“Oh, Death, where is thy order of medium fries?”
It is February. Valentine’s Day is approaching. He still thinks he can solve the who, what, why (never mind the how) and somehow save his LTR from the trashbin.
It’s been a longer than usual jog or three. He’s able to go a bit further than before. He has to stop this time due to a downpour of freezing rain, sleet and snow. He waits under an otherwise empty pavilion.
He’s not feeling the cold at all. It’s more about just not getting completely soaked.
A mere half hour or so later, nature and old iPhone making it seem shorter, he’s on his way.
He suddenly gets a craving for cheeseburgers. Not entirely out of the ordinary. He’s been on a healthfood kick for about a month, so it only seems natural his body is craving a little junkfood.
Given the extra effort displayed today, the grey matter grants the meat it’s wish and he heads to hamburger clown HQ up at the far NE corner of the park. He hasn’t been up there before.
He walks in and sitting closest to the door is a middle-aged, a bit overweight Hispanic man. He is drinking from a brown paper sack. He shows the bottle to the jogger and offers a drink.
“Maybe after I eat.”
Drinker laughs, but it isn’t the laugh Jogger expects. It’s subtext is all wrong. It’s more like a mouse has just avoided a cat’s claw, extending some game that the mouse didn’t even realize he was playing.
That Drinker (and his younger unconscious companion) seemed to be waiting for Jogger to appear is something (one of many in recent history) that Jogger dismisses as impossible as best he can with just a small lingering doubt somewhere in the back.
Jogger gets his two cheeseburgers and sits down closest to the registers.
Drinker gets up and joins Jogger after a moment. He mentions the history of the neighborhood, apparently referring to the Maryland militia who fought and died against the Brits in the late 18th.
“You know, we don’t use guns. We use snake venom and other means.”
Jogger swallows a bite.
Drinker laughs again. He provides an address on Church Street, somewhere in the 4,000 block. That Jogger will forget the exact house number later, despite an unusually improved memory of late, will be something Jogger will later regard as no accident.
Drinker’s son appears to be drugged out. Jogger has flashbacks to a beer garden over two decades previous.
These are the real faces of hired killers: drunks, drug addicts, the mentally ill that seem so debilitated it’s hard for the sane to believe these people can kill effectively and get away with it.
It’s not like the movies.
However, Jogger is now picturing a room on Church Street covered in plastic. Is this an offer? Join or die? Or is it die or die?
He finishes his food and bids farewell. He is half a block away before he realizes that even though it is warmer than when he entered the restaurant, he is beginning to shiver. On the subway ride home (something deep down says not to risk walking or jogging home—doesn’t feel right) he will go into shock.
When he manages to come out of it, it will take the better part of a year to understand the brainwashing part.
But it wasn’t all brainwashing. In order to be effective, like hypnosis, there had to be some truth to it. He’d have noticed under “normal” circumstances, no question. He just might have had better control over it.
When the disappointing Valentine’s Dinner rolled around, he wasn’t quite so devastated as he might have been, all things considered.
It would be almost a year before he considered that the cheeseburger desire might not have originated from his own brain after all. The Frey effect had many uses. And there it was in black and white. Odd that he didn’t remember reading it.