Before I went to Lady Radcliff’s mansion, I made a stop at the home of one Amanda Howett, a charming young woman I’d come to know shortly after my arrival in London. We had courted briefly, before her strict grandparents had sent her off to family in Kent. She had returned to London a week ago, but this was the first time I had seen her since her departure years ago.
The flat she was living in was a modest affair, as befitted a newly graduated student of university, and matched her well. I was shown in by the landlady, who gave me a disapproving look from a foot shorter than I, yet still managed to look up her nose at me.
Amanda herself had changed since I last saw her. Back when we first met, she had been pleasantly gifted a bit extra to her form, but the years had caused her to lose some in one area and gain it in others that suited her quite nicely. She was also wearing the latest in fashion for women her age, consisting of a corset and a shorter skirt that ended just above the knee, in contrast with the Queen’s strict views on proper behavior. The look suited her well, as did the knee high boots with four centimeters heels. The pink fabric complimented her pale skin, and the black leather of the corset and boots provided a fine counterpoint of color. Her blonde hair, a few shades darker than my own, was pulled into a but and her smile was as kind and playful as I remembered.
“Sven, my dear, it is so nice to see you again,” Amanda said, offering her hands.
I took them and bowed, lightly kissing her wrist. “And you as well, it has been far too long. I apologize for not coming to see you sooner, Miss Amanda,” I replied, straightening up.
“Charmer,” she said, giving a small laugh, “I am amazed you had time to see me at all. According to the papers, you’re in demand almost as much as Mister Holmes.”
A wry smile tugged at my mouth. “Yes, well, one has bills to pay and I am easier to hire than he is,” I replied, “But tell me, how have things been with you? I was surprised to learn you were back in London.”
Amanda sat down and smoothed her skirt. “Well, I was surprised myself actually,” she said, refusing to look at me. “I hadn’t intended to come back, but eth cards said it was best that I do so.”
The cards. Amanda had a gift for the Tarot, to about the same degree I had for alchemy, though if they told her the future of if she created it with them I had yet to determine. It was rare for her to use them, after having predicted the death of a close friend’s fiancé. Still, her skills were not to be denied, whatever the consequences. If they, or she, had caused her to come to London, was doubtfully a minor reason.
“I see, when did you take them back up?” I asked, sitting down across from her. She crossed her legs, a promising glimpse of things seen long ago, and exhaled. Amanda’s eyes met mine for a brief instant before looking away again.
“Two months ago,” she replied, “I was cleaning my room and came across my deck. Three of the cards fell to the floor. I read them, then did another reading. Then another. I’m not sure what the message was meant to say, but afterwards I knew I had to come here to London and that I was to meet with you. I’m hoping, soon, that they will reveal more to me and I can understand why I was brought back here.”
I watched her, taking in the way her hands were nervously smoothing her skirt and how she would glance at me, only to look away instantly. It was clear she wasn’t telling me everything, and while part of me wondered if it had anything to do with our past together, another part felt it was something completely different.
“Would you like some tea?” Amanda asked after a moment, “I hate to be a bad host the first time you come over.”
“Thank you, but I’m afraid I don’t have time today,” I said, but continued upon her disappointed expression, “I was hired for a case this morning and it is important that I resolve it quickly.”
She nodded, a lock of blonde hair falling from her bun and landing on her bare shoulder. “I see, another time then. Do you have to leave soon?”
I pulled a watch from my vest pocket and looked at the time. A quarter past one, and I needed to be at Lady Radcliffs by two, even though I hadn’t set an appointment with her. “I’m afraid so, but I brought you a gift,” I said. I pulled out the little blue vial from my lab from a pocket. “An elixer, made of rosemary and white willow. Two drops in your morning tea will help ease the stress of London life, “ I said, giving her the vial with a slight smile. “London is a terrible place for keeping relaxed and I know moving here could not have been all that enjoyable.”
Amanda smile and took the vial, holding it to the light. “Thank you, Sven,” she said, “I’ve been eager to see how your alchemy has progressed.”
A few minutes later out goodbyes were said and I was on my way, my automobile steaming along the London streets towards Lady Radcliff. It was odd, seeing an old ladyfriend. Not that I’d had many, love being one of the fields in which my fortunes ranged from unfortunate to downright terrible. Yet here one was, brought by fate of desire, I couldn’t tell. While I didn’t go in for the Tarot, I wouldn’t deny the power Amanda had in those cards. If they were keeping secrets, it could only be because something larger was happening. My limited skills with sorcery weren’t going to help me, and alchemy had little interest in predicting the future, though my knowledge of astronomy might provide a hint. Still, there was someone else I’d rather call on if there was a matter of the fates. The only problem was, could I reach him in time for it to matter.