Gretchen turned back to Waffles Ribeye. “We are going to help you. We need to do some research, first, though. Where is your house?”
“In Gatineau, 1210 Chemin de la Montagne. Near Pink Lake.”
I knew roughly where that was. “That’s kind of far. Can you come back and pick us up? Like tomorrow?”
Waffles thought for a moment while another gust of arctic wind ruffled his fur. “I think I can get out of the house. Meet you right here, same time?”
We agreed, and he took off before anyone called the dog catcher. And we hustled inside.
After pulling a piece of wood back over the hole, Gretchen shook the snow off her whiskers. “Let’s go talk to Gregory Bookkeeper.”
As Dichall and I scurried after Gretchen through the dark walls of the Centre Block, something came back to mind. “Gretchen, I need to talk to Murine Resources about my parental leave.”
“Ach!” She sighed. “Fine.”
The MR office was technically on the way, so we stopped there first – Gretchen impatiently tapping her foot while I got in line. There was one mouse ahead of me, loudly complaining about another Councilmouse wearing inappropriate attire on the job. I had no idea what she could have meant by that, and apparently the MR mouse didn’t either. He listened for a few minutes, then shook his head and sent her away. “Next!”
Leaning forward on his desk, which had been fashioned from the corner of a cardboard box, he looked down his nose at me. “My name is Rory Bythebook. What can I do for you?”
“Hi Rory. I’m pregnant, and my team is still recovering from injuries sustained in the line of duty. Beatrice wants to send us out—“
A huge grin broke over Rory’s face but he still held up a single digit to shush me. “Congratulations. When did you find out?”
“Just today, actually. I –”
His face lost the grin – reminding me more of statue than a living mouse. “Parental leave for you and your mate begins no sooner than 19 days after discovery, Ms. Pixiedrowner.”
“It starts—wait, you know my name?”
Rory Bythebook allowed himself a tight smile for a moment. “You’re quite well-known around here, now, Eve. Good work on that fae business. Courage!” He slammed a balled fist onto the cardboard. It gave out a muffled thump.
“Rory,” Dichall stepped up and stood beside me. “I’m the father, as far as I know.”
I rolled my eyes at this. “Very funny.”
Dichall winked at me and smiled before continuing. “I would feel better knowing Eve was safe here until she had her litter. I mean, are you a father?”
“Oh yes, many times over.”
“And when your mate was pregnant, you wouldn’t have wanted her out in the field, fighting monsters and risking the litter, would you have?”
“Goodness, no.” Rory looked at Dichall like this was the most obvious thing in the world.
“Well, then, you understand. So how about we start the maternal leave—“
“The parental leave…”
“…The leave, you know, now?”
“I’m afraid that’s impossible. Against the rules. And the rules are the rules. We must always,” he stared hard at Dichall, “follow the rules.” His eyes wandered to the mice in line behind us. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have other matters to attend to.” He handed me a piece of paper and a sliver of graphite. “Please fill out this form and get it back to me at least 8 days before you wish the leave to start, but no sooner than 10 days. Good luck on your mission!”
Gretchen took our arms and led us out of the room. “Done wasting time now? There’s no sense arguing. Why do you think they call him ‘Bythebook?’ Rules, rules rules. More important to him than food or sleep. And don’t even think of taking that form back to him early, he’ll just tell you to bring it back later.”
I tried not to crumple the form in frustration and trudged down the hall beside her. “Let’s just get this mission over with as soon as possible, so I can be back here and take care of my pups.”
“This might be a big mission.” Gretchen pushed open the door to the library. “This Vivian girl is stuck in another world.”
I stared at her, then thought unkind thoughts at Beatrice.
The one good eye of Gregory Bookkeeper lit up when we entered the library. “Eve Pixiedrowner!” He gestured to the mouse he’d been chatting with. “I’d like you to meet Jenna Talkyadown.”
Jenna turned to us and smiled. She was white, with red eyes, indicating that she was an escaped lab mouse. Her brilliant fur was offset by a striking, short black cape and a black felt hat. A sharpened bobby pin was tucked into her black belt. She nodded her head to us. “It’s a pleasure.”
She was a recent addition to the Ottawa Micean Council, but had made quite a name for herself just in the last week. Where most of us got missions from incoming danger reports, she seemed to have a knack for finding underworld threats all by herself.
I gave her paw a firm pawshake. “It’s an honour to meet you.”
She smiled and her eyes sparkled. “Eve Pixiedrowner! Bane of Faeries. I’ve been meaning to meet you, too. We should get together sometime and have a coffee bean.”
“Yes, yes, and aren’t we all just so proud of each other.” Gregory Bookkeeper waved his paw in the air as though shooing away a gnat. “Are we here to talk about getting together so we can engage in more useless prattle, or are we here to talk about doing our jobs?”
Jenna turned and smiled at Gregory. “I’m all done. Eve and company, the floor is yours.”
Gretchen stepped to Gregory’s desk. “Have you got a map of the region?”
Gregory nodded, and snapped his fingers. “Halima! Map!”
A brown-furred mouse peeked her head out from a mousehole. “Just downtown? All of Ottawa? Or including the surrounding region?”
“We need Gatineau.” Gretchen turned back to Gregory. “I think we’re going to have to pass through a geopattern.”
Jenna had been about to walk out, but she stopped at this.
I looked at her. “What’s a geopattern?”
She just shook her head at me and pointed at Gregory.
Halima dragged out an old tourist map that was about twice as long as she was, tail included. With a bit of futzing, and almost knocking everything off Gregory’s desk, we got it oriented.
Gretchen tapped one digit on the map. “Right there. A child went missing. Isn’t there a geopattern around there somewhere?”
Gregory nodded. “Oh yes, certainly. Between that road there,” he touched the map, “and Pink Lake, here,” he touched it in a different spot. “There’s a strong one.”
Between the frustration of having to go on a mission while carrying my unborn kids, and everyone ignoring me, I just about lost my temper. “Will someone please tell me what a geopattern is!?”
Jenna swiveled her head to look at me. “Geopatterns are places where the border between reality and other worlds is weak. Because of that, if you’re distracted while walking through one, you could step into a different world and not even know it.” She looked at the three of us and tapped her finger on her chin. After a moment: “Have any of you been through one before?”
The three of us shook our heads.
Dichall looked up from the map. “We’re going with a dog named Waffles Ribeye. Heard of him?”
Gregory’s clear eye opened wide, and his milky one tried to. “I believe I have.” He turned to Halima. “See if we have a file on a dog named Waffles Ribeye.”
She nodded and scampered out of the room.
Gregory watched her leave, then turned back around to us. “When do you leave?”
I looked at the map, trying to see how far this geopattern was from the campground where I used to live. Too close. “Tomorrow.”
Halima hurried back in, panting slightly, holding a yellow post-it note. “Got your file on Waffles Ribeye here.”
Gregory held it in two paws and read it with his one good eye. “Hmm. Now this is interesting…”