The door of the building was boarded up; there were a few gaps between the boards, but those were definitely not large enough to let any urchins slip through. Lisa peered through one of the cracks. In the dimming light, she could make out a long, narrow hallway, with a bench running along the outer wall of the hallway. At the far end of the bench, she could just see a white, rectangular…something.
Gadget, peeking through another crack, spotted it as well. “We’ll have to see if there’s another way in.”
Lisa nodded, and together, they made a circuit around the building. They poked, prodded, and peered, but could find no other entrance. Walking the alleyway between the building and Gadget’s place, he muttered, “I don’t like the look of them crates up against my gaff.” Finally, they stopped in front of the boarded door again. Lisa studied the gaps again. “I think some of the cats could make it through that. One of them could bring us that paper on the bench.”
“That would be most ‘elpful, I reckon,” Gadget replied.
Lisa nodded, and stepped down to the bottom of the stairs. Tilting her head up a little, she let out a piercing yowl in the Higher Singing, asking for someone to come swiftly to aid her. “Blimey!” Gadget exclaimed, jumping a little at her call. “Can you shatter glass doing that?”
She let the comment pass as she saw a cat approaching down the alleyway. It hesitated, seeing Gadget standing beside her, but she sent it a reassuring call, and the small, grey male ran up to her. She recognized him as Softstone.
“Softstone,” she said, kneeling down, “can you do something for us? There is a white, light object just inside this building that we want to see, but we cannot get inside. Do you think you could squeeze through and get it?”
Softstone looked at her. “Is this something to do with the danger you told the Elders of?”
“It might,” Lisa replied. “But we can’t be sure until we see it.”
He studied the gaps in the boards, then mrred his assent. Lisa looked up at Gadget. “Softstone will do it.”
Gadget chuckled. “Nice name. Good one, Softstone…good pussy.”
“My companion is pleased that you will help us,” Lisa said to Softstone. She led him up the steps, as Gadget took up station a little way away, checking about to be sure no one was coming. Pointing through the crack in the boards, she told Softstone, “The thing we want is at the far end of the bench you see.”
“All right,” he replied. He squeezed through the crack and paused on the other side, looking around and sniffing carefully. Evidently, he did not see or hear anything to disturb him, as he soon leaped up onto the bench and paced down its length to the piece of paper. He pawed at it, sending an edge of it hanging over the edge of the bench. He bent down, carefully took the edge in his teeth, and began dragging it back to the door.
When he got close, Lisa reached through the crack with her fingers and managed to take it from Softstone, handing it up to Gadget as Softstone squeezed back through the gap. Gadget smiled at her, and gave Softstone an ear scritch. “That’s quite a skill you two got going there. Now then, wot does this say…”
Lisa smiled, actually feeling relaxed around Gadget for possibly the first time. She waited while he read.
He shook his head. “Bugger. It’s not good.” With that, he read the note aloud to her.
“Wot do you think we should do? Do we take this to the mayor or keep it under our hats?”
Lisa kept silent while Gadget continued, evidently thinking out loud. “I know Sebastian isn’t dead and he knows the VC think he is. Last night, ‘e were chatting to the Dagonites and Builders church folk; ‘e said ‘Men of faith need to stick together in these times.’ I dunno more about wot was said at the meeting cus I wasn’t there, but I were at the party that Moriarty were talking to that fellow, who might be Mr. Mawatt.”
“It’s…it’s probably best that the Van Creed not learn that he is still alive, yet?” she asked hesitantly.
“Bloody right, missus!” Gadget exclaimed.
“But someone could say they have seen him in the hearing of these Van Creed men. It might be better, then, that those who know he’s here also know what the Van Creed think?”
Gadget considered her words. “Well, that’s a risk, true enough. But ‘ow do we do that without risking alerting the very people wot we are trying to keep it from? We don’t know who is VC and who isn’t? And we also risk alerting them that we are onto them.”
Lisa nodded. “In which case…” She held out her hand for the piece of paper. “Softstone can put it back.”
“I think that would be wise,” Gadget replied, handing it to her. “I ‘ave noted down wot it said and I will make you a copy.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I wouldn’t do me any good.” She blushed a little.
“Oh. Well, I ‘ope you got a good memory, missus.”
Lisa looked at the marking in the top-right corner, and pointed at it. “Is that what you and the others were talking about? The mark of the Van Creed?”
“Aye, it is.”
She studied it carefully. She still couldn’t read, granted, but she did indeed have a good memory, and she would at least be able to recreate the pattern of it. “I’ll see if I can teach it to any of the cats.”
She knelt down again and held out the paper to Softstone. “We don’t want the M’an who comes here to know anyone has seen this. Can you put this back right where you found it?”
“Yes,” Softstone replied. “But what about the marks of my teeth?”
Lisa pondered a few seconds. “Make some more in a few other places along the edges. He should just think mice have been chewing on it.”
Softstone arched his whickers forward in amusement. Then he took the paper back in his teeth, slipped back through the gap, and placed it on the bench as near to its original position as he could remember. Lisa helped him back out once he reached the gap, and scratched him behind the ears, nearly purring herself with praise for him.
Gadget smiled, and she gave him an answering smile. “I’ll have to talk to Tepic about getting some voles for this one.”
“Yep, he deserves to be on the payroll,” Gadget replied.
“Come to me when you’re hungry,” she said to Softstone. “I know someone who catches voles–I’ll make sure to get some nice, fat, tasty ones for you.”
“Oh, you’ll be seeing me soon, then!” Softstone strolled off, tail waving in the air jauntily.
“So, should we tell the mayor or anyone like that, do you rekon? As-per the last meeting I ‘ad agreed with Miss Dagger to share info, of course, so I am duty bound to fill ‘er in.”
“Tell Miss…Dagger. And maybe she can help to decide if others should know.”
“That’s not a bad idea, Lisa. The grups are the grups; we ‘ave enough to worry about keeping the urchins safe. And they will benefit if our plans go according to plan.”
She nodded, feeling a bit relieved.
“Right. I better see where Nat’s got to.” Gadget smiled at her. “Thanks for your ‘elp. Your friend is a little marvel.” He chuckled as he sauntered off.
Lisa watched him wave as he turned a corner, a thoughtful frown on her face. He’d seemed much more…relaxed out here–much more like the other urchins, and much less like…well, like Ambrose. Could she, after all, trust him? She finally began walking back to the Imperial Theater, thinking hard.