by Hans Ragas
Those two men, can you see their longing gaze. You would think them fishermen by how they throw their eyes far and high over the water, towards that city. As the shallow bend of a Norwegian river beckons any seasoned fisherman with the lure of fat salmon basking in its tepid water, thus the city, with its rising penthouses and throbbing markets full of delicious foods and exotic ware, winks at those two on the bench.
Do not be deceived by the slight tremble of the hand on the man on the left, or the mist of a winter morning rising over the left eye of his companion. Those hiccups of the body mean nothing to them. Only the city does.
Their names? Please, do not interrupt. I will come to it.
You are wearing exquisite stones on your cufflinks. Musgravite, if I am not mistaken? No no, I had the pleasure of dealing in those more refined nephews of the rock pressing against our shoes here, thus I know. Now, for the sake of the argument, imagine I would ask you about them and you would simply say they are just “beautiful stones” I wou-
What? Again, please, please, I know you would not, but, refined as you appear, I must beg you with the utmost urgency to allow me to finish my sentence. It is the least to do when asking a question.
Now, if your answer would be that, just “beautiful stones”, I would not understand the meaning of those stones to you, sir. And I know, not just by looking at them but also by your open mouth suggesting a haste to elaborate on them, there is a great story behind them. A story that will enlighten the listener what kind of man wears these on his wrists. As there is a larger story hidden behind those diamonds, there is one behind those two men on that bench. Merely telling you there is, though, does not to it justice. Does not do them justice. Not even me, but that – perhaps – is a different story.
Their names now… a valid question but I prefer to shroud them in anonymity. It is the least I can do, considering what they did for me. But, facilitating the story telling, allow me to call the one on the left the Hand. His companion, the Eye. You will see those names, though not given at birth, do merit them justice just the same, and not because of the slowly increasing failures that I allowed their bodies to undergo.
No no, this is not hubris. Do not think me delusional. It is mere age and not my doing that is happening to them. I only allow it to happen because I allowed their bodies to live on. I helped them flee and, thus, live. That fat salmon of a city, that they still long for as addicts dreaming of the scorching bottle, had sentenced them to death. It was with my humble help that they managed to escape and now sit here, in front of you and me.
They were respected men in certain social circles. Respected and single minded. Their goal, every minute of their life, was tension. Plucking the strings of life until it was as taut as could be without breaking. They were players, yet did not care for the prize. They were womanizers, yet did not care for women. Theirs was that ungraspable drug of pure tension, of strife bringing taste to life’s dull days. They sought the pivot in gambles and relations, and then, they leveraged, they pressed. Here they whispered rumors of bankruptcy so a deal was broken off. There they hinted of newly found riches belonging to a man who suddenly found his limping daughter the most treasured of girls in the richest circles, pitting men against each other over the same gal; men who had been the best of friends were destroyed in a fortnight by the right hints and suggestions, dropped here and there by all too willing mouths and hands.
As connoisseurs of the human need for anguish, they were known and respected in what the upper classes considered the lowest of social circles. This was fine by them, for to play their games they needed anonymity amongst those refined ladies and gentlemen who would never be seen in the company of their true selves. For many years they slid easily behind the masks and attitudes that allowed them access to the mansions and penthouses of the city’s fattest citizenship and played their game of whispers and hints, pivoting ambitions, wealth and reputations. Then, from the crusty cellars of their fellows, watched those crumble.
Until the day – ah, forgive me, I need a moment. The memory never fails to touch me deeply. Until the day they did not watch carefully and overplayed their hand. A tip was given to them regarding a beautiful girl – yes, this is a story like any other – and her utmost admiration for a high bred gentleman. Their parents knew each other, their fathers had performed transactions together in the soft cushions of their clubs. The young man’s financial star was rising, her social status was unmarred. And above all, they were actually in love.
You can imagine, as soon as our dear mr Hand and mr Eye heard of this, their eyes started to gleam. It took them slightly more than a week to gather information, and then, in the high bred social disguise they so easily wore, they began their game. It was a slow enterprise and it took them many months of feathering hints and whispers around the right people, woven through many normal and admirable words so as to plant the seed of disruption in the minds of those closest to the young girl as to think it was their own idea. They were careful and they were professional and they took their time, until the day came when a single letter would arrive at the girl’s father’s office that would send her future tumbling down, splattering her bright future among the slithering dwellers of the city’s sewers.
But they had not been careful enough. Sharp eyed and minded, they had failed to foresee others enjoying the same game, yet in a different way. For as they balanced the girl’s future to the point where a single letter could destroy her, so their own lives and futures were carefully balanced behind their back. And before that fateful letter had chance to arrive – and it had already been posted! – another one was brought in, and, through detailed lists of facts and dates, showed her father what both Hand and Eye had been doing to his daughter.
Warrants were issued, all force available to the law was deemed appropriate to prevent those two men from fulfilling their objective. And thus they found themselves tumbling down from hunter to hunted. The deer looked back, sharp antlers pointing towards them, and they had lost all their bullets.
Thus I found them and thus I rescued them, bringing them over the water. But I was none the wiser. The cost was one I miscalculated, for in doing so I had to flee as well, and so I stand here, still watching over them.
For that is what I have always done. I have watched them play their games and I learned from it. I have watched them revel in their successes and I began to treasure those same feelings.
And thus I played their game over them while they played their small minded games with the girl who was to be mine. I was their Janus, the one providing them with all necessary information which they needed, while they never realized I was the very same poor sod they would watch crashing down from his fortunes as they smiled their grisly smile.
Well, falling down I did. We all did.
You might wonder why I described those young people as the lovers she nor I am no more. I was not lying. We were deeply in love. But in the years I watched Hand and Eye play their game, I became infected. Infected with the wish for strife and tension. Cecile and I were perfect, in our social standing, our bank accounts, our love. And I realized with a sickening feeling how this could never work for me. Such a beautiful thing, thrown into your lap by the absurdity of chance, would soon stink of empty rot. Tension makes us thrive, keeps the flesh taut, its flexing muscles strong. Luck makes us life’s lepers.
Why I tell this? You are no stranger. We have known each other for a long time. But even if we had not, it did not matter. The salmon is beckoning us, but we have broken our fishing rods and are standing on the other side. Hungry. Biting our nails. Finally realizing that there is always somebody behind you. He is playing a game, just like yours. And you are the pawn, about to be played, as you are planning to play yours.