Brother Lapis bided the time until sunset polishing his boots and the silver on his sword belt to a mirror shine, much to the contempt of Sister Loxley. “I don’t want to know, do I,” she scowled as he left the Institute, noting the extra care he had taken in dressing himself. “No. You don’t,” said Brother Lapis, giving her a wink as strode out into the fading light of the evening and made his way towards the bridge that would get him to the Wheatstone canal district. By the time he knocked on Phaedra Byrne’s door, night had fallen.
After a measure of time designed to make her quarry uncomfortable, but not so long that they would run off in a change of heart, she opened the door herself.
“Why Brother Lapis. I wasn’t expecting you.”
“Yes you were,” stated Brother Lapis pleasantly. He affected a dramatic tone and said “It doesn’t matter Brother, I will know when to expect you.”
If Phaedra thought she was being mocked, she did not show it. One got used to it in her line of business, and it was good strategy to lure a skeptical mark into a sense of superiority. She held his gaze icily, waiting for him to regroup.
“You invited me over for a reading, if memory serves,” said Lapis.
Phaedra smiled. “Do come in.” She stepped aside and allowed him into the atrium of her canal house, where various and many herbs were coming into full summer foliage. Barrels of potting soil and competed for space with jumbled towers of garden crockery under the potting shelves. She pointed to the saber Brother Lapis wore at his hip. “You’ll understand if I ask you to leave that here, before we go into the house?”
“Will they be safe here? It has some value.”
“Naturally. My house is well guarded.”
Lapis removed his boot dagger and busied himself with unbuckling his sword belt while filing away that bit of information. When his weapons were safely tucked beside a pot of spreading verbena, Phaedra led him into the library of the house. “Tea?”
“Please.” Lapis kept his attention on Phaedra rather than scanning the spines of the books for titles.
“I normally work upstairs, but you appear… taxed,” Phaedra said, noting a darkness under Lapis’ eyes. “Would you prefer to sit and refresh yourself first?”
“I think I can climb a flight of stairs.”
“Suit yourself,” she said as she led him into her reading parlor. “The armchair for you. I’ll just be back with a cup of tea.”
Lapis waited until she had left the room before examining with amusement the tools of Phaedra’s trade. He waited until she had returned with the tea before seating himself.
“This is modern,” Lapis said, accepting the cup and saucer. “I half expected something more theatrical.”
“I can go put on the long black robes, if you wish. I may have a pointed hat somewhere, for Halloween.”
“I suppose you have clients that demand the traditional show?”
“I’m sure there are those who would prefer it, but no one has ever dared demand it. I seem to recall your kind goes about drawing diagrams on the thresholds of your faithful in springtime. It seems to me it is more common other places, less common here in the city.”
“Yes, the service is still requested, mostly by older persons. In another generation it will be little more than a novelty.”
The two regarded each other, both clad in impeccable blacks, both sitting at careful attention so as not to betray stray information to the other side.
“Well,” began Lapis. “How does this begin? Educate me.”
“It already has,” replied Phaedra.
Next: The Parlour