Page 5 of 10
But there came a day, a blustery Saturday in October where the rain turned to snow and back again. The Raven's Claw sat empty, but for Mr. Norbert and myself, and of course Peter the barkeep who kept his nose in the daily paper. Mr. Norbert was in a strange state of mind that day, laughing outrageously one minute and then withdrawing into himself the next. He looked as if he was fixing to tell me something, but didn't quite know where to start.
We sat in the good chairs by the fire, and read a little of our books in between snippets of conversation.
Mr. Norbert, chewing his thumbnail nervously, at last broke the silence.
"Mr. Arlen, I've known you for more than half my life. And you've never asked me what really became of my hand. Why is that?"
I shrugged. "It didn't seem like it mattered. You get along just fine without it."
"Maybe," he said evenly, holding his hook up to inspect it. "And maybe I get along better in some ways."
I put my book down then and leaned back in my chair.
"What is up, Mr. Norbert? You seem very preoccupied today."
"It's the real story that occupies me," he answered simply. "It never really ended, you see. It only began with a pound of flesh."
He laughed then, long and bitterly. Mr. Norbert motioned then for the bartender to bring us another round. When we each held a pint of dark bitters in our hands, we clinked mugs silently and settled in for a talk.
"I've never told anyone how I lost this hand, if you can believe it. The only ones who know are my wife and daughter, and they've told no one. Do you know why that is?"
"No," I answered truthfully. "Once upon a time I suspected that it might be something embarrassing, like a run-in with the electrical box that took my uncle's thumb, but it seems you've already got a story for every silly thing a person can do."
"Well, I've never been afraid to laugh at myself; you know that better than anyone," Mr. Norbert agreed. "The truth is far worse, I'm afraid. And the reason I'm telling you the true story is because I may need a favour from you in the future."