I looked in the mirror at Howard looking at me. In the reflection he looked even more gaunt, the shadows of his cheeks, nose, and eye sockets more haunting. His eyes, of course, were reversed; the erstwhile left a wide, bright blue and white, the former right lazy, malformed, wandering of its own accord. Capillaries marched like red roads to Rome, the capital grey pupil, all full of visions of besmirched, polluted monuments. None of the rest of him mattered. Hair, hands, torso, and limbs were irrelevant. The eyes had it. And the sinister mirrored eye had me in its twitching sights.
“You must try to see things from my point of view,” he said.
This may have been the farthest thought from my mind, only once removed from reality by the masque of the mirror.
“He was one of my close friends,” I said. “What more proof do you need?”
“Loyalty isn’t proven until the end. The very end.” He smiled wickedly. “Trust, real trust, not the kind exchanged with money or enforced with a gun, is rare, if not unheard of, in the family.”
“But the code, La Cosa Nostra . . .”
“La Cosa Nostra is a safe haven for those who have the keys to get in. But those keys aren’t simply given away. Yes, they’re exchanged, but only after the key holder has proven his loyalty, completely proven his loyalty to the very end, only then are the keys passed to the next person.”
“I don’t want the keys,” I hoped I sounded convincing., He narrowed his eyes, staring into mine, searching for trust, for loyalty.
“Maybe not,” he conceded. “People change,” he warned.
I left his office in silence, a quiet uneasy truce between us, like the soft groaning of a bridge that was about to collapse.
Malthus gave me fair warning with a text message: “Edgar and Willie want to visit you.” They weren’t coming to smoke cigars and play poker, but that’s just what we did.
Edgar let a card slip out of his sleeve. He knew I would jump on him for cheating. It was a complete set-up, a mask for a murder, giving the appearance of a brawl over a game of cards. I took the bait, knowing it was coming. I lost an eye in the scuffle – Willie was known to be vicious with a box cutter. I rewarded both of them with a bullet in the heart.
After wrapping the pit that was once my eye and dumping the pair in an alley with my gun (did I mention I played cards with gloves on?), I texted Malthus: “Game over. I want to visit you.”
He seemed nervous. After all the time and trust we had put into covering each other’s backs, I was surprised by the fear in his eyes when he opened the door. For a minute, I didn’t think he’d let me in.
I showed him that my hands were empty and he turned his back to me and walked in.
“So they’re done?” he asked.
“Done and done.” I replied.
“You know I knew.”
“I also know you warned me.”
“That wasn’t a warning,” he lied.
“You know it was. I know it was. And Howard will figure it out pretty quickly.”
Malthus looked at me in disbelief. “You wouldn’t tell Howard.”
“Oh, but I would. Of course,” I paused for emphasis, “Howard doesn’t have to know, even if I intend to tell him.”
“But how could he not . . .”
“If!” I interrupted, “he wasn’t there to receive the message.”
“What if I removed the messenger?” he threatened. His voice was quavering.
“You like me too much. Besides, Howard will never give you what you want. He doesn’t owe you anything. I might have to owe you something, if I can’t deliver my message.”
“Malthus, think of the opportunities,” I invited.
I didn’t have to say, or promise, anything more.
After the cleaners had been through, I unlocked the door to Howard’s old office and walked in. They had done a good job of getting the stains out of the carpet and re-plastering the wall. There was, however, the faint odor of gunpowder still in the room. This, too, would pass, I thought.
Malthus came. I knew he would. He sat down across the desk from me, his back to the door. The sequel to Edgar and Willie stood outside.. Malthus peeked back over his shoulder, watching their silhouettes through the milky glass. He turned to me and smiled.
“New kids, huh?” he chuckled nervously. “New opportunities?” he held his hands out in a sort of plea.
I turned to look at the mirror, my right eye patch switching to left in the reflected world. I spoke to the Malthus in the mirror.
“You must try to see things from my point of view,” I said..
He said nothing, pushed his chair away, stood up and walked out of the office without a word. The sequels followed.
I knew, with the pronouncement, that my fate was sealed, one way or another, inextricably tied in with the antithesis of Malthus’ fate.
I withdrew the keys from my pocket and set them on the desk, wondering who would pass the test of loyalty.
Bio: Forrest’s short fiction has been collected in Fugue XXIX (Raw Dog Screaming), Exquisite Corpse, 3rd Bed, Gargoyle, Notre Dame Review, Prague Literary Review, and American Letters & Commentary, and others.