“How are you?” he asked me.
“Do you really want to talk about me?”
“I’m sorry…about what I said”
The shame was real, though perhaps only caused by his mother rotting corpse under the earth. This was a well-chosen opportunity to apologize.
“Don’t be, your punch wasn’t the first one I deserved.”
“Are you serious?”
“You were right about her”
“I’m sorry about that”
“Yeah me too”
He put his hand on my shoulder. He was very quiet standing in front of the grave. After all, he lost his mother and the reason why he had become the person he was in the first place. He wasn’t faced with anything, because he hadn’t thought of this outcome. Ätz hadn’t cried at the funeral. His brother was in tears. His father wasn’t there.
“Let’s get rich,” he said to me afterwards. We sat on his couch in black. I looked at Ätz first. I didn’t want to say anything, but it hadn’t been honest, if I wouldn’t have pointed it out to him.
“You wanted to quit as soon as your brother got the money together and there is no way, you can use your dead mother as an excuse, she now needs at the most care for her grave”
Ätz didn’t say anything about it. I noticed what I triggered in him and I felt guilty about it. Whatever happened that day. What I’d lost before, it made me say “yes”. It all had turned out to be wrong. My dreams. My future. Anything. Like him, I stood before nothing. I’ve forgotten who I am. I forgot what I wanted to be.
I just wanted to be someone again, not empty, and if that someone was an innocent murderer, an intelligent fool, a rich beggar, it was now so. I didn’t mean to turn out so one-dimensional, but I really couldn’t really care less about anymore.
I thought seeing monsters would scare me off becoming one. The truth was, someone in me was waiting for it to happen. Silently learned what it saw and restlessly waited. He was there now. He wouldn’t go away any more. He took over the talking for me…being and living. I gave everything to him, leaned back and let him do it.
God be my witness, he was still me, but he had nothing to do with me anymore. The part of me that wanted to knock couples off subways, rob visionaries of sight and applaud loudly when blood and tears splashed, no one could prove to me that it wasn’t really me. So, it was easy to follow the rabbit into the hole.
Ätz heard the “yes” and nodded.
“How do we do it?” I asked him.
He didn’t give me an answer. He took out his second cell phone and typed in a number. It wasn’t saved in his contact list. He typed it from his memory. The phone rang. Nobody took off.
He still didn’t say anything. He put it in front of him on the table, but as soon as it touched the wood, he hadn’t even put the phone completely out of his hand, the rap song about the “Big Booty Bitches” started.
He answered off.
“We’re ready” he said, and whoever was on the other side hung up.
A message came with an address.
“Who was that?” I asked him.
“The guy who’s gonna make us rich”
I liked the thought of being the drug addict street boy who would get richer than the managers who sacrificed their lives out there to climb a spoke on the ladder. There was such a beautiful tragedy about it, how I struggled to see, watching them from my elevator.
Besides, I was curious. If you go into nothingness long enough, can you get out somewhere?
I didn’t have to do it forever either. I just never wanted to set foot in a bookstore for another day. Down with retail. Long live the online shop. And who knows, maybe the money would put her back on. She would know then I could take good care of her and she could dedicate any moment to her dream.
I’d just sit there and see her. And not to lose myself in it, and not to forget why I enjoy it, I could have found an easy job that wouldn’t have overstrained me. Damn, I could have even imagined myself being creative. I didn’t want any glory in it either. Glory makes you talk big and makes you think you’re important.
No, it was just for her and when we spent my money on wine and rent – I hadn’t thought about getting that old before I met her – someone would find themselves printing my trash. Until then, we wouldn’t grow old, and earning an income somehow, that I should be able to. I didn’t need money to be happy, just to live. With her in the same room, I was the richest man on the moon.
She would paint, and I would watch her and so it wouldn’t get so creepy, just write what comes to my mind. If a writer for much too detailed love-act descriptions between fictional characters could become a bestseller author for housewife masturbation material, then I could smash a few hundred pages together myself. Didn’t have to be Shakespeare.
But if she still didn’t think otherwise about me, I could rub it under her nose. Invite the whole bar and take the money on the rest of my hopefully short life with me, the money and those who are just horny for money, sounds short term like a good time. I could send these people away without a guilty conscience. It was just a transition period, he said. Ätz always had big plans and he loved to indulge me in them when he was high. I was there. Ready to thrust the steamer into the new world. The only thing missing before was the endgame. Because I could imagine the reward and the stupid face of her so well, I was in a good mood in the car.
Ätz talked a little more, then he stopped because I didn’t pay enough attention to him anymore. We listened to the radio. Out of it ran one of the thousand pop songs, whose interpreters could have been exchanged at will, like in any other industry. It didn’t bother me as much as usual. I looked out of the window under the sound of the same chords. What did this town have about it at night that it didn’t have during the day? I admired the beauty of the calm, which was stirred up at some corners by drunken scum. As it should be. If I was looking for a new place, I wouldn’t even know if I had to move away.
The rich downtown was the Bizarro version of the outskirts. The closer one got to the center, the more beautiful and well maintained the streets became. Is easier to sell something clean to the tourists than calling the dirt beautiful, that piled up in all the trash cans outside.
“What are we going to do?”
“We’ll go there, and we’ll see what happens.”
“How do you know this guy?”
“Does it matter?”
“What do you mean, does it matter? Yes, it does.”
“It’s better if you don’t know”
“If you say so”
We turned on the next corner after the butcher’s shop with a cleaver as a sign. The window of the shop was decorated with a happy cow wearing an apron and a knife holding between its cloven hoof. You understand me, cow.
At the end of the road we found a parking lot. I didn’t know the place here. The area was completely unknown to me. I didn’t get around much these days, or ever honestly. I exited the car, leaned on it, lit a cigarette and waited for Ätz to turn off the engine. He did, but after he just sat inside and waited.
Since I had closed the passenger door when I got out, I knocked on the window. Ätz didn’t notice me. He looked into his lap, into his cell phone. He tapped on it. To knock I simply used this time the whole fist. He seemed to notice that. He leaned over the passenger seat and rolled down the window.
“What is it?” threw Ätz at me.
“Where’s the guy now?”
“I can see that. Thank you. Where is he?”
“He should be here any minute, chill”
He cranked up the window again. I smoked another cigarette, threw it on the floor and got back in the car. Doomed to wait, we were looking around for the guy. Not a single soul was seen for ten minutes. A woman with a baby stroller passed us on the sidewalk. It was 2:15 at night. She had put her dog in it. The chihuahua sat up straight in the buggy and as we crossed eyes, he stretched out his tongue towards me, fasts breathing. Ugly creature I thought as the woman disappeared with the stroller in a side street.
After that, the streets were quiet. Nothing happened at first. I was wondering if I should turn on the radio, but Ätz seemed nervous. His feet were bobbing up and down.
“Are you scared all of a sudden? We can still drive home” I told him.
“No, it’s not that…”
A man came from the side street into which the dog’s mother had disappeared before. According to Ätz put was the one we were looking for. I didn’t deny it, you could see it on his face. If I had been a cop, I would have asked this guy for a random body check, and if he had inevitably refused, I would have hit him a Might-want-to-reconsider-lesson, put his swollen face in the backseat of my police car, later claiming he resisted and invited him in for a cozy interview back at the station, where we could talk our differences out.
Ätz got up first. We exchanged greetings, made sure the right men were talking to each other, then he handed us the four travel bags I put on the back seat of the car and the man gave Ätz an address on the other side of town. We drove off.
We didn’t talk much on the way. Nothing happened either. We arrived there, he parked next to the sidewalk in front of the house, we got out and rang the doorbell. A voice told us to wait outside and we both sat in the car.
We were nervous to varying degrees. Ätz had a knife ready. I didn’t have a gun, but I also knew that if they had a gun, which was to be expected, Ätz could just as well hold a feather. I surrendered to destiny, and if it was my destiny to be shot down in a wine-red Peugeot, then so it was.
Two older ladies walked past our car. Ätz got scared by their sudden appearance. He was tense. I wondered why I didn’t share the feeling so intensely, then I wondered what two sixty-year-old ladies had lost in the open wilderness shortly after 3am.
I giggled, when I pictured an escape from the nursing home. What I imagined? One of them shoved the other one onto the window sill and the one on top pulled the other one up. Grinning her teeth so they wouldn’t drop on the floor. The gymnastic exercises to stay fit are put to good use.
“What’s so funny?” asked Ätz.
“The two ladies, that’s all”
“Uh-huh,” he said, and then, “Finally.”
From the front door out came a tall Slav. I recognize a Serb by skin type and appearance, but I wasn’t right about that very often. He looked around, the road up and down, twice left, three times right, no one was there and then he came towards the Peugeot. He waved at us, went to my window on the passenger side, I cranked it down.
“Hey, are you?”
“Yes” Ätz replied.
“Yes” I said.
“Okay” he licked his lips “come with me.”
Ätz and I looked at each other. We were thinking the same thing, I guess. Hesitantly, we got out. The Slav went to the door, we fetched the travel bags out of the car, he put his key into the lock and held the door open for us.
“Fourth floor” he whispered.
Ätz went ahead, I behind Ätz and the Slav behind me. Only the Slav in the back made me nervous, darn childhood traumas. I never like to have anyone in my back.
“Door 13, fourth floor”
The door upstairs was left ajar. Ätz carefully pushed it open with his shoulder and we stood in the middle of a living room that was as sparsely furnished as usual. Many seats, a television, a table, but no side tables, lamps, photos, pictures or shelves. Most prominent was an electronic scale on the table.
“Let’s get started.”
He sat down, measured the weight of the first bag including contents, and then placed the without content on the scales. The bags were identical, so he saved time measuring each individual and it was all about time. Being caught red-handed was everyone’s nightmare and most smart criminals never felt nowhere near safe from it. Being picked up in a strange apartment during a transaction was the ultimate expression of bad luck.
It took half an hour. Ätz talked to the Slav while I zapped through the channels and listened to them. The Slav told us one of his war stories.
The stories in this world were their own currency, a kind of secret sign and a good story, could already take you far and show the others, without any further words necessary, who sits in front of him. Most of the stories were fairy tales, the terminology, the jargon just had to be right. Never disbelief them. You would diminish a man’s word, which would provoke a man to protect his proud and show some proof. The Slav told us how he popped some kneecaps out of the joints of his opponents. Ätz joked about the sound of bubble wrap. He was good at that. The two got along without having to get to know each other. That was necessary. You don’t trust people you don’t like.
“Okay, looks good” said the Slav. He announced he’d get the money from the next room. After a minute another guy came out with him. A German from the face. He looked battered by life than the other and was half a head taller. He had a bald head and a goatee. He bared his teeth when he gave the money to Ätz, but let the situation go over without causing additional drama.
If he wanted to, he could have. He had a gun stuck out of his pants and Ätz only had brought his boring knife with him.
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