It didn’t take me long (although it took me a fair amount of bartering with cab-drivers for a decent fee) to find Vanhelm Street, broad and obvious in the daylight. Also obvious was the reason why a number had not been given. For one thing, Karkroff Hall had no number, merely its previously-descried name; for another thing, the building stood head and shoulders over the other cottages in the street, and they basked in its pooling shadow.
I honestly did not know what to expect as I neared the house attentively. Two gates, both made of a sturdy iron, gave entrance to the place, however one was marked ‘tourists’; the other: unmarked.
An electronic doorbell button sat to the side of the larger, unmarked gate, which I now saw had exotic leaf patterns carved into it, whereas the ‘tourist’ gate had none at all. Timidly following my intuition, I did not go for the ajar gate leading down a small path, but pressed on the bell for the bigger gate.
After a second, quick, tough-sounding Russian was burbled at me from a speaker-pack beside the bell. I erred, but regained myself after a moment, and said clearly into the receiver:
“I’m Detective Agnetha King.” (Adding the word ‘detective’ to my name always made me more confident.) “Caroline Peterson is expected me.”
A pause, and then the voice changed altogether to fit a casual male face, now muttering in English, even though a slight Russian accent was bleeding through.
“Ah yes. I’m sorry for any trouble that may have occurred there. Do wait a minute.”
Then the gate swung inwards, electronic wires guiding it precisely around the shrubbery that was carved into the brick wall of the estate.
As I wandered in, noticing the change from flat road-cement to the artistic texture of the pebble path, and admiring the green beauty above and beyond me, a garden crafted by someone who knew their stuff and looked after by others who loved it just as much, a figure appeared out the mahogany main front door of the house.
It waved frantically, happily.
“Aggie! So good to see you, so glad you could find us. How awful I had to send for you however.”
Although there were a few changes to her appearance, there was no denying the figure in front of me. It was Caroline Peterson. My oldest friend (in both senses of the meaning) and the first person I had defended from the fires of the laws.
“Carrie!” I ran towards her. “Thank God you alerted the people here to my arrival. I don’t do Russian. How did you know when I was going to come?”
“I didn’t,” giggled Caroline. “I told them as soon as I sent the letter. I told the Karkroffs I didn’t know when you were coming, but that I hoped to expect you.”
“Oh, Carrie!” I laughed. The lady embraced me in one swift movement.
When we broke apart, grinning madly at the long-time-no-see-style reunion, I observed the lady in front of me. It was just after two years since I had seen her last, since I had told her to flee England, but how much changed she was! How much more grown up…though I suspected that those same words were running through her own mind as she looked me up and down too.
Carrie was wearing what looked like a combination of a maid’s outfit, white-detailed and pinafored, and a traditional governess’ dress, longer than knee-length, sensibly dipping, and blue.
“Is this your uniform?” I asked her.
“Yeah,” she nodded. “It may be a bit odd to see at first, but it has the exact character I would expect for that of a governess in a position like that of myself.”
And then my eye fell on the other significant change, brushed aside when the greetings began, that had almost made me disregard Carrie.
“Auburn?” I frowned, indicating her once-blonde hair.
“Yeah, I needed a change.”
“You…don’t think it’s too much?” Carrie muttered, blushing and turning as she couldn’t hide behind her choppy hair.
"Well, it's very...unexpected. Be thankful that it's not bright red."
"The Karkroffs wouldn't deem that 'appropriate'. Besides, I don't like bright red, a medium wood-colour expresses me fine.”
She seemed, for a minute, determined in her stand, but then she blushed bright again.
“It’s too much, isn’t it?”
“Don’t worry yourself,” I nodded. “So, are you gonna let me see your workplace and home?”