Chapter 26: Halfway (to Sanity)

Episode 26: Halfway (to Sanity)

Kodek was wonderi–

I wonder, does anyone else think it’s strange that there are 52 weeks in a year, 52 cards in a deck? Of course, there are actually something like 52.194 weeks per year, something employers get away with not paying to workers who are on monthly salaries, as opposed to weekly, or even hourly pay. And at some point, .194 adds up. That’s a whole week every few years. A whole week worked for free.

Year 52 was also a leap year. This must be some kind of cosmic coincidence.

I don’t normally believe in fate, numerology or astrology. Sometimes I even think math is sketchy. But I do believe in coincidence.

A few months ago, the Jack of Hearts killer in San Francisco had claimed 52 victims and had not been heard from since. The following months saw the papers were losing interest as other things crept over the nightly news and got their tentacles in the minds of the private citizens.

Kodek was still trying to figure out why it was so important to him that he retain his faux-job as a newspaper reporter with a city beat.

At the same time, thinking about it was starting to make his head split, literally.

At times he even felt like two separate people. But that was on a good day, because there were times he felt like he might be 2 or 3 or 26 different people, all simultaneously, and he began to get the crazy notion that one of these people was the Jack of Hearts killer.

He had another migraine, and he reached for the pills that were more like Tic-Tacs to him now.

He chewed down on the pills. They were gel-caps, and not very tasty once the liquid squirt out.

Is that squirt or squirted, he wondered? He shook his head to get the arbitrary though to dislodge form his brain. It almost worked, but he fired up the migraine, too.

Kodek looked up when he heard the footfalls, the Editor-in-Chief was currently marching towards Kodek’s desk with a purpose.

Where the fuck have you been?” the chief hollered at Kodek from three feet away. Kodek winced. “You look like shit.”

Kodek looked don at himself and only then noticed the dried/splattered blood all over his clothes.

Shit,” Kodek muttered.

You get in a fucking bar brawl last night or something?”

Kodek didn’t think he’d be able to survive the verbal bashing in his brain much longer.

Well, what the fuck, Kodek?”

For the first time ever, Kodek noticed the unnerving spitting image between his trusty Editor-in-Chief and the Bear of Berlin, whom he had met (logically in Berlin) at a point in time that had fuzzied in Kodek’s mind somewhere between two days and half a year ago.

Kodek!”

No, chief,” he finally managed, but his mind was getting muddier by the second. He glanced into the black liquid resting at the bottom third of his coffee mug. He absently/automatically grabbed for it and sucked back the liquid, which felt too thick, like cough syrup, and tasted briefly like exhaust-pipe smoke.

Well,” the chief continued, “you look like shit.”

Thanks, chief.”

Go take the rest of the day off.”

Kodek knew there was no point in arguing. He moved to take the last sip from his mug, realized it had already been done, then placed the mug back on his desk and stood up out of his chair. As he turned, the chief crammed a folded paper note into Kodek’s hand. “But before you go,” the chief said, “take this downstairs and to the coffee shop across the street. Give it to the guy sitting at the window.”

How will I know him?”

I just fucking told you, he’ll be sitting by the window.”

In the elevator on the way down the thirteen floors (actually, the office Kodek worked in was technically the “14th” floor, but everyone really knew which floor that was) Kodek open the note. It read:

THIS IS NOT FOR YOU TO READ.

He let out some kind of verbal muttering and then the elevator let off a ding and the doors parted for him, when her spilled himself into the lobby. He thought about the sludge at the bottom of his coffee mug thirteen floors above him now, and he felt like a sludge making his way across the marble lobby to the glass door that led to the overcast morning outside. He felt a slight chill, and it got colder when he pushed one of the glass doors open to exit the building.

Across the street there was a coffee shop simply named cafe in green letters on the glass window, the interior reminding Kodek more of an English pub than a Starbuck’s, and over there by the front window the Bear of Berlin was seating, watching Kodek as if he’d been waiting for Kodek to enter the cafe for some time now. There were three empty coffee cups in front of Bear, all on saucers, all with spoons resting on the saucers that had either never been used or licked clean. If Kodek had to guess, he’d have gone with never-been-used, as he didn’t picture Bear as the sugary type.

He went straight to the table and handed the note to Bear. “I believe this is for you,” he tried to hand over the note.

Did you read it?” Bear asked.

Yes, in the elevator on my way down here.” No reason to lie, Kodek figured.

You weren’t supposed to read that.”

I know. But I didn’t know until I read it.”

Bear nodded, then motioned for Kodek to sit across from him. Kodek did.

We have a lot to talk about,” Bear said.

Do we?”

There’s been some blood.”

I know. I’ve been covering the stories. At the paper.”

I know,” Bear told him. “I’ve been keeping up. You want a coffee?”

No, I’m okay.”

Okay,” Bear sat back in his chair. “Let me ask you something, Kodek. Something along the lines of what you do,” Bear scratched his chin before continuing. “If you shoot a man with a gun. Kill him, that is. And as time goes on, there starts to be problems with the gun. It’s your gun, your personal tool, so you don’t want to get rid of it, but the handle grips are starting to go, so you get them replaced. Soon, the trigger and hammer are worn down, so you then replace those parts, too. And then the slider, and then the barrel becomes too scratched, and the springs and latches inside become worn as well… eventually, even the basic frame has to be replaced. Over time, you’ve then replaced every single part of the gun. And then one day, the police have finally managed to track you down, for the crime of shooting and killing the hypothetical man I mentioned at the beginning. They find your gun, and the inspector says, ‘Aha! We have the murder weapon’! But… Is he correct?”

Kodek looks like he’s musing on this for a full minute-and-a-half, before finally asking back, “What the fuck are you talking about?”

Would you like me to ask you the question again?”

I don’t think so,” Kodek says.

Well I want you to think about it,” Bear tells him, “And let me know what conclusion you’ve decided on. Because that’s exactly what’s happening to your mind.”

Bear takes a sip of his coffee (wasn’t the cup empty? Kodek raises an eyebrow, unsure now) and he tells Kodek: “So you might want to consider, in a few more months, if you are really going to be you anymore.”

Kodek thinks again about the sludge in his coffee mug, across the street and thirteen floors up, and about slugs, but he can’t exactly say why the though of slugs is bothering him so much.

Okay,” he tells Bear, “I’ll think about it.” That seemed to satisfy Bear, who smiles at Kodek and makes Kodek think: Damn, he looks like the Chief.

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