The letter came in the morning, in a delicate, scallop-edged envelope that made Marc raise an eyebrow and Cathlin assert that Wilom’s secret admirer must be terribly old-fashioned.
Wilom gave a good-natured response. It was from one of the ladies of the soup kitchen.
He opened it alone after dinner, and was very glad that he did.
Dear Mr Tris,
We are writing you to inform you that the young lady you left in our care has gone missing. We thought you might wish to know, so that you can inform your superiors. It seems you may need a more stringent process of checking those you bring in for their backgrounds and allegiances. We hope this will not happen again in future, as we have had excellent dealings with you in the past, and it is disappointing to know that such an error has occurred.
Of course we do not blame you specifically; we understand that you have nothing to do with bringing these people in. Please convey our disappointment to those responsible.
We hope we will not need to start requiring background from the next people you bring. We have, of course, informed the appropriate authorities, but we have kept you and your group anonymous. We know that this wasn’t your intention, and we hope you understand.
The Fortunate Ladies’ Soup Kitchen
Wilom folded up the letter and put it back in the envelope. He was tempted to throw the letter away, but he put it in the drawer instead. He might need it later.
The next day, Vanda met him outside the door to the house.
“You heard?” he asked, as she fell into step beside him.
She looked at him in surprise. “You heard?” she asked.
“I got a letter this morning from the soup kitchen ladies about Peggy.”
Vanda nodded. “That was fast. What did they say?”
Wilom wished he’d brought it with him. “They’re disappointed that we didn’t run an appropriate background check, and they’ve tipped her off to the police.”
Vanda looked away. “Damn,” she said quietly.
“Was it just the town square demonstrations?”
“She was getting … restless. I don’t know if it was true or not, but she said that there were people coming around to the soup kitchen who would come in, check on her or them and leave. Apparently she talked to the ladies, who said they didn’t notice the visitors, but she thought they were lying. Apparently one of them snapped at her when she asked the question the last time. She said …” she glanced around again.
“It’s alright, nobody’s listening,” Wilom said again.
“You can tell?”
“I can tell.”
Vanda relaxed. “Well, she said that she thought they might be working for the government. Someone came by to ask for her papers – someone different.”
“She should have them,” Wilom pointed out.
“She did. And they didn’t find any problem with them.” Vanda shrugged. “She thought that might be the end of it, but she said the ladies had started to suspect her by then.”
“So she ran away?”
“I took her. After one of her demonstrations got interrupted by the police. She begged me to find her another place, so I took her down to the coast. I don’t know if she found work. She said she would be fine.”
“Why the coast?”
“She … knows I have to take people there sometimes,” Vanda said. “You know, if they do get caught. Remember how I came and got you? The police are still pretty complacent that far back, so I can usually sneak people in without as much trouble. It’s risky, but … sometimes it’s better than taking a chance here.”
“You should go back and check on her,” Wilom said.
“What do you take me for? Of course I will.”
They sat down at the café table and Wilom picked up a menu. He selected a tea nearly at random. Vanda didn’t even look at the menu.
“Night Black,” Vanda said. “I need something strong. You?”
“Me, too,” Wilom admitted, folding the menu up and putting it aside. “So … what will we do?”
“Nothing,” Vanda said firmly. “Lay low. Keep the others safe.” She paused as the server came up to them and takes their orders.
“I … heard you arguing with her the other day,” Wilom said, feeling like child caught eavesdropping.
Vanda groaned. “How much did you hear?” From her tone, though, she wasn’t upset with him for eavesdropping – more that he might have heard something embarrassing.
“Not much. Only the end of the argument, I think. Just before the police came.”
Vanda rubbed her forehead with the heel of her palm. “Honestly, you might has well have heard most of it, then.”
“Do you think we should invite her to work with us?” Wilom asked. “She’s trustworthy. She’s clearly dedicated, too.”
They paused while the waiter arrived with their tea.
“If you can come up with a way to get her to either join us or stop without mentioning either the lighthouse keeper or the ferryman or our respective apprenticeships, then be my guest,” Vanda said sourly into her teacup.
Wilom paused. “You’re right,” he said. “If we had a bigger organisation …”
“See? That’s what I’m dealing with. I must seem like such a hypocrite. Truth is, if I wasn’t me, I’d probably be her. You know?”
Wilom nodded. “I understand,” he said.
Vanda rubbed her eyes. “So every time I fight with her, it’s like talking to myself. It’s horrible. We’re using the same arguments for opposite sides, and we both know it, but I can’t say anything else without breaking my word to the lighthouse keeper!”
Wilom tried a ferryman tactic. “So … if you were talking to yourself, would you say the same things?”
“Of course. I still think she’s going to get someone arrested. I mean, that’s how I’d end up for sure, if I didn’t have the Pathways.”
Wilom shrugged. “Well, I agree it’s a good idea to keep an eye on her. Just for a while.”
Vanda nodded miserably. “Yeah. Just for a while.”