Fyodor Arecibo walked from the bedroom to the bathroom calling his wife’s name as he made his way down stairs. The house was dark: the full moon shone like the sun through the break in the curtains in the front hall, the little windows in the front door, casting ominous shadows everywhere.
She wasn’t there.
He padded down the hall calling her name again and again. No answer from the living room. Nor was she in the kitchen, the spare bedroom, or on the deck outside the back door.
“Carina?” His voice was plaintive, barely audible. His wife was nowhere to be found in the house and Arecibo was beginning to get very worried. “Carina, where are you?”
There was no reply. But for Fyodor Arecibo standing back in the living room in his pajamas, the house was empty.
His wife was gone.
The train whistled its way across the prairie under the same full moon as Arecibo’s. The steam puffing out of the smokestack was ghostly white, smearing across the tops of the maples, oaks and poplars lining the tracks. The nocturnal creatures of the forest noted the train’s passage with little interest, and quiet fell immediately after it had gone.
The engine was pulling three cars: one sleeper, a dining car and a Pullman Palace where an elegantly dressed dark-eyed man sat behind a large oaken desk in the stateroom. The car’s décor was simple, Spartan and reflected the dark-eyed man’s constant mood. With his elbows on the desk, he held a telephone receiver to his ear and his opposite hand at his temple.
“The Exchange moves too often, keeps too erratic a schedule, it is difficult to track,” he said. He listened, his eyes closed. The hand at his temple balled into a fist.
“I am pursuing every whisper, every intimation,” he said, keeping his voice even. “Patience is the best course.” More listening and the dark-eyed man opened his fist, put it on his forehead and pulled his hand down his face, staring at the back of the car where his sleeping quarters were. He noted the passing countryside outside the windows and waited for a chance to speak again.
He took a breath and let it out slow and quiet. “Yes, my Lord,” he said at last, the words clipped and sharp as daggers. “Tomorrow, then. Yes. Your will be done.” He nodded and returned the handset to its cradle on the desk now both hands curling and uncurling, drawing them to his lap. He set his jaw and turned to his right.
Pressing an intercom button on the wall next to his desk, the elegantly dressed dark-eyed man waited for a response. “Mr. Strangiato?” the voice came across the tinny little speaker.
“Evans,” he said, pressing the button again. “What is our next stop?”
“The Shepherd. About twenty minutes. Client’s already there.”
“I will be ready to meet him in half an hour.” He thumbed the button off and put his elbows on the desk, his folded hands under his jaw. Strangiato was a big man, wide and square from top to bottom with short, dark hair. He sighed and closed his eyes as the train raced towards its destination under the full moon.
The depot was a ramshackle affair: it’s sign upside down in the dirt in front of the platform, windows broken out, boards missing on the stairs. The man waiting on the platform itself was dressed in a black suit with a white shirt and blue tie. He shifted weight from right foot to left as the train approached, blowing its whistle and puffing steam, slowing to meet him. He stuck his hands in his pants pockets then pulled them out, rubbed them then put them in the pockets of his suit coat and finally folded them in front of him.
The squeal of metal on metal braking pierced the night. The man rolled his neck and tried to loosen up as the train slowed and the last car stopped in front of him. A whistle and a puff of steam from the engine anticipated a door on any of the passenger cars opening.
Fyodor Arecibo looked up toward the engine and then down the line of cars. The gold paint around the windows was bright and shiny, the curtains brilliant crimsons and greens, the sides of the cars were a light brown all combining in an air of elegance. Arecibo waited, but no one came and no door opened. He straightened his tie.
The engine chugged and belched every so often, letting steam escape with a hiss as well. The man looked toward the engine, then back down the line of cars. When he turned his attention to the end of the palace car, he saw an old man, a conductor, standing on the platform near the back of the car.
“Mr. Arecibo,” the conductor said.
“Si,” the man on the platform said. “I am he.” He walked toward the conductor.
“Please come with me,” the conductor said with a thin smile. Arecibo followed and stepped up between the palace and dining cars with a few quick steps.
The interior of the palace car was dark and it took him a moment to adjust to the low light provided by two small banker’s lamps. The room seemed to go on forever. Arecibo hesitated.
“Please go in, sir,” the conductor said from behind him. “The Seeker will be with you momentarily.” Arecibo stepped in and heard the door close behind him. Slow, hesitant steps took him deeper into the room and he touched the red leather of a visitor’s chair, turned and saw a bar stocked with four crystal decanters, each filled with a different colored liquid, smelled the smoke of cigars. Arecibo peered ahead of him.
“Good day, Senor Arecibo.”
Strangiato was standing behind his desk, grim and dark, and held his hand out, palm forward, indicating that his visitor should sit in front of him. “If you’ll sit we can get started.”
Arecibo made his way to the proffered chair as though walking through quicksand, a roaring in his ears. Trying to keep his composure, he shook with fear and anticipation. He cleared his throat and swallowed before speaking. “Gracias, Senor,” he said.
Realizing he’d expressed his gratitude in a bare whisper, Arecibo said thank you again so that he could be heard.
Strangiato looked his visitor in the eye and nodded almost imperceptibly, then sat in his chair. The dark-eyed man opened a folder to scan its contents. Arecibo sat timidly in the chair opposite, wringing his hands.
“You are the Shepherd for region seven?”
“Have you had any troubles in the last six months? The last year?”
“Hm.” Strangiato closed the folder. He sat back in his chair with a small creak. “Tell me about your wife.”
Arecibo smiled, thin and strained, and cleared his throat again. “She is very beautiful, senor, very elegant and one of the finest ladies I ever. We were married very young and when I first took this position we were apart for a very long time. I sent her messages whenever I could, and sometimes she would reply.
“When her replies came farther and farther apart, I despaired ever seeing her again, but then,” Arecibo said and puffed up with pride. “Then she joined me here and we have been together again these past dozen years, nearly thirteen.”
“How near?” The dark-eyed man leant forward a little and his eyes narrowed.
A puzzled look crossed Arecibo’s face. He glanced at the ceiling of the palace car and counted. “Four more days, senor. Our wedding anniversary.”
“I see,” Strangiato said. “How would you characterize your marriage, Senor Arecibo? Would you say that you were in love with each other? Did you fight?”
“Oh,” Arecibo said with a little laugh. “There was one fight every week for many years, but none since she arrived here.” Arecibo confided now in Strangiato. “The truth, senor? She liked to fight so that the making up would be full of fireworks. I looked forward to the fights for the making up afterwards.”
“But no fighting since she’s joined you in your current position?”
Arecibo sighed. “Some, senor. Not as many as there used to be.”
“But she loved you.” Strangiato was leaning back in his chair again.
The dark-eyed man opened the folder again and flipped three or four pages. “What did your wife talk about after she arrived here?” He didn’t look up.
“The old days,” he said. “She said they were better times.”
Strangiato closed the folder and clasped his hands on top of it. “I will find your wife, Senor Arecibo.”
“Can you bring her back?” Arecibo was hopeful, sitting on the edge of his chair.
“I cannot force her return,” Strangiato said. “Is there any reason why she wouldn’t?”
“Then we will see what happens. I’ll be in touch soon.”
©2009 By Jason Arnett.
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