back down at the floor.
“Mmm?” Professor Vartanian’s tone was inquisitive, and almost kindly, and she looked back up at him. While she was wary of him, since he seemed of Canergak’s mind in some ways, she wasn’t as wary of him as she was of Canergak himself. And her experiences of the past several weeks was leading her to be a little bolder. “I think we could use at least one more maid,” she told him. “It still isn’t easy to keep up, especially if one of us is sick, or has some time off.”
The professor nodded. “It is quite a large building–and that’s not even taking into consideration the patients’ needs in cleanliness.” He paused, thinking. “We could use a properly burly orderly as well, couldn’t we? Especially on the third floor. Ms. Evangeline and I have been lucky so far that between the two of us we can handle the worst of them, but that may not always be the case. And we only just barely do.”
“Yes, sir,” Lisa replied, nodded. She could think of a few incidents where more help would have been useful.
“Very well. I’ll see if Mr. Canergak will allow me to put up a help wanted advert about town for another maid and an orderly.”
“Thank you, sir.” She hid her inward excitement at his words; if it happened, this could be her chance to get one of the urchins in, someone she could trust to help her.
“That aside,” the professor continued, “nothing else is troubling you of late, I trust?”
“No, sir.” Lisa bent back to her work, hiding her face a little.. She had no desire to tell him her true trouble. She could feel his gaze on her; after a moment of silence, he said, “The other girl recently hired on–Jane, is it? I have yet to really meet her, as I’ve been too busy the times I’ve seen her to talk to her. What is she like?”
“She’s nice,” Lisa replied, “and a good worker. She’s very calm, too, which is helpful here.”
“Good to hear,” he said wryly. “We’ve certainly no need of slackers. Eva does enough of that for everyone.”
“Yes, sir.” Lisa hid a smile.
“She otherwise knows how to make herself invaluable at least.” He looked at his watch. “Well, I won’t disturb your work further, or track all over the floor. I’ll see you at the observatory.” She heard his steps receding on the floor, and quickly finished that last section of the room. She took her bucket and brush to the kitchen, leaving them by the sink, and hurried outside to walk the short distance to the observatory.
When she got there, though, she heard that Mr. Footman, the owner, had been unexpectedly delayed in his travels, and so the observatory would not be opened that day. Lisa was disappointed, but shrugged fatalistically as she returned to the observatory. Such things happened, and perhaps she’d be able to go to bed early tonight instead, and meet with the Master Old-Singers in the Dreamfields for a longer time.
Two days later, as Lisa hauled a load of trash out to be picked up, she startled a familiar-looking girl who was passing by. “Oh!” Lisa exclaimed, suddenly remembering her name. “Hello, Lo.”
“Hallo, Lisa,” Lo replied. “I was just passing…”
“How are you? I’ve not seen you for such a long time.”
“Rather well, thank you! I have been over in Steelhead for a bit. Doctor Kristos has a lovely house there.”
“That sounds quite nice,” Lisa replied, suddenly wondering what it would be like to travel to such a different place.
“I’m awfully grateful,” Lo said with a nod. “I caught an airship over, though. Some of the urchins told me Gilly was coming back soon.” She cocked her head, looking at Lisa inquisitively. “Have you met Gilhooly?”
The name struck a chord with Lisa; after a few seconds, she remembered the large, young rat she’d seen at the Urchins’ Ball nearly two years ago, and nodded. “Long ago.”
“He’s awfully sweet,” Lo said. “I’ve missed him dreadfully. I’ve been looking for him around the city, but I haven’t found him yet.”
“Will you be staying here for a while, then?” Lisa asked.
Lo nodded again. “I don’t know where yet, though. One of the urchins can tell me of a good place, I expect.”
Lisa glanced aside at the asylum, then looked back at Lo, suddenly struck by an idea. “How would you like a job here?”
Lo looked surprised, then beamed. “Oh, may I?”
“Well, I’m sure you’d have to interview with someone. But that should be all right. We need one or two more maids here, to really be able to keep up with the work.”
“I’d be good at that!” Lo exclaimed. “I used to be a nurse at the old hospital. I looked after my mother–I mean, Phaedra–when she lost her memory.” At Lisa’s confused look, she said, “Never mind. That was long ago. Anyway, I am very professional, and I’d make sure all the patients have their medicine, and be kind and patient with them.”
“I think they’d like that sort of thing–your experience, I mean.” Lisa paused, then continued hesitantly, “And I… would like someone here I can trust.”
Lo looked at her curiously, tilting her head. “Why, you may trust me, of course!”
Lisa bit her lip a little, but the burden she’d been carrying for so long made her ache to tell someone, and she’d seen so little of Strifeclaw lately. She finally said quietly, “It’s Canergak–the owner. He’s up to something. I’m sure of it. I just don’t know what. Beryl and I tried to find out a while ago, but we weren’t able to then. I hope you’d be all right with helping us out–keeping an eye on Canergak, listening if you get the chance. Especially if… if something happens, and I have to leave.”
She saw Lo’s eyes light up, and the girl looked thrilled at the idea of having a secret mission. “I’m good at that, too–spying, I mean. In a good way! I’ll do it–if I pass the interview, of course.”
Lisa smiled, feeling relieved. “I think you can leave a note asking for an interview. No one’s available right now.” She hesitated. “If you do get the interview… please don’t mention that I told you about this position. I’d rather Canergak didn’t know about any connection between us. That might make him suspicious.”
“Oh, of course not,” Lo hurriedly reassured her.
“Come in,” Lisa said. “I’ll show you where you can leave your note.” She led Lo into the asylum, and took her aside to the ground-floor offices, and into Professor Vartanian’s office. As he’d been the one to suggest advertising for more workers, Lisa thought it might be best to have him receive Lo’s request. She pointed out pencil and paper to Lo, who took the pencil, licked the end of it, and wrote carefully but eagerly, her brow furrowing slightly at times as she considered the best words. Finally, she signed her name to it, then held it up and read it aloud for Lisa.
“Dear sir, I should like to apply for the position of nursing assistant for your hospital for the not terribly mentally well, as I have heard someone is needed. I am most good at these things, because I have worked as a nurse at Mister Harvey’s old hospital, and I have lots of patience with patients.” She looked up at Lisa, and commented, “They shall like that I can spell, I think.”
Then she continued with her recitation. “Please, may I have an interview for the position? Thanks awfully. Most sincerely, Lo.”
She smiled, but then frowned hesitantly. “Umm… that should be all right, shouldn’t it?”
“I think so,” Lisa reassured her, and smiled as Lo beamed.
“I have met some of the patients already,” Lo told her. “And I helped Beryl hunt a werewolf when he escaped from here. So I think I know what I shall have to do, rather well.” She paused, thinking. “Perhaps I shall mention that in the interview!”
“That would probably help,” Lisa said a little wryly.
Lo chewed on her lip. “I am a bit nervous… but that is normal, I expect.”
“Canergak can make anyone nervous. But I’m sure you’ll do fine.”
“Is he rather cross? A lot?” At Lisa’s nod, Lo continued, “Well, I am used to grumpy folk, so that is all right. I shall smile pleasantly and curtsey, and then do all my jobs.”
Lisa smiled. “That’s what I do, too.” With that, she led Lo back out the doors, and to the front gate, opening it for the other girl. “I hope I’ll see you again soon.”
“Thanks awfully, Lisa!” Lo waved, and darted away. Lisa watched her go, then went back inside and back to Professor Vartanian’s office. She stared down at Lo’s letter, struck by a sudden thought. She didn’t know if the professor had actually advertised the positions yet. If he hadn’t… well, there’d be no way for Lo and Lisa to deny a connection between them. She took the piece of paper and carefully stowed it in a pocket of her apron. She’d just have to wait until she knew they were officially looking to hire again, then slip Lo’s letter in, and hope.