Chapter 1: The problem explained
"The Governor-General will see you now."
As I crossed to the door of the Oval Office, the Secret Service agent said, "Your wand, please, Sir."
I handed over my wand. Part of his job was to keep weapons out of the Oval Office. However; I didn't tell him that to a competent sorcerer, a finger worked ... mostly ... just as well as a wand!
Baron Clinton greeted me, saying, "Come in and sit down, Robert. We've got a problem that I think is right up your street." He continued, "Have you come across an organization called The Lavender Club?"
Hesitating to reply, I silently reviewed what I knew about them. The fictional account of their activities, by Sir Daniel Brown, had somewhat muddied the waters of peoples conceptions. In his book, 'The Da Vinci Code', he depicted the members of the Lavender Club as a world-wide conspiracy to introduce this fictional discipline called 'science' to overturn the centuries of magic.
The truth was that they were a collection of oddballs, who denied the relevance of magic in the modern world. They insisted that the universe operated, according to a set of laws they called 'science', independently of human beings.
"Don't they deny the existence of magic?" I asked innocently.
"Not exactly," replied the Governor-General. "As I understand it, they consider that magic is a special case of something they call 'the quantum effect.' However, that's all by the way. Our problem is the disappearance of their president: Sir Oliver Plumb. They are claiming that he has been kidnapped, or otherwise disposed of, by the establishment. I inquired into the incident and am assured that such is not the case. Nevertheless, the Establishment is getting a very bad press from the incident. Anyway, your job is to prove them wrong. Find out what really happened to Sir Oliver, so that we can rub their noses in it."
"Do you know who saw him last?"
"No, but if I were you, I would start with their secretary. They have an office somewhere in Virginia..."he looked around on his desk. "Look, here's their card: Fall Hill Avenue, Fredericksburg. That's about halfway to Richmond where, I believe, Sir Oliver lives."
"Thank you, Sir. I'll get right on with it."
"Very good, and give my regards to your moth ... parents when you see them! My best to them. I still have fond memories of her ... them."
I turned and left. I collected my wand from the agent at the door, and my sorcerer's tool bag from my office.
As I left the White House, the redcoat snapped smartly to attention, his hand slapping the butt of his rifle.
"A cab, please," I asked.
"At once, Sir," he replied and gave a shrill whistle. A hansom cab drew up, pulled by a gray, and I climbed in.
"L'Enfant Plaza Station, if you please," I said as the cabby opened the window in the roof.
He started the cab off at a smart trot and soon we were going down 17th Avenue. Looking to my right, I could see the Wilberforce Memorial erected by Governor-General Lincoln. We turned into Dominion Avenue and soon reached the station.
I did not have to wait long as the train, oddly enough, was on time. As it approached, the locomotive spewed clouds of wood smoke. I mounted the entrance to the carriage, and settled down for the near two-hour journey to Fredericksburg.
I should, perhaps, introduce myself. I am Robert MacLeod, and I am twenty-five years of age. Others, perhaps, find me a bit uptight and pedantic at times; although I have been known to let my hair down, figuratively. I'm athletic by build, but bookish by nature. I am a Master-journeyman of the Thaumaturgical Institute of New England and a Senior Special Agent of the New England Bureau of Investigation. I am attached to the office of the Governor-General.
Not all crime needs magic for its solution. Usually, it is just the trickier and more urgent problems. I wasn't even sure, at this stage of the investigation, that my Talent would be essential to finding Sir Oliver.
As the train rolled through the countryside, the many colors of the trees encouraged my contemplation. The occasional glimpses of the water of Chesapeake Bay, served to emphasize the beauty of the trees.
Now I had a new adventure. I wondered what had become of Sir Oliver Plumb. Had he vanished of his own accord, in order to embarrass the Establishment; had it been for personal reasons, with no thought for the consequences; or had he annoyed someone sufficiently to make them do away with him? On the other hand, had someone else wished to bring the Establishment into disrepute? Too many possibilities to consider. I shall just have to plod from one fact to the next. That was the usual way these problems were resolved.
My mind wandered into thinking about a new magical device, still in development. It was called a 'lapbook.' It enabled the user to acquire access to all sorts of information. Could it locate an individual, or even a body? Time would tell!
In just under two hours, the train pulled into Fredericksburg. After emerging from the station, a short trip in a hansom brought me to my destination. The offices of The Lavender Club were open, but after I had entered, I found them almost deserted. As I would expect in the office of people who decried magic, there were only faint traces of magic present. The sole inhabitant was a nondescript sort of a man. He was of average height, slightly stooped, and with thin graying hair.
The Secretary of the Club, Goodman Ethan Southwark, greeted me.
"How can I help you, Sir?"
"I'm here to investigate the disappearance of your president." I said, introducing myself by showing him my credentials. "Have you seen anything of Sir Oliver Plumb in the last few days?"
"No, Agent MacLeod. I haven't seen Sir Oliver since Tuesday last. He was going home to Richmond for a few days. You see, he had a business meeting there, on Friday. I'm not quite sure where the meeting was to take place, or with whom. On Monday, however, he was due back in his office, here. When he didn't appear, I sent a messenger to his home, but he wasn't there. I reported the facts to the Club vice-president, who said that he would contact the authorities. That's all I know. I'm sorry that I couldn't be more helpful"
"Oh, on the contrary, you've been most helpful, Mr. Southwark! And now, if you please, could you give me directions to Sir Oliver's residence in Richmond."
It was late when I reached Richmond, so I found myself a room in an inn near the station: The Moon Calf. The next morning, I set out for Sir Oliver's residence. Upon knocking on the front door, it was opened by a manservant. Before I could speak, he said, "I am sorry to inform you, Sir, that Sir Oliver is not at home."
"I know that," I replied, showing him my badge and credentials. "That's why I'm here. May I come in?"
"Of course, Sir," he said as he moved back, allowing me to enter. He closed the front door and then showed me into the drawing room. "How can I be of service?"
"When did you last see Sir Oliver?"
"Friday morning, Sir. He had an interview in town and was supposed to return to Fredericksburg after the weekend. However, when he did not return from his interview, I assumed that he had gone straight to Fredericksburg."
"Whom did he go to see?"
"I'm sure I don't know, Sir. Perhaps it's in his appointment book. If you would come this way, Sir?"
He escorted me into Sir Plumb's office and found the book. Leafing through it to last Fridays date, I found the cryptic entry: '11 a.m. Catsup at the MC.' "Who is Catsup, and where is the MC?"
"I'm sure I don't know, Sir." He paused for a moment and then continued, "It is possible that 'MC' is the 'Moon Calf'. It is a hostelry in town, on the other side of the station. Sir Oliver frequently visited that establishment."
"Do you have a recent likeness of Sir Oliver?"
"Yes, Sir. If you would step this way?"
He led me into the parlor where, above the fireplace, there was a portrait. It showed a young man. I noted his appearance so that I would recognize him, alive or dead. To reinforce my memory, I took out my notebook and wand. I muttered a spell, and wiped my wand first across the portrait, and then across a page in my notebook. The likeness from the portrait appeared on the notebook page.
"Before I go," I said, putting Sir Plumb's appointment book and my notebook into my bag, "I would like to examine Sir Oliver's bedroom."
"Certainly, Sir, if you would follow me?"
He led me to a bedroom on the second floor. It was very tidy and, when I ran my fingers across the dressing table, dust free. In the corner of the room however, there was a soiled linen basket. From it, I extracted a tunic, and placed it in an evidence bag. It was the sort of garment that anyone might have worn for a comfortable evening at home. It would also bear some of the essence of the wearer, which could be used to locate him.
"I'll need this," I said to the manservant. "Do you want me to give you a receipt for these articles?"
"No, Sir. I'm sure that will be all right."
Returning to The Moon Calf, I approached the young lady behind the reception desk.
"May I ask who was on duty last Friday morning?"
"Yes, Sir, I was," she replied.
"Are you, perhaps, familiar with Sir Oliver Plumb?"
"Yes, Sir, I am. He is a frequent visitor here."
"Did you see him last Friday morning? And the person he was to meet?"
"Sir Oliver, yes, but there was a message for him here at reception. He left as soon as he read it. Perhaps, the doorman could tell you more about Sir Oliver's movements.
"Thank you! One last thing, did you see who left the message?"
"Yes, Sir," my hopes rose. "It was the mail-man," and fell again.
I thanked her and went outside to find the doorman.
"Good morning! Can you tell me if you recall seeing Sir Oliver Plumb here, last Friday?"
"Yes, Sir. I found him a hansom and it took off up the hill," he said, indicating a westerly direction.
"Can you remember which cab it was?
"I'm afraid not, Sir." he replied.
I thanked him and asked him to call me a cab. When it arrived, I climbed in and indicated to the cabby that we should go up the hill.