Fanshawe crossed the cobbles to the redbrick row house whose neon OPEN sign blinked on and off in the window. The bricks could've used a sandblasting, and the trim didn't look like it had been painted in decades. Browned flowers stood crisp in the planters just outside the first-floor windows. Kind of a dump... But he paused before he knocked on the scuffed Federal Period door. First, the address, No. 13, struck a bad chord. Fanshawe rarely believed in omens, good or bad, but after last night?
Maybe I better start.
The next bad chord came from the doorknocker. Mounted on the door's center stile was an oval of tarnished bronze depicting a half-formed face. Just two eyes, no mouth, no other features. It seemed morose, even foreboding.
Fanshawe actually considered turning back. He glanced over his shoulder-You gotta be s.h.i.+tting me!-and saw Mrs. Anstruther watching him, waving.
But what was he afraid of?
Nothing, he thought and rapped on the creepy knocker.
He expected someone marmish-like Mrs. Anstruther-or a foreigner, but instead the door was opened by a tall, gaunt woman-late-thirties, probably-with jet-black hair cut so severely across her bangs and neck it looked like a helmet. She seemed dull-eyed and blanched. A baggy kaleidoscopic T-s.h.i.+rt that read CHISWICK RECORDS hung limp on her shoulders, covering small unbra'd b.r.e.a.s.t.s; she also wore a black-denim skirt hemmed by safety pins, and clunky black boots. Fanshawe found the woman gawky, awkward, nerdish, yet interesting in some way. Thick black gla.s.ses made her a hybrid of a librarian and an over-the-hill punk rocker.
"Are you here for a reading?" she asked in a reedy voice.
"Yes." He had the idea she was rattled by him being there. "But if it's inconvenient, I can make an appointment and come back later."
She yipped a laugh. "In a recession? Are you kidding? I'm just shocked to have a customer this early. Come on in."
Fanshawe entered an old-style parlor crammed with old portraits, old furniture, and smoke-stained wallpaper. He liked the cliche. A b.u.mper sticker over a transom read CHIROMANCY IS s.e.xY. Fanshawe guessed this was another name for fortune telling. "So I guess you're Let.i.tia Rhodes?"
"Yes, and-" She turned quickly to glance at him. Her eyes looked absurdly large behind the thick gla.s.ses. "And you are...well, your first name either starts with an S or an F, but I'm leaning toward the F."
He remembered the word PSYCHIC in the window. A con, he suspected. She could easily have found out my name. "Better to lean the other way."
Her shoulders drooped. "Aw, well. Can't get 'em all." Her long white hand bid a scroll-couch of some loud red velvety fabric. "Have a seat...S."
"It's Stew, Ms. Rhodes."
"Just call me Lett."
Lett... He sat down, waiting for her to close her eyes, touch her forehead, and suddenly divine his last name, but she didn't.
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