The man was wrapped in a blanket, hugging his own arms, curled over a steaming cup, and still shaking with cold. He sat alone at his table as no one in the crowded tap room wanted to risk catching his illness. Which they might, though admittedly much more pleasantly than trudging through the mountains in storm season. Not that he wished the blasted head cold on anyone. He just wished he could get away from their stares.
He ignored the cod air that signaled a new arrival until she sat down at his table. He looked up from his cup.
“Those things work better when you drink them.”
“That would require me to move my arms.”
“True enough,” she replied. “You look dreadful.”
“You sat down here.” Did the woman take pleasure in his misery? Benjamin slowly wrapped his hands around his cup. Perhaps if he ignored her she would go away.
She sighed. He did not look up and concentrated on lifting his cup with both hands. Maybe he should mention that fevers were catching.
“You wouldn’t happen to know where I could procure some duty free spirits, would you? I want to get my husband something special.”
Benjamin managed to simply close his eyes, instead of drop his drink and stare. “I might know something about it, but such things have a price.”
“I prefer to ask forgiveness than price.”
It was Benjamin’s turn to sigh. “I should have figured.”
“Well honestly, who else would sit down at a table with you shivering the way you are.”
“I guess the cover story works well enough.”
“There is no way he could get out in this weather-”
“Which is why we have the set-up in the first place. Order some soup.”
The woman pouted slightly then ordered two bowls. He should have thought of that.
“I’m usually not this dense.”
“You’re usually not this ill. That’s just a guess though.”
“Well, that should tell you something.”
“I’d better eat that soup quickly and naturally and get the heck out of here.”
“You are quick,” Benjamin said with a flash of humor.
“Most of the time.”
“How’s your husband?” It wasn’t quite protocol, but he wanted to know.
“He’s preoccupied with business matters. There’s a dispute among his partners and it’s been troubling him recently. Thus my wish to bring him a present.”
“You’ll get your spirits,” he said with a smile.
She returned it. “Wonderful, he deserves a treat.”
The soup arrived and they ate, and no one in the tap room noticed the ill man slip the woman a message under her napkin, or the way the woman pocketed it. They finished their food. The woman rose, nodded to the man, and wrapped her cloak more tightly around herself as she left the tap room.
Benjamin figured he’d have one more drink and go find a warm room. He lifted the cup to his lips and made a quiet toast. “To the man more miserable than I, may he not have to be for much longer.”
I stole the first line of this piece from Gwen over at ApprenticeNeverMaster. Keep a look out for the original piece of fiction.