This story, like so many others, begins with heartbreak. It was in the fifth year of my immigration from Oslo to London and my second working as a private detective, that I was introduced to Lady Emma Radcliff. I’m still unsure if I should regret it.
It was raining that morning. It seemed like it was always raining in England, to the point where I had considered trading in my new automobile for a boat, were it not for the fact that the streets were flooded only three days out of seven. Well, perhaps that is an exaggeration, but in comparison with my native land, this much water was a pain.
I was sitting my library, a small room, but the shelves ran from floor to ceiling and were covered in books and odd artifacts I had collected in my short life. A book on Newton’s alchemy theory was open before, but my attention was outside the room, watching the black thunder clouds rumble like chariot wheels. Steam from the cup of tea beside me drifted lazily upwards, leaving a hint of peppermint in the air behind it.
“Master Larson, there is a woman here to see you,” said a soft voice from the door way. I turned to find my housekeeper and landlady, Megan Conner, looking at me expectantly. She was a small woman, a few years older than I was who had inherited the place from her mother and found she needed more money than she had to keep the place, with bright ginger hair hidden under a bonnet of green.
“Thank you, Miss Connor, could you show her in please?” I replied, in what I have been told was a pleasing tenor.
She nodded and showed Lady Radcliff into the library, announcing her title and name for me. I stood as the young woman made her way over too me. She was slender, with light brown hair that was pulled into the latest hairstyle and wearing a violet dress that would please the Queen with its elegance and modesty. Her face betrayed a nervous energy matched by the ringing of her hands.
“I am honored by your visit, My Lady,” I said as we each took a chair, “What is it I can do for you?”
Lady Radcliff sat frozen, her eyes darting around the room, flashing from books on
alchemy and magic to the latest scientific texts and fiction. “I’ve heard rumors about you, Mister Larson,” She said after a long moment, “That you can work with the utmost delicacy.”
I simply nodded, pushing my glasses back up my nose. “So they say,” I replied, “Though I can’t say who says it.”
A slight smile tugged her lips and she let out a breath. “They also say that you know things,” she hesitated for a moment before continuing, “Thing that should not be, that exist beyond the keen of other men.”
I bowed my head again. “They say that too.”
“Is it true, Mister Larson,” she asked, “Or is it just an act?”
I stared into her eyes, only the barrier of clear glass between us. There was a slight tugging sensation, as if I was being drawn into her, but she looked away before it could grow stronger. Casually I rolled back the sleeve of my right arm and held out my hand. Her eyes followed my hand as I rolled it around, revealing nothing to be there, before I stopped with my palm facing upwards. Lights danced over my palm, first white, then yellow, orange, and red as a small flame appeared an inch above my skin.
A flick of my wrist and the flame was gone, though its ghost danced in her softly blue eyes. “Truth is what we make it, Lady Radcliff,” I said, “I’ll leave you to be the judge of what is true.”
She was silent for a long time. The clock on the wall ticked away, rain pattered against the windows, and the world moved as it always did. Finally, she spoke, her words hurried.
“I am being blackmailed. Three days ago a letter appeared on my pillow case with a note saying if I did not come up with three thousand pounds in two weeks a past indiscretion of mine would be made known to my husband. I cannot let that happen, but it is impossible for me to obtain that sum without my husband knowing of it, he keeps tight control of all our finances. They took a ring of mine, a very precious one set with a black diamond and said that should I fail to obtain the money they will use it against me.”
I nodded slowly. It was easy to come up with several possible indiscretions the Lady Radcliff could have committed, though I found the sum asked to be a bit odd. Three thousand pounds was no small sum, but Lord Radcliff was acknowledged as one of the wealthiest men in England and it was a paltry amount to his sums. Even the most dimwitted thief from the outback was sure to know this. Which either meant the blackmailer was stupid, unlikely as they were capable of gaining access to the Lady’s bedchamber, or they were very well informed.
“Will you take my case, Mister Larson?” she asked.
“My fee is five pounds a day, two day minimum,” I said, “If you willing to pay that, I’ll take the case.”
Lady Radcliff nodded and pulled fifteen pounds from her purse and set it on the table. This was outside normal behavior, but I understood the message. I bowed my head and stood with her.
“I shall be by your place within the day, if that is acceptable, My Lady,” I said. She nodded her head and left, passing my housekeeper, who followed to show her out. I took the money off the table and slipped it into my pocket.
How did that bastard Holmes put it? Ah, right. The game was afoot.