Chapter Five

I didnít call for a cab. Something was eating away at the edges of my brain. I felt like I was being asked a simple question and I couldnít come up with the simple answer, nor could I decipher the question. But there it was, whatever it was, tugging at the corners of my mind.

I left the hospital and started walking south, the general direction towards home. Itís nine or ten miles from the hospital in St. Louis Park to Bloomington and I hadnĎt actually planned to hike the entire journey home. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, head bent down, watching the hypnotic repetition of my steps, thinking about Dr. Getz, Katelynn, 29:29, 63:137, hair, hole in skull, goddamn truck driversÖand when I looked up again, I was turning down my street, the property line to my home just a few more paces away.

Sanctuary.

I didnít come to any conclusions during my hypnotic trek home. I entered the house just as baffled by everything as I had been when I turned away from Katelynn at the hospital some four and a half hours earlier. It just doesnít matter, I tried to convince myself. But I knew different. I really, truly couldnít care less how or why these numbers are floating to the surface of my mind. Nor do I care what the numbers mean. But I knew that they did mean something. And the fact that I knew they meant something, meant I also knew, deep inside, that I would not be able to fully let it go until I understood what these mystery numbers actually meant.

When will I ever learn to leave well enough alone?

.

Curiosity killed the cat, I reminded myself. Ignorance is bliss, I tried to convince myself. But knowledge is power, I scolded back.

The battle within the brain was on. Did I care? Could I not? I knew the answer to these questions but fought them anyway. I didnít want to care but I did and I couldnít not. Itís how Iím wired. I couldnít ignore the nagging questions my seemingly independent mind was hurling at me ninety miles per hour any better than a mosquito can resist that heavenly blue light beckoning it to come pay it a visit. I didnít know if I would be able to discover the answers I was seeking, but I knew I would never feel right again until I tried.

The battle didnít take long. I could easily understand why the cat died. I didnít know where to look for the answers, and I wasnít even sure exactly what the questions were, but I knew there was no turning away from them.

Iíve always hated cats.

* * * * *

First thing I did was try to think of a number.

Any number.

Pick a number.

Nothing came to mind so I tried to recall all the numbers I had once thought of. There had been the two recent ones at the hospital, of course, 29:29 and 63:137. I had to think hard to recall any others. I hadnít been going out much. There were a couple of other times while in the hospital. My aunt had visited a few times. One time when she was there I had thought of a pair, 98:1, I think it was. And there was that other nurse that changed my bandages, not Katelynn, but the older one. I think her number was 79:308, or something like that.

All thoughts suddenly came to a screeching halt. Her number. That was what I had called it. This was the first time I had associated the numbers directly with the person I was with at the time and I thought about this new revelation for a moment. I was just beginning to think that maybe I only thought of the numbers when at the hospital for some unexplainable reason, but then I remembered the accident itself. That had been the first time I had experienced these "brain farts." So it wasnít the hospital. It was definitely the people. I would have rather it to have been the hospital. I could avoid hospitals if I had to. Avoiding people, even though that was already almost considered a hobby of mine, was still quite a bit harder, not to mention not exactly desirable even despite my reclusive tendencies. I donít hate people. Iím just not a big fan, so to speak. No. I wouldnít be trying to avoid people altogether. That would never do.

So now the question was why? And of course, why sometimes not? Why not the cab driver? Why the older nurse but not Katelynn in my hospital room? Why Katelynn in the reception room and not the other patients in the waiting room? Was it even Katelynnís number? Yes. The second time, this morning, there had been no waiting patients. We had been alone in the room. 29:29 belonged to Katelynn. 63:137 belonged to Dr. Getz. Maybe the cab driver didnít have a number. Maybe only some people have numbers. I went to the mirror and looked for my own number and although the face I studied was still that of a strangerís to me, no numbers came to mind.

I decided I needed more Mountain Dew and a carton of cigarettes if I was going to try to follow my mind down the road it was preparing to traverse and headed for the Kwik Trip convenience store a couple of blocks down the street. I also grabbed a carton of milk and a banana for tomorrowís breakfast and went to the counter to pay for my goods.

"Thatíll be thirty-six fifty-three. Did you want a bag?"

"No, thank you. I can manage this." I held out two twenties for the teen-aged cashier. She took the bills from my hand and I began to study her, searching for her number, if she had one. But again, as at home, nothing new was coming to mind. I was just about to start getting early frustration pangs in my gut when she turned toward me and placed the change in the palm of my outstretched hand. (88:8) knocked me in the side of the head like a freight train. Right out of nowhere. Bam! Plain as day. I stood there staring at her with my hand still held out, the change sitting unnoticed in my palm.

"Itís all there," she said a little hesitantly. "You okay?"

"Yes, sorry," I said, reeling back in my arm. "Do the numbers 88:8 mean anything to you, by any chance?"

Jill, who was also a trainee apparently going solo, according to her name tag, seemed to relax a little and smiled bashfully, "No. Should they?"

"Youíre sure?" I asked.

She assured me she was sure she had no idea what 88:8 was. I didnít tell her it was apparently her own personal number. She didnít ask why I wanted to know, not that I would have told her if she had. I thanked her and turned towards home.

It only took one block of the walk home for me to figure out that it had been Jillís touch that had inspired her number. I had been watching her from the moment I had stepped up to the counter. She hadnít touched my hand when I gave her the twenties, but she did touch me when laying the bills and coins into my palm giving me change. It was at that moment, the very instant she had touched me, that her number entered my mind.

Okay. Now weíre getting somewhere. Now I have something to work with. I could avoid touching people. I could wear gloves. I could silence the brain farts. Now this was exciting. But what do the numbers mean? I donít care what the numbers mean. But what could they possibly mean? What does it matter? It doesnít matter. What could it hurt to know what they mean before you say good-bye forever to the feel of another human beingís skin? It doesnít matter. You want to know, John. No I do NOT want to know anything. I just want to become a blackjack dealer and silently watch the entertaining people lose all their money. Nobody is even allowed to touch the dealer. Perfect job for me. But what do they mean?

Have I told you how much I hate cats?

* * * * *

I opened up the garage door, took a seat in my favorite chair to sit and think in, and lit up a Winston. The day was a perfect, sunny, summer day. I donít like perfect days. Nothing to look at. Nothing to lose your thoughts in. No rhythmic sounds from nature to help with the hypnotic thoughtful trances I am so susceptible to, and enjoy. I picked up the morningís crossword puzzle I had left on the tool counter when the cab had arrived. It had been fairly easy that morning and I only had two squares left unfilled. Something, or someone inside me, (that would be that other me, you know, the cat-like curious one) was not allowing me to concentrate on the final clues. I was reading, "Oriental nurse maid" with my eyes, but could only think, Who gets a number?

At that moment, the mail truck pulled up along the row of mailboxes in the street in front of the house. Without hesitation or forethought, I raced down to the street as he inched forward to my box. "Howdy," I called out as I trotted up next to his truck. "Got anything for me today?"

It was a silly question. I get mail everyday. 80% of it is tossed without ever being opened, but I get mail every day. Today proved no exception. I reached for the mail he was offering me and somewhat clumsily on purpose grabbed half his outstretched hand along with the mail and braced myself.

Nada.

"Can I have my hand back?" the mailman politely asked.

I was still looking at his hand in mine. I looked up at his face. I couldnít see his eyes. It was a bright day. He had on a pair of mirrored sunglasses. All I could see was the distorted face of some weird-looking bald guy starring back at me out of each lens. I let go of his hand. "Sorry," I said. "Thank you. Have a good day." A conditioned response to people I did business with from my days behind a pizza counter that still hung with me.

It had only been for a second or two, but still long enough for my mailman to probably begin to question my sexual preference. He would likely get my mail into my box first when he pulls up to the row in front of the house from now on. Oh well.

But why had he been numberless? Or maybe some peopleís numbers I couldnít read. Or maybeÖmaybeÖ

Öit was his sunglasses.

A light bulb went on inside my head. A voice from inside me called out, BINGO! I had avoided Katelynnís eyes in the hospital room, but hadnĎt felt the need to avoid the other nurseĎs eyes. The cabbie took his money over the car seat, he hadnít been facing me when our hands had briefly touched. And the mailman had been wearing mirrored sunglasses.

I needed another test subject. I closed the garage door and headed back down the street to Kwik Trip. There was an endless stream of people flowing in and out of that place. It would work fine as my temporary lab.

Ten minutes later, I had the next piece of the puzzle falling neatly into place. It was the eyes. AND the touch. If my skin came in contact with someone elseís skin and I was able to look into their eyes at the moment of the contact, a number came to mind. Without the eye contact, no number. Without the skin contact, no number. But with both, without fail, a number did indeed surface each and every time.

One had been an old man who pulled up next to the pumps and appeared to struggle a bit to get out of his car. I walked over to him and offered a hand. He took it gratefully enough, "Thank you, son. These legs just canít lift the weight the way they used to."

I pulled him out of the driverís seat and he stood next to me as I continued to hold his hand.

"Thank you," he said again, forcibly pulling his hand free of mine.

"Youíre welcome, sir," I responded. And then asked, "Do the numbers 82:123 mean anything to you?"

"Well," the old man chuckled, "not unless you count the fact that I am 82 years old and would love to live to be 123. But I donít think thatís what you mean."

"Iím not sure what I mean," I said to the man. "But thanks."

I walked back into the store and looked again at the teen-aged cashier. She noticed me coming back into the shop for the third time now in fifteen minutes and that I was once again looking her way. I think my continued presence was making her a little nervous. Her number had been the first time, and still was the second time when I bought the 3 Musketeers candy bar a few minutes ago, 88:8. One thing I knew for sure, however, she was a long ways from 88 years old and well past 8 years old. But that would still have only explained one of the two numbers. It was always two numbers. They were together, I could tell, but I could not yet explain why.

I pounced on several other people as politely as possible real quickly before going home and allowing the young cashier to relax. I touched a couple while looking into their eyes and a couple while not looking. The results of the experiment were in and undeniable. There were two contact points, touch and the eyes. Together they created a thought that only I was aware of, a pair of numbers that only I knew existed.

Wonderful.

* * * * *

Walking home after leaving Kwik Trip with my new found revelations running amok inside my head, I took a detour to the Walgreenís drug store, a block out of the way. I picked up a box of disposable rubber gloves and a pair of thick, furry winter gloves at a great summertime discount. I pretended to be interested in the Sports Illustrated magazine cover at the counter as the cashier was preparing to give me my change. After a moment of slight rudeness on my part for ignoring her outstretched hand, she placed the change on the counter for me to grab whenever I was ready. I thanked her right away and swept up the change, grabbed my purchase off the counter and headed next door to the sporting goods store. I picked up two pairs of thin batting gloves there. I managed to find exact change and placed it on the counter.

* * * * *

By morning, I had pretty much convinced myself that I was simply done touching people. I wouldnít even need to wear the gloves all the time, just when I thought I might come in physical contact with another human being, you know, whenever I go out of the house. IĎd be known as that nice but somewhat eccentric bald guy that never removes his gloves. I can live with that. I thought the overly curious part of me had finally been silenced with the discovery and the purchase of the gloves. I thought I had finally persuaded my bothersome side not to bother.

I was wrong.

I set myself up in the garage with the newspaper after breakfast. I had no problem concentrating on the clues. The puzzle was completed in fifteen minutes. I decided it was probably about time to start thinking about my next career. I hadnĎt heard a peep of protest with this thought from inside anywhere so I began flipping through the paper towards the used cars for sale in the classifieds. As I passed through the obituary section, I paused and found the one belonging to Dr. Getz. I told myself I was reading it just to pay him my last respects. Iím still not actually sure if I was lying to myself or not.



Getz---Dr. Donald David Getz died suddenly
at his home on Aug. 18th of a heart attack
at the age of 63. Born April 3, 1940, he is
survived by his wife, Elizabeth. Funeral
Services will be Tuesday, 11:00am at
Washburn-McReavy in Bloomington.



I calmly laid down the newspaper next to my morning Dew on the workbench that doubled as an end table for my den in the garage. I opened up a fresh pack of smokes and, while briefly wondering what it would cost to set myself up for life on some deserted island somewhere with a favorable year-round climate, I slowly lit up another Winston. I watched the tree in the front yard as its leaves and branches danced in the morning wind and realized when I shut my eyes, how closely the sound resembled that of the waves breaking on the beachy shoreline of my deserted paradise. A light rain started to pitter-patter against the blacktop of the driveway, adding a wet sound to the windy waves, further enhancing the depth of the Eden I had created in my head. I could go back to the Kwik Trip and buy a lottery ticket and if I won, I could even have my house moved with me to my island. Opening my eyes again, the vast empty ocean quickly receded, revealing my familiar driveway and then the mailboxes, the street, the house across the way and the crowded world beyond. I took a deep, long drag off my cigarette. I knew what I was going to do next even though I really didnít want to do it. Also, in that very same instant, while I watched a small mouse scurry across the driveway looking for cover as the rainís rhythm quickened its beat almost in unison with that of my own heart, I knew what I was going to discover after doing what I was about to do, and I really, really didnít want to discover itÖbut I no longer felt as though I was piloting my body as it went inside the house to pull the calendar off the refrigerator door. That curious, bothersome, cat-like me had suddenly assumed full control.

I went to yesterdayís date, August 18th, and started counting backwardsÖto 137. I already knew before I got there what date I was going to land on. I counted a second time just to make sure, but with the same result.

April 3rd.

Damn.

* * * * *

Chapter Six


Michael

Front Desk

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The Master Plan

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Tweny-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter Thirty
Chapter Thirty-One
Chapter Thirty-Two
Chapter Thirty-Three
Chapter Thirty-Four
Chapter Thirty-Five
Chapter Thirty-Six
Chapter Thirty-Seven
Chapter Thirty-Eight
Chapter Thirty-Nine
Epilogue