Legend Of The Highland Dragon

By: Cooper Isabel

To Professor Robert Mathiesen, with many thanks for assistance, advice, and support.





One





“I need to see Carter.”

The voice was deep, with a pronounced Scottish accent and a distinct sense of urgency. The owner was already speaking before the door to Professor Richard Carter’s outer office had closed. The words were all too familiar to Mina by now.

“Professor Carter isn’t in at the moment,” Mina replied without lifting her gaze from the typewriter.

She spoke firmly, with emphasis on the Professor, careful to round off her vowels and clip her consonants and to leave time between each of the words. All of that had taken considerable effort when she’d first taken her position. Now, two years of constant practice—especially with that line—made her speech almost unconscious, like the motion of her fingers over the typewriter keys.

The next line was “If you’d care to leave your card, I can give it to him,” but as she finally looked up, the visitor’s appearance made Mina pause.

He stood in the doorway like a knight out of some storybook illustration, or perhaps an American outlaw from a penny dreadful: someone ready to do battle, at least, and not necessarily someone on the side of the angels. He was tall and dark, broad-shouldered and square-chinned. His clothes were well-tailored and the fabric looked like it was of good quality, but the respectable dark suit looked somehow incongruous on him, as if he were wearing a very expensive costume.

He also didn’t wait to hear Mina’s next line.

“Where is he?” the man asked.

That sort of response was not precisely new either, though it was rarer than the opening gambit. Most people had the sense to realize what not in meant, and the grace to respect it. This man was clearly going to be one of the other sort.

Mina put her papers to one side and fixed her eyes on the visitor. “He isn’t in at the moment,” she repeated, more sternly and with a greater if-you-catch-my-meaning inflection. “But I’d be happy to let him know you called.”

The man crossed the room, moving like a panther—or at least like what Mina imagined a panther would move like, as she’d never seen one of the beasts herself. “I need to speak to Carter,” he said, planting his hands on the edge of Mina’s desk and leaning forward. “The matter is urgent. Now, if he truly is out, you can tell me where he’s gone—”

“I’m afraid Professor Carter isn’t in the habit of leaving me with a detailed itinerary of his movements. Sir.”

“Then tell me the first place he went, and I’ll proceed from there.”

Up close, the stranger’s hair wasn’t just black. There were shades of red to it in the lamplight: not ginger, but true red, like wine. His brown eyes had more than a hint of gold in them, too.

Mina wasn’t sure why she was noticing such things, except that danger was supposed to make one more aware of details, and this man could certainly be dangerous. She shifted one hand to cover the ivory-handled letter opener on her desk.

Then she lifted her chin. “Professor Carter doesn’t employ me to give out his personal information to anyone who asks,” she said. “And there are at least three bobbies on this block, sir. I can scream very loudly.”

“What?” He seemed honestly surprised. Seemed, at least. He did back up a step. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I try never to be ridiculous, sir.”

Unconsciously, Mina had risen to her feet. The new position still left her looking up some distance to meet the visitor’s gaze, and she was by no means a short woman. Against the pale-papered walls and the chairs with their curving limbs and white upholstery, against the faint gray sky that she could see through the window, the man looked even bolder, more vital—as if he’d sucked all the color around him into himself.

She took a breath.

The man let his out. “My name,” he said, as if conceding a point, “is Stephen MacAlasdair. Lord…” Only it came out Laird when he said it. His accent was stronger now. “MacAlasdair. I’m an old friend of the professor’s, and the matter that brings me here is an extremely serious one.”

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