I only heard one footfall and a soft, dull clunk before the door opened. I expected it to be Raven, half a blonde head turned brown, saying whoops-a-daisy before flickering into some new stunner, leaning in too close and asking me if she looked presentable, always barking up the wrong tree. Then I felt something like a heavy wristwatch, more metal than on a lady’s watch.
And he walked in.
It was like he parted the stale remnants of smoke lingering from earlier with just a look.
He looked like the sort of man who hadn’t worn anything that hadn’t been tailored his whole life. His suit was a three piece English cut of dark navy twill, stiff and reflective. There was dark cane with a silver head leaning delicately from his left hand. His outer jacket was fastened with silver-plated buttons, but still showed a bit of slim waistcoat, darker than the rest of the suit and lined with some indiscernible pattern at his distance. His collar was bright, starchy white. And he wore a yellow, silk tie that looked mellow and sharp and off-putting and winning all that once.
He seemed to shine all over, from his coffee brown hair to his cufflinks to his leather shoes. Especially his eyes, blue like forget-me-nots. And from the rise of his red lips, he knew it too.
He closed the door behind him before I could stop gawping. He flicked his wrist to adjust his sleeve and leaned on his cane. In a few quick steps he was in front of my desk, bright and smiling and somehow appearing large in my tiny, dreary office, despite him being smaller than me on closer inspection.
“Mr. Lehnsherr,” he said with an accent I hadn’t heard since the War. “It’s good to meet you.”
Finally feeling my tongue unlock from being struck dumb, I cleared my throat and said, “You have me at a disadvantage. Normally my gal friday tells me when people are coming to see me. Must’ve slipped her mind. She gets dizzy sometimes.”
The man’s smirk seemed to set in more deeply. “I made no appointment, but you already suspect that, I believe.”
I motioned to the chair. He obliged. I could see his fingers going white on the sides from the pressure he put on the cane until he was seated. So he actually had a gimp leg and wasn’t making using it as some swishy, gentleman’s fashion accessory.
“So what am I supposed to call you?”
“You may call me Professor X. Or simply, Professor.”
“Don’t you think it’s a bit unfair, not telling me your real name?”
“Not so long as you’re doing the same.”
It felt a punch to the gut. Everything about him became instantly sinister. The obvious wealth, the British accent, even, no especially his good looks. The best possible outcome at that moment was him being SIS, or possibly some rich eccentric who gave out money and wound up knowing too many things about the War. Considering those were the best options, I didn’t really want to think of the worst.
I tried to slide into my chair slowly, but gravely—not to give away I was getting closer to the heater I kept taped under my desk. Not having to use my hands made it easier, but he must’ve seen my reaction because he opened his hands in a gesture of peace offering.
“I mean no disrespect, Mr. Lehnsherr. I want to cause no trouble.”
“I don’t figure you’re here to have a friendly chat. Unless you want to tell me how you knew my secretary would be leaving early today. Or my name, for that matter.”
“You have your tricks. I have mine.”
Something about his tone made me think there was honesty underneath his cryptic statement. Normally, a man with his face, a man who wore money while giving out false names, I’d think was bluffing beyond his bet. But the Professor did seem to have sureness on his side.
I shrugged and let it go for the moment.
“I represent a group of people who would like to see if you’re available for employment for something that technically falls outside your advertised skill set.”
“You’re giving me the option?”
“Then I decline.”
The Professor smiled smugly. “Perhaps I can change your mind.”
He pulled his cane into his lap and twisted the top off. He pulled a rolled up piece of paper out of the hollow compartment. When he showed it to me I knew it didn’t matter what kind of money he was offering—I’d be taking the case.
“He’s going by a different name now. Sebastian Shaw. It took us a while to put it together. But you’ll know him from his days as a Dr. Schmidt.”
“Who are you?” I said, unable to tear my eyes away from the photograph. Somehow, Schmidt looked younger. He was without his mustache and moving away from the camera, but it was him. I’d know him anywhere. “Who do you work for?”
“That will come in time. That is, if you’re interested and pursuing this man and bringing him to justice.”
The only justice for men like Schmidt was a prolonged, violent death.
“Yes,” I said, finally pushing the picture away from me.
The Professor looked at me with some reserve, but he nodded.
“Good,” he said soberly. Then, after a pause, smiled nearly coyly once again. “What have you heard about mutants, Mr. Lehnsherr?”