Norman to share the joke. The lawyer tilted his head to indicate the large ginger cat crouched behind a nearby column. The cat sprang with a ferocity and velocity that belied its round belly and complacent smile. Beneath one ginger paw it held a single stunned white mouse.
“Oh, dear,” said Mr. Todd. It was the exact bored, arrogant tone that Norman had expected when he’d read it. “I do hope that wasn’t a special mouse. I doubt that Vilnius will be persuaded to give it up now.”
Hearing his name spoken, or half of it at least, Norman looked up reflexively. There was something about this Todd character, something familiar. The lawyer’s long face and sunken cheeks were framed by ridiculous sideburns that reached down to his chin. They made him look like some sort of felt puppet, but Norman was sure he knew the face under all that hair.
“You know, Master Kelmsworth,” he was lecturing now, “I must ask you not to go chasing suspected poachers around the grounds of the estate, or here in London. It isn’t safe at all.” He was speaking to George, but his eyes were fixed on Norman all the while.
Perhaps it is my clothes
, Norman thought.
“If there was a poacher on the estate, what could he possibly take of any value? I doubt there is any real game on the estate, except for a few pheasants, perhaps the odd rabbit.”
“That’s not true,” Gordon argued. His voice became shrill and indignant. “Kelmsworth estate is full of valuable game, not just rabbits. There are badgers and foxes and—”
“Foxes, you say? Well, that is an outrage.” Mr. Todd winked at Norman. “I’m very much opposed to the fox hunt.”
With that wink Norman recognized him. It was Fuchs. Norman knew him by many guises and names, but he would always be Fuchs, the mysterious librarian from his local library. Fuchs was the only person from the real world that he had ever met in a book. He had turned up as the fox abbot of Tintern in Undergrowth and had once saved Norman from a murder mystery. It was Fuchs who had explained the bookweird, as much as it could be explained. Norman stood there, his jaw hanging, trying to imagine what he should say. Nothing came to mind.
Mr. Todd smiled with satisfaction. Now that he was sure Norman recognized him, he turned away and spoke directly to George. They spoke for a few more minutes about the problems at the estate. Todd was sympathetic but unhelpful. George was quickly frustrated, and they were soon trudging down the steps again. Norman trailed behind the other three, deep in thought.
He stopped as they reached the door. “Just a minute,” he said. “I have to ask your Mr. Todd something.”
He ignored the inquisitive looks from the Intrepids and dashed back up the stairs before they could object.
“Why am I here?” Norman asked, placing his palms down on the massive oak desk.
Mr. Todd signed a paper with a flourish, then looked up. He placed his fingers together in front of his face and considered the question seriously for a moment, “It is a difficult question, one better suited to a priest or a philosopher than a lawyer.”
Norman was used to this sort of obtuseness from Fuchs—or Todd, as he now called himself. “No. Why am I
, in this book?”
“Why are you ever here?” Todd replied distractedly. Even as he pulled the sleeves of his suit jacket over his white shirt cuffs, he looked just a bit animal-like. In Undergrowth he was the fox abbot of Tintern and chaplain to the stoat princes.
“But I didn’t do it. I didn’t eat any of this book,” Norman pressed. “I haven’t eaten a book since the last time.”
Todd stroked his ridiculous mutton-chop sideburns in mock contemplation. “You haven’t? Are you sure?”
Norman thought momentarily but nodded, convinced he hadn’t so much as nibbled the corners of a page. He had cured himself of the habit that had unlocked the bookweird for him. He knew he couldn’t risk it.
“Then someone else must have