The next day I had arranged to meet up with Mr. Teller to try and come up with an idea of how to tweak the new cutting process and present it to Mr. Sallon. Mr. Ledwell had gone back to Brutehaven with Mel, and I was a little sad that I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, but now that I knew Mr. Teller was her father it would be easier to stay in touch.
I decided to go a bit earlier than our agreed upon time, not wanting to be late. When I made it to his office I was about to knock on the door, when I heard voices. I didn’t want to disturb him, so I waited outside in a chair. Despite my attempts to tune them out, I could hear the conversation inside Mr. Teller’s office. It sounded like he was arguing with someone.
“And you went through with it!” A voice I didn’t recognize exclaimed.
“I’m telling you, it will be fine!” Mr. Teller insisted. “She’s already under my thumb, and my daughter doesn’t suspect a thing!”
Mel? I wondered. Was he talking about me? And what doesn’t Mel suspect? I leaned closer to the door, trying to hear more snippets of the conversation.
“And what about Jonathon?” Asked the other man.
Mr. Teller scoffed. “As if he’s a threat,” he said. “All the Cutters already hate him, Mr. Sallon won’t listen to a word he says!”
I frowned. While it probably was true, I didn’t understand why Mr. Teller would have thought Mr. Ledwell was a threat anyways. A threat to what? I considered going to get the Orderers, but it was my word against that of a respected Cutter. I needed more details.
“So we just pin it on him?” The other voice asked.
“Exactly. We just get rid of that stupid little girl, and say that it was all his idea not to follow the right Cutting procedures. They’ll think she died because of that…”
“…And Mr. Sallon will have proof of his ideas being dangerous! Brilliant!” The other man applauded.
I gasped in horror. Get rid of me? And blame it on the new way of Cutting?
Mr. Teller laughed. “And meanwhile, I’m back in Brutehaven working a black market Cutting ring!”
The other man’s voice was confident. “Believe me, there’s a lot of folks down there who’ll keep their mouths shut.” I could imagine his grin. “And if they don’t, I can have some of my boys shut them up!”
That was why Mr. Teller lived in Brutehaven! He must have been planning to do this the whole time, and then when I came with my perfect plan on how to execute it, I played right into his hands! We did all the work, tested it out, and now he could proudly report to Mr. Sallon that he was right about Mr. Ledwell along. Not only that, but he could start his little Cutting ring immediately, and the only ones who knew better would be in jail or dead!
“Pleasure doing business with you!” Mr. Teller said.
“As always!” The other man replied smugly.
I jumped up and ran out the building. A tall, burly man came out right after me, and he tipped his hat, smiling happily. I wanted to run away and warn someone, but then Mr. Teller would know something was wrong. I took a deep breath and reentered the office, looking for the entire world like I had just gotten there.
“Come in!” Mr. Teller exclaimed when I knocked on the door. He grinned as he saw me, and it took all my willpower not to shudder. Now that I knew the truth I couldn’t believe I couldn’t see through his empty smiles.
“Hello, Mr. Teller!” I said brightly. “I’m really sorry but something came up. Maybe we could discuss how we’re going to tell Mr. Sallon some other time?”
I thought I saw a flicker of annoyance cross his face, but he just smiled back and nodded. “Of course.” He replied. “Maybe tomorrow?”
I pretended to think about it. “I think Mother had plans for the whole family. What about the day after?”
“Sounds wonderful!” he agreed. “Same time, two days from now.” I smiled at him and turned trying not to run out the door. I hoped two days would be enough time to catch up to Mel and Mr. Ledwell. Hopefully Mel could search through her father’s office and try to find some incriminating evidence, and I needed to warn Mr. Ledwell before Mr. Teller got to the Orderers.
I wanted to leave right away, but I knew I had to go to Mother first, both to let her know where I was going and to prep her if Mr. Teller came to our house looking for me. I ran home and prayed that Mother hadn’t left to work yet. Luckily, she was still there, and I repeated what I had overheard as quickly as I could.
She gasped when I mentioned that Mr. Teller wanted to kill me, and tears leaked out of her eyes.
“You must tell the Orderer’s!” She exclaimed.
I shook my head. “I have no evidence! Why would they believe me?”
“Why would you lie?” She asked.
I smiled sadly. “Would you believe the word of a naïve young girl, or the world of a respected Cutter?”
She sighed. “What are you going to do then?” she asked.
“I’m going to find Mel and Mr. Ledwell. I need to warn them, especially Mr. Ledwell, and I’m hoping that they can help me find some evidence.”
“You’d better go quickly then,” she said, bustling around the kitchen packing me a bag. “Once Mr. Teller goes to the Orderer’s they won’t believe anything Mr. Ledwell says, and I don’t know what else he’s going to say.”
I nodded mutely.
“Do you have any money left?” She asked, stuffing some food into the bag. I nodded again.
“A little,” I replied.
“Enough for a couple train tickets?”
“I think so,” I pulled the remaining clinks from the pocket of my dress where I had left them from the night before. There was just enough for a couple train tickets, with a little to spare for food.
“They might be staying in Artona tonight. Hopefully they don’t leave right away, or I won‘t be able to catch them.” I didn’t bother asking for more money to catch a cart ride. If I missed them in Artona it would be too late, even if I caught a ride as soon as I arrived.
“Good luck,” she whispered, kissing me on the forehead. I smiled sadly.
“I wish I didn’t have to leave again,” I said.
She shook her head. “It’s okay. You have to do this,”
I nodded, grabbed my bag, and headed out the door.
By the time I made it to Artona the sun was just starting to sink down the sky. I stepped out into the town and immediately realized I had know way of knowing where Mr. Ledwell was. I turned around and headed back into the train station, hoping that someone would know him. After all, he might not live here, but he did pass through a lot.
I figured my best bet was a train station employee, maybe they had a list of passenger names and I could figure out how long ago he arrived. I headed towards the customer service counter, where thankfully there was no line.
“Excuse me,” I said. The man behind the counter looked up from his book and straightened his tie.
“Yes, hello. What do you need?” He asked, hiding away his book and sitting up straight.
“Do you happen to have any passenger lists for today’s or yesterday’s trains from the city?” I asked, leaning forward hopefully.
“As a matter of a fact, we do!” He exclaimed. “One moment while I get you them.” He disappeared for a few minutes and I started to get restless. Just as I was about to ring the bell on the counter he reappeared from a storage room in the back.
“Here you are!” He laid the long lists out on the counter. There was only one late train that they could have taken last night, and I scanned the list to no avail. I set it aside and looked at the one from this morning. There was a seven o’clock train and the one and ten that I had taken. I checked both the lists but didn’t see Mel Teller or Jonathon Ledwell anywhere.
I wondered if they had changed their names for some reason, and looked over the three sheets again, trying to find something that looked like a possible pseudonym, but found nothing.
“Are you sure you’re not missing a list?” I asked. “Maybe there’s another page to one of the lists?”
“Hmm?” He looked up. “No, no, this is it. What you see is what we have.”
“Oh.” I carefully stacked the lists and slid them across the table towards the man. “Thank you anyway.”
“You’re welcome to stay in the lounge area over there,” He suggested, pointing towards a collection of soft benches.
“No, thank you,” I said, backing away.
“Are you sure? Maybe whoever you’re looking for missed their train or something.”
I smiled. “Thank you. Maybe I will.” I considered what he had said. Mr. Ledwell and Mel had never said which train they were going to take. Maybe they had something to do in the city and were waiting until this afternoon. I headed back out into the city, and wandered around, trying to find a nice place to eat lunch.
The next train wouldn’t come in until at least two o’clock, and I was sick of eating buns from the train station. After fifteen minutes or so I found a nice café and settled down to eat.
While waiting for my soup to cool I counted my coins. I had enough clinks to pay for another train ticket with about ten clinks left over. After finishing my soup and paying a few clinks I made my way back to the train station, where I laid back in one of the chairs.
Before I knew it I was being shaken awake. I glanced up, groggily. “What?” I asked, rubbing my eyes.
“What are you doing here?” A familiar voice asked excitedly.
“Mel?” I asked. “How long have you been here?”
“We just came in on the two thirty train,” Mr. Ledwell replied, stepping up behind Mel. “Last night we decided to get a good night’s sleep and we missed the early train this morning.” He looked at me curiously. “How did you get here?”
I quickly briefed them on the conversation I’d heard, and my mad dash to get to Artona, only to find that they hadn’t been on any of the trains.
“Oh, council!” Mel breathed. “I’m so sorry, this is all my fault!” I was stunned. I’d forgotten for a second how Mel would take the news of her father.
“It had nothing to do with you!” I said, just as Mr. Ledwell said. “This isn’t your fault!”
She continued to cry and sank into the chair next to me. I pulled her into my arms and hugged her tightly. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”
Mr. Ledwell sat into the chair on my other side, and I held her tightly as we waited for her to calm down. A few minutes later she sat back up and sniffed, wiping at her face.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I know I shouldn’t fall apart like this.”
I shook my head. “It’s okay. He’s your father, you’ve been taking this news a lot better than I have.”
She smiled and sniffed again. “Thank you,” she said. “For not hating me.”
“Oh Mel!” I pulled her back into my arms. “I could never hate you!”
Mr. Ledwell cleared his throat. “Are you quite alright now?” He asked Mel. She nodded. “Good. In that case I have somewhere I need to go.” He began walking towards the entrance of the train station. I jumped up and jogged to catch up.
“Where are we going?” I asked. “We need to get back to the city as soon as possible!”
“Another train will be going in a couple hours,” he replied calmly. “I need to go see my sister.” I wanted to object, but I stopped myself before I said anything. After all, he was only in this situation because of me. How selfish would I be if after dragging him back and forth between the city and Artona and Brutehaven, if I didn’t even let him see his sister?
We continued walking down a small dirt path leading out of the town until a small house came into view.
“Woof!” A big golden retriever bounded across the yard towards me, almost bowling me over.
Mel laughed as I regained my footing and tentatively patted it on the head as it licked my hand enthusiastically.
“Tesla!” A middle-aged woman stood on the porch of her house, clapping her hands and whistling. “Come here, Tesla, leave the poor girl alone!” She called to the dog.
“Hello, Mary!” Ledwell said, not sounding particularly enthusiastic.
“Jonathon!” Mary ran down the steps and embraced him. Mr. Ledwell gingerly returned the gesture. “Come in, come in!” She said, ushering us into the house and tucking loose pieces of gray hair from her bun behind her ears. The dog, Tesla, followed us in.
“I’ll put some tea on!” Mary announced, closing the door and bustling around the small kitchen. She wiped the front of her dress, trying to wipe of nonexistent pieces of dirt. “I see you’ve already met Tesla,” she said, filling the kettle. “Don’t worry, she’s friendly.”
A cat bounded onto Mel’s lap, and she flinched as it dug its claws into her lap.
“Darling,” Mary said, a scolding look on her face, which looked ridiculous on her gentle features. “Forgive Darling. She’s in a dreadful state of excitement!” She poured the boiling kettle into a teapot and carried it over, dropping it on the table softly.
“Why is she so excited?” Mel asked, confusion written plainly on her face.
I glanced from Mr. Ledwell to Mary, the former rolling his eyes and the latter looking delighted. “She’s engaged!” Mary announced happily.
“Engaged?” I questioned.
“She’s to be married to my neighbor’s cat Button soon! Wouldn’t she look just wonderful in white?” The cat screeched in protest as Mary plucked it up from Mel’s lap and stroked its head adoringly.
I looked at Mel and snickered, my hands fidgeting in my lap. “I’ve had a lovely time,” I began, “But why are we stopping here?” Mr. Ledwell grabbed the teapot and poured me a cup.
“We’re having lunch. I’m sick of being on the road.” Noting my expression he added, “I know you want to go back to the city as quickly as possible, but we need a break anyway.” He glanced up at Mary. “Do you have anything for us to eat?” He asked.
She nodded eagerly. “I just made a batch of scones!” She replied, brining over a full plate. As much as I wished we were still traveling, the scones smelled heavenly, and I eventually gave in.
“That’s not the only reason you’re hear, is it,” said Mary, sitting down across from us and looking at Mr. Ledwell sternly. “You must stop this lying habit you have. The council doesn’t approve!”
Mr. Ledwell sighed. “Enough with your dramatics, Mary! I have done my work for our civilization, and if the Council doesn’t approve then they can send me to hell for all I care.”
“Forgive Jonathon. He doesn’t realize what a fool he is!” Though she was speaking to Mel and I, Mary directed the last words at Mr. Ledwell.
“You are right though,” Mr. Ledwell said. “We came here for another reason.” He quickly explained the situation, Mary listening closely.
“Oh!” she cried. “Oh, dear council!” She stood up and began pacing the room nervously. “I’m ever so sorry Jonny, what can I do to help?”
Mr. Ledwell stood and put a hand on her arm, guiding her back into her chair. “You know some high-ranking Orderers, don’t you?” Mr. Ledwell asked. She nodded. “Please go to them and do everything you can to convince them that our story is true. Warn them that if John Teller says that I’m guilty not to believe it, and get them to search his office.
“I’ll do my best,” Mary replied. “What are you going to do?”
“We’re going to go back to the city and prove to Mr. Sallon that this new way of Cutting works,” I replied, trying to sound as if I believed it could work.
“In that case I’ll do everything I can, and I won’t stop pestering them until they arrest that horrid man!”
“Thank you,” Mr. Ledwell replied. “I appreciate your help!” We said our goodbyes, I wished Darling good luck for her upcoming wedding, and patted Tesla on the head. Before I knew it we were back on the road again.
“Your sister’s a lovely woman,” Mel said, breaking the silence as we walked back to the train station.
“Indeed,” he replied.
“I liked her dog,” she continued.
He nodded mutely. She looked over at me helplessly. I shrugged.
“Where are you going to stay when we get back to the city?” I asked Mel, changing the subject.
She sighed. “I really don’t know. I don’t think I could bear staying with my father now that I know what he’s planning. I don’t have any other relatives in the city though.”
“I’m sure you can stay with us,” I replied. “We have an extra bed now that Darren’s gone.” I was surprised at how much easier it was to say those words. Of course, I still felt sad, but I didn’t feel like I had a weight on my back anymore. Maybe it was from talking with him and knowing he was happy.
“Are you sure?” Mel asked hopefully. “I wouldn’t want to be a burden.”
“You housed me when I was a random stranger in Brutehaven,” I replied. “It’s the least I can do to return the favor.”
“Thank you!” she said. “I appreciate it.”