Love for the Mistress
The glass reflected their translucent and floating faces as the world outside rolled by in green, blue and white. A constant hum with rhythmic thumps absorbed life on this side of the glass and kept that side out. They wore suits and sat facing each other, silhouetted by the glass wall beside them in the small cabin.
“I suppose he has the right to associate as he wishes,” Mabaht said. He leaned close to the glass and looked up to watch an armada of clouds drift by.
“I suppose he does,” Artemis replied. He sat cross-legged and with one hand high at his chin so a finger might tap his lips as he looked out the window.
“And I suppose she has the right to wish him dead for it.”
“I suppose so.”
“But I wonder why she would spare the mistress?” Mabaht looked at Artemis then. “Would the wound not heal itself faster if she didn’t?”
Artemis held his pose and moved his eyes to see the other man. “Curious that you consider her wounds.”
“Her wounds are irrelevant. I consider rather her appropriation of fault.”
“You blame the mistress?”
“I do indeed,” Artemis replied.
They looked outside. Green hills rolled by, dotted with grazing cattle.
“I suppose she shares in the blame, then,” Mabaht said.
“Or perhaps I am prejudiced.”
“If I entertain a moment of introspective reflection I find that I am quick to blame the woman.”
“Yes. Not the wife. Although she perhaps shares some of the blame as well.”
“Yet here we are in her employ,” Mabaht said.
Artemis smiled, dropped his hands to the sides and bowed his head. “And so goes our day,” he said. “The alleviation of financial strain is a mighty arbiter of moral impotence.”
“So it is.”
“In any case, we are bound to what was requested.”
“It’s a strange request, I might add,” Mabaht said.
“It seems her underlying intention is that of communication,” Artemis said.
“To the mistress.”
“Yes. Were I to wager on the lady’s motivations I’d say she blames the mistress, or at least she blames the mistress more.”
Mabaht tightened his brow and stuck out his lip. He watched the clouds. “And yet the man will take the brunt of it,” he said.
“As is often the case.”
“Though rarely as considerate. This is very different from the standard-flavored vengeance.”
“She wants him to suffer?” Mabaht asked.
“The instructions are clear enough.”
“They are indeed.”
Artemis pulled back his sleeve to look at the watch on his wrist. He put back the sleeve and resumed his finger-tapping.
“Soon then?” Mabaht asked.
Mabaht nodded. Then he asked, “So if you yourself blame the mistress, how do you feel about the levy of the day?”
Artemis gave half a shrug and kept his gaze at the passing land outside.
“Would you not then be conflicted at the moment?”
Artemis shook his head. His eyes narrowed. “I do not know the man, and even if I did I presume that I would detest him.”
“I thought you blamed the mistress. You don’t side with the man now?”
“No, I think I detest him now.”
“So sudden the change?”
“Because he is obviously weak. Affairs are for the weak. A breach of trust, a broken contract, a failure to exact the ends of a given promissory.” Artemis squinted then and tightened his lips for a moment. He looked at Mabaht and added, “I am a professional, Mabaht. I am not weak like this man, and my feelings about it are censored necessarily by my entrance into a contract.”
Mabaht frowned. “It wasn’t rhetorical.”
“So then you believe me incapable of holding personal sentiment and opinion while also being professional. To you these ideals exclude each other mutually.”
Mabaht scoffed. “I never said—”
“And stop frowning like that. It is an awful look.”
They watched the fields and clouds again. Artemis checked his watch. Mabaht watched him.
“What are you looking at?” Artemis said when he noticed he was being watched.
“Do you think I have a bad face?” Mabaht asked.
“Is that to say ‘ugly’?”
“Not ugly, per se. But bad. In a general sense of the word.”
Artemis watched him for a moment and then said, “I hesitate to call it bad.”
“Hmm. Comforting.” He looked at the clouds.
“Is this about that vociferous wretch in Genoa last year?”
Mabaht shrugged. “Perhaps. He said it was a stupid face.”
“Ah, yes,” Artemis replied nodding and closing his eyes as he remembered. “It is not a stupid face. It is not a bad face. And in any case, he was a horrible drunken wretch. The man had a remarkable penchant for insults, if I remember correctly.” He smiled at Mabaht and added, “It is not a bad face.”
“Only when you frown.”
“I’ll try to remember.”
“And try not to question me again, mind you. Had we not been friends for so long I might have misunderstood your intentions,” Artemis said. He looked directly at Mabaht then, his face turning to stone.
“But if there is a next time will we not have been friends for even longer than we are now?” Mabaht asked, returning the blank-faced stare.
Artemis thought for a moment. “I suppose.”
“It’s settled then.” Mabaht looked out the window.
“In any case, I have determined that I blame the man now.”
“Have you then?”
“I have. I detest him.” Artemis checked his watch. “And time has determined that we are arrived.”
They nodded at each other then and stood, buttoning their jackets in the front and smoothing them down or pulling the tail and sleeves taut. Mabaht bounced his shoulders and stretched his neck. Artemis tightened his tie. Then he took a pair of leather gloves from his back pocket and pulled them over his hands. They exited the cabin and entered the hallway with Artemis in the lead and Mabaht following in stride close behind.
They paused by a cabin door as a woman and child hurried past from the lavatory. She glanced at the men and smiled as she passed. The men offered contrived smiles and finger-waves. The thumps were spreading further apart now. The clouds outside slowed in their march. They watched over their shoulders as the lady and child disappeared into another cabin. Then they nodded at each other and Artemis opened the door.
Inside the cabin was a middle-aged man in a suit. He sat by the window reading a newspaper. Artemis entered and closed the door behind him. Mabaht waited in the hall with his back against the door.
The man looked up from his paper and glared angrily at Artemis. Artemis stood with his hands cupped in front and stared at the man. Only the thumps broke the silence between them. Artemis’ face turned to stone. Then the angered expression softened as the man began to understand.
“What do you want?” he asked suddenly, the newspaper frozen in his hands.
“This has little to do with me,” Artemis replied.
“So leave me alone, then.” His chest rose and fell visibly.
“Please be patient.”
The man stared back for a moment and then glanced outside before looking back at Artemis. “What?” he said. Artemis stared. The man slapped the paper down on the seat and scoffed. He threw his hands up and said it again. The intruder did not answer. “Why are you just standing there?”
“I am waiting.”
Artemis held a finger to his lips and closed his eyes. He could feel the vibrations change. The thumps were a full second apart now. He felt the brakes begin to catch. Artemis opened his eyes and reached inside his jacket. The man stood and swallowed a thick mouthful of air.
“Your wife has a message for you,” Artemis said as he pulled the knife from his jacket. He held it up for the man to see.
The man cursed loudly and backed himself to the window. His eyes darted from corner to corner in their sockets, looking frantically for somewhere to run. But there was nowhere to run. Artemis lunged forward in a blur and delivered three strikes to the man’s stomach and then stepped back. He had practiced it for years, learning to perfect the art of quick and accurate strikes. Too slow got too messy. Missing the target required additional stabs, and too many also got too messy. He hit the man three times in the gut and stood there clean as before. His victim hadn’t even the time to process he’d been stabbed yet. The man slid down the back wall with one hand at his waist and the other in the air. He held the hand out at his attacker and said “Stop” repeatedly, even though the attack was done and over with. Artemis wiped the blade on the newspaper and then dropped it behind the seat. When the man saw his attacker discard the knife he looked down at his bleeding torso. Tears began to form as the neck muscles flexed and pulled the corners of his mouth downward. He looked up.
Artemis crouched before the bleeding man and said, “This is but a message. Unfortunately, you shall endure and live on – weak and pathetic as you are.”
Artemis put a finger to his lips again. When the man stopped talking Artemis reached inside his jacket and produced a small piece of paper and a pen. He held the paper in the palm of one hand and worked the pen with the other while saying, “The knife was from your wife. The words are from both of us.”
He put the pen back in the jacket and then folded the paper once over. Artemis stuffed the paper into the breast pocket of the man’s jacket and patted him on the shoulder. The man looked at the breast pocket. When he looked back up Artemis was gone. The train had stopped. He could hear the people moving about the hallway. Murmurs and thuds. Someone laughing, muffled.
The man was afraid to call out for help. Still crying, he walked a pair of bloody fingers up from his stomach and took the paper from the breast pocket. He sobbed some more as he unfolded it with one hand and read the words:
Tell the mistress we send our love.