“Is something the matter?” Fin asked me.
I shook myself and stuffed my phone back in my pocket. “My boss won’t pick up the phone,” I told him.
“That’s rather unkind of him,” Fin commented.
I snorted. “That’s an understatement. . .” I grumbled. I ran a hand through my long brown hair and sighed. If the whole world was a board room I would feel comfortable, but out here in the jungles of the entire modern world was a different adventure entirely.
“What will you do now?” he wondered.
I shrugged. “Go on to Glasgow and hope to find my guide somewhere. My boss didn’t even say where I was supposed to meet him.”
An evil smile slipped onto Fin’s lips. “Perhaps I might have a better suggestion,” he told me.
I was nervous to hear about another suggestion that day. The first one got me stuck in this situation. “What were you thinking?” I questioned him.
“You might come with me,” he explained. His smile widened as my face twisted into disbelief. “I know what you’re thinking. We’re strangers hardly introduced, but I couldn’t rest knowing you were stuck in Glasgow in search of this gentleman acquaintance of your employer.”
I snorted. “I doubt he’s a gentleman. My boss said they were a lot alike,” I revealed.
Fin chuckled. “Did he now? But perhaps I’ve overstepped myself by my suggestion. We haven’t even reached Glasgow. You may find your ungentlemanly companion waiting for you at the station,” he suggested.
“I might. How large is the station?” I asked him.
“Not as large as an airport such as Heathrow, but it is the tenth largest station in Britain,” he replied.
“So if I wanted to look for someone would it be like looking for a needle in a haystack?” I wondered.
He smiled. “I’ve heard say seventy thousand people go through Glasgow Central Station a day.”
The color drained from my face. “That’s a big haystack,” I murmured.
“I’m afraid so, but cheer up. Your friend may be waiting for us at the platform holding a sign with your name scrawled on it,” he suggested.
I slid down in my cushioned seat and groaned. “And if he’s not that smart?” I pointed out.
“Then my offer still stands,” he reminded me.
The thought of not being completely alone, even if it was this with this strange man, gave me some courage. I straightened and composed myself. “You really don’t have to go to all this trouble, Mr. MacLean,” I replied.
“MacLennan, but I prefer you to call me Fin, and it’s no trouble at all. There’s room enough on my land for another visitor,” he insisted.
“Where exactly is your land?” I asked him.
“A place called Eilean Dubhan in the inner Hebrides. Do you know it?” he inquired.
I shook my head. “I can barely pronounce it, much less know it,” I admitted.
He chuckled. “It’s the Gaelic. It translates to ‘Island of the Dark,’ or Dark Island, if you prefer.”
I cringed. “Not a very friendly name,” I commented.
“It does sound rather gloomy, but don’t let that frighten you. The name comes from the time when the island was covered with old-growth trees. Most of them have been cut away, but there’s still a nice patch of trees on the east side,” he assured me.
“Does anyone live there?” I asked him.
“A few people, and there’s a family renting the island right now. They’re staying at the Great House,” he told me.
“And if I go with you we’ll be staying at the not-Great House?” I teased.
He smiled. “Something like that, unless you prefer to stay on the mainland. There’s a boat that travels to the island every day when the weather allows. It’s a short trip, only thirty minutes when the tide is with the boat.”
“How primitive is the technology on the island? Am I going to have to worry about making my own candles and starting a fire with two stones?” I wondered.
“Nothing that bad, I assure you. There’s a generator on the island and a good supply of petrol to last through the longest storm,” he explained.
“The island must be pretty small if only a few people live on it,” I commented.
“Twenty hectares,” he replied.
My American brain tried to wrap around that number and came up tangled in the Standard system. “Um, could you translate that into miles?” I pleaded.
“It is about fifty acres, if that will do,” he told me.
“That’ll work,” I agreed. “Now what else is on this island?”
He grinned. “A fine spot for fishing in a bay on the west coast, and some good swimming there, too. There’s a nice spot in the north for hunting grouse, if you’re of a mind to.”
I smiled and shook my head. “I’d rather let somebody else put the bird on my plate, but you said there was some old-growth trees around the island? Is that on your part of the island?” I wondered.
“It just so happens that my property does contain some of those fine woods. The trees manage themselves well enough, but there are some trails made by the tourists and hunters which can be followed from one end to the other,” he told me.
The romantic part of my brain was triggered by this island Shangri-la. I could just imagine the birds singing their songs, the cool, refreshing breeze off the bay drifting over my wet body-
-the damn whistle of the train telling us we were arriving at Glasgow Central Station. I jumped up and scowled at the windows that showed me my bumpy journey northward was come to an end. I wasn’t finished with my dreaming.
“Did you need some help with your luggage?” Fin asked me.
I sighed and shook my head. “No, but I guess I’ll need help finding this guy my boss knows,” I replied.
I sort of lied when I said I didn’t need his help with my bags. The chauffeur had helped me pack them in the compartment, and I had a hard time wrapping my short fingers around the handles of four suitcases filled with my work clothes and a few shopping excursions in London. My credit card would scold me later for the shopping trips, and my full hands were scolding me now.
I dropped the bags from their spots above the seats, hefted the bags off the ground and followed Fin onto the train platform. It was as crowded as I feared. People bumped up against each other like bumper cars and a needle would have had trouble squeezing between some of the crowds. I felt like I’d been shoved into an ocean filled with wave after wave of people who pushed and pulled me into the depths of the station. My heavy luggage dragged me backward deeper down the platform and I vaguely wondered if I would find the Scottish version of the Harry Potter train. A hand caught mine and pulled me up tightly against the owner’s side. It was Fin, who stood a head taller than me and peered over the crowds.
“Do you see him?” I shouted over the noise. Whistles blew, people yelled, and somewhere a man loudly belched. Lovely atmosphere.
“No, but we should get off the platform,” he advised. He guided me through the torrential waves and out into a large open space. Around us were shops, and above us was a high ceiling made of steel beams and glass. It reminded me of a large warehouse, but with more people than merchandise.
I spotted a bench and plopped myself down on the metal seat. Fin joined me and took half my bags from me. “These look a might heavy,” he commented.
“They are,” I admitted.
“You’re an independent sort, aren’t you?” he mused.
“No, just too stubborn to know when I’m being stupid,” I replied. I sat straight and glanced around. The only person holding a sign in the area was a hobo with a hat at his feet. “Damn it all. . .” I muttered.
“I could search the station for your elusive guide if you’d like,” Fin offered.
I sighed and leaned against the back of the bench. “I don’t think we’ll find him. He might not even be here yet,” I pointed out.
“Well, we won’t be doing ourselves or him any favors by sitting here. What do you say to a quick bite and then we can resume the search?” he suggested.
I shrugged. “Why not? Just as long as we stay in here that should be fine,” I agreed.
We sniffed out one of the food stores in the station, grabbed a sandwich, and returned to the bench. I ate my turkey on wheat and watched what felt like the whole world pass me by. People hurried to and fro, catching trains, getting off trains, meeting people. I wished someone would meet me, but all I had was this friendly man at my side. I was struck with how inconvenient this must have been for him. I had a vague sense of the direction of the Hebrides and knew he still had a ways to travel before he reached the end of his trip.
“You don’t have to stay here if you don’t want,” I told him. “I’ll be fine on my own. If I don’t find this fellow I could always go back south.”
He chuckled. “I’ve no doubt you’d find your way back, but I overheard your employer’s message on his phone. Would he be the kind of man who would carry through with his threat?”
My heart sank. I’d forgotten about the unemployment that awaited me if I returned early. I shook my head. “I don’t know. He’s never said anything like that before.”
“Then come with me,” he insisted. “It’s a few hour’s journey from here to Eilean Dubhan, and you can return just as quick if you find the island isn’t to your taste,” he suggested.
A chance to be on an island far from civilization. My internet addiction screamed at me to refuse, but the recent acquisition of a romantic mind hollered yes.
I shrugged and smiled at him. “Why not? Let Mr. Jackson’s friend look for me, and if they get worried they can always call my phone.”
Fin grinned. “That’s the spirit.” He stood and offered me his hand. “We have to hurry now. There’s a train going to Oban, and from there we can take a boat to the island,” he replied.
I glanced at his hand and hesitated. This wasn’t like me to go off with a man I didn’t know to a place I wasn’t familiar with. “Oban?” I asked him.
“A small town to the north where the ferries for the islands port. We’ll catch our boat there,” he assured me. He noticed my flickering, unsteady eyes and dropped his hand. His smile faltered. “I would understand if you wish to remain here waiting for the man,” he told me.
I glanced at the noisy train station with its countless people, strangers all of them. The station wasn’t an inviting place, much as they tried to keep it clean and bright, and there was still no sign of the mystery man. What was that old saying? Stay with the devil you know? Well, I would go with the devil I knew, and to hell with this friend of Jackson’s.
I jumped to my feet, grasped my bags tightly in my hands, and whipped my head around. “Where is the Oban platform?” I asked him.
Fin smiled and gestured toward the platforms. “This way,” he invited.
And away we went.