Absolute Zero
(22 Hours from Now)

by Dolores Esteban



Image





Jonathan Summer’s eyes beamed with joy as he stood and shook hands with James Cutterfield.

“Well done, Jonathan. The book reading was a big success. Several of the girls had tears in their eyes. They have a crush on you.”

James Cutterfield laughed loudly at his joke. A good joke, so he thought.

Jonathan blushed slightly. He ignored James’ remark.

“James, I prefer to think that my book moved their hearts. But, in fact, I was surprised at the large crowd.”

“Our marketing strategy,” James Cutterfield replied shortly, giving Jonathan a wink. “Beryls is famous for it. We promote our newly published authors the best we can. Yes, the book reading was a success. Belles Lettres TV was here. You’ll be on the news tonight, Jonathan.”

They laughed cheerfully as they left the library where the book reading had taken place.
James Cutterfield, director of the small Beryls Publishing Company, looked at his watch.

“11 am. A drink, Jonathan? Or champagne in the office on Monday?” James asked, hailing a cab.

“Monday,” Jonathan said, watching James who was in an apparent hurry.

James nodded and climbed in the car. Jonathan watched the car, shaking his head slightly. He walked down the street and turned around a corner. His apartment wasn’t far from the library.

Jonathan stopped at a sandwich bar to have a snack. He watched the Italian guy behind the counter. Jonathan liked his hair and eyes. First of all he liked his smile. He blushed when Giorgio turned to him. The Italian guy smirked. He was of Jonathan’s age, about twenty-five years. They talked about the food and about Italian wine. Neither of them dared to bring up another topic. They had been talking about food and wine for almost three weeks now.

Giorgio had started to work in the bar on a Monday evening when Jonathan had accidentally dropped by. Jonathan had become a regular visitor to the bar.

Jonathan was about to leave when Giorgio pushed a slip of paper across the counter. Jonathon gazed at the phone number. He almost dropped his pizza. Giorgio smirked. They exchanged a long look. Then Jonathan left. Giorgio’s ‘ciao’ made him almost stumble.

Five minutes later, Jonathan entered his apartment. Beryls Publishing Company, James Cutterfield and the book reading in the library had slipped from his mind. Jonathan thought of Giorgio and, about a hundred times, he looked at the piece of paper with the phone number on it.

Jonathan poured a drink and switched on the TV. He flipped through the channels and finally found Belles Lettres, a small TV station that focused on literature. John smiled when he saw his face on the screen. They talked about his book and showed his face several times for about sixty seconds. They confirmed that his novel ‘The Wisdom of Life’ was a promising book written by a promising author. Jonathan smiled. His smile faded a bit, however, when he looked at his watch: Midnight, 00:12 exactly. Jonathan wondered how many people had watched the news on Belles Lettres TV at midnight on a Friday evening.

Jonathan poured another drink and crossed the room. He picked up Giorgio’s phone number. After a brief moment of consideration, he booted his computer. He decided to do some online research. He had a phone number and a first name, after all. Jonathan googled the number, and to his own surprise, there was one search result. Jonathan clicked the link. A website opened. It was green and pink and amateurish. Jonathan gazed at the screen.

The image in the center showed an overweight boy with dark hair. Jonathan studied him carefully. Apparently, the boy was not Giorgio. The boy was a teenager, fourteen or fifteen years old. Jonathan scrolled up and down and finally found out that the boy’s name was Luigi Capone. Luigi was interested in Eminem and Tokio Hotel. He liked video games and tuna salad. He had a younger sister that he thought was a monster and beast. Luigi, at some length, wrote about his school experiences. Jonathan was about to give up reading Luigi’s insightful report when he spotted Giorgio’s phone number. Luigi wrote that he had a brother whose name was Giorgio and who had changed his phone number recently. Apparently, Luigi had decided to reveal his brother’s number. Curiously, Jonathan looked for more interesting details, yet found nothing else, except that Luigi lived in 16, Venice Street, Boston, and his brother lived ‘just around the corner’. The website was last updated six months ago.
Jonathan, in a cheerful mood, poured another drink. He googled ‘Venice Street’, that actually was not far from his apartment, and looked at the image. And then, he dialed Giorgio’s number. An answering machine responded, but then Giorgio picked up the phone. Jonathan swallowed.

There was a moment of silence. Then Jonathan heard Giorgio’s voice.

“Luigi?”

“Luigi?” Giorgio asked again, his voice a bit louder.

“Umm,” Jonathan finally said. “No. It’s Jonathan.”

“Hey,” Giorgio replied. “I just got home.” He laughed. “Hey, how are you doing?”

“Fine,” Jonathan said. “Just wanted to say that I liked the pizza and that I will come to the bar tomorrow evening.”

“Yes, that’s great. I’ll be there,” Giorgio said. From his voice, Jonathan knew that Giorgio was smiling.

“Okay,” Jonathan said. “So, I’ll see you tomorrow. Good night.”

“Ciao,” Giorgio almost purred and put down the phone.

Jonathan took a deep breath. Adrenaline rushed through his veins. His mind was blank, and his hands were trembling slightly. A broad smile showed on his face for a couple of minutes.

Finally, Jonathan straightened. He opened his email. Tons of spam. However, one email caught his attention. The subject was the title of his novel: The Wisdom of Life. Jonathan started to read. When he had finished, Jonathan’s good mood was gone. A scary cold crept up his spine.



Jonathan read the email again. 


Dear Mr. Summers,

I’ve just watched the news on Belles Lettres TV. I was impressed. The Wisdom of Life, a promising title of a book. I was about to complete my mission tonight. However, I decided to invite you to a most pleasant game. Its outcome will decide on the world’s fate. Let me explain. I was studying life. I found there is no wisdom in it. It’s just a mess. So, I decided to put an end to what is called ‘life’.

More clearly and in short: I’m a microbiologist and virologist. I have modified and highly virulent smallpox viruses. Not all of them have been destroyed, as you may know. I won’t go into detail. I don’t have the time to. There is no remedy. The disease is contagious. The illness is fatal. I planned to set the viruses free at midnight. I was a bit late. I wanted to finish my drink first.

I watched Belles Lettres TV. I have changed my mind, just for the briefest of time, of course. I invite you to play. Reveal to me the wisdom of life. I’m certain you will lose the game. The end of the world is only delayed. I plan to enjoy the final game. I suggest we start at 2 am. Thus you have time to consider your first answer. We move more quickly then. The game is over in 22 hours from then.

The rules. You probably know Tarot cards. They are said to contain the wisdom of life. You understand, Mr. Summers. I found no wisdom in them. You’ll have the chance to show that I am wrong. I’ll send you a card, maybe two or three. And you, Mr. Summers, will reveal the wisdom in those cards. You’re a writer, an author, a poet maybe. Use your skills to show me the wisdom of life. Write a line, or two, just as you please.

We’ll start with Tarot Card XII The Hanged Man.

Let me know your answer until 2 am. If you do not reply or fail to give a convincing answer, I will show you my omnipotent power. Are you ready, Mr. Summers?

X

P.S.: Do you wonder why I was so sure you read my message in time? I know you are sitting in front of your computer right now. I see the light in your room. Well, Mr. Summers, I have been watching you for three weeks or so, since the first copies of your book were sold. The title of your book caught my attention. I found a way to watch your apartment. I’m using a telescope. And, btw, your email address was printed in your book.


 “What a crap!” Jonathan hissed.

Abruptly he stood and went into the bathroom. He showered. Finally, he relaxed. Jonathan went into the bedroom and was about to turn off the light when the phone rang. He answered it.

“Jonathan Summers.”

“Hey, Jonathan. It’s me, Celia. Did I wake you?”

Jonathan went into the living room and sat down on the couch, yawning.

“Celia,” he said to his sister. “It’s way after midnight, 01:21 exactly.”

“I’m sorry, Jonathan,” Celia said. “I thought it was already morning. I mix that up always. It’s about 8 am here. Dave and I are leaving Rome this morning.”

“Weren’t you supposed to leave on Sunday?”Jonathan asked tiredly.

“That’s why I’m calling,” Celia said. “Dave’s mom is in hospital. A serious cold, they say. She’s doing pretty fine. But, you know, Dave’s worried. So we rebooked our flight. We’ll be leaving at 10.15 with Alitalia this morning. We’re supposed to arrive in Boston at 13.30 your time. Would you pick us up at the airport, Jonathan?”

Jonathan smiled.

“Sure, Celia. I’ll be there. How was the wedding trip?”

“It was great. Fantastic. I wished we had had more time for sight-seeing,” Celia snickered.

“Great,” Jonathan said with a smile. “Okay, Celia. I’m going to pick you up tomorrow afternoon.”

“Thanks, Jonathan. I’ll see you in…in about 24 hours from now. Bye, Jonathan.”

“Bye, Celia.”

Jonathan put down the phone. A scary cold crept up his spine. Jonathan went to a sideboard and picked up a photograph. The picture showed Celia. Her green eyes looked at him, and she smiled. Her long brown hair was flowing in the wind. Jonathan put down the picture and looked into the mirror. He had the same green eyes and brown hair. But his hair was short, and he did not smile.

Jonathan went back to his computer and once again checked his emails. Another two or three spam emails. Jonathan read the weird email again.

“I suggest we start at 2 am. The game is over in 22 hours from then,” Jonathan murmured.

He looked at his watch. 1:30. Jonathan wiped his eyes.

“22 hours from now,” he murmured.

Finally, he shook his odd feeling off, shut down his computer and turned off the light in the living room. He placed Giorgio’s piece of paper on his bedside table, drew up the blanket and turned off the light.

He awoke with a start. Breathing heavily, Jonathan sat up. He switched on the light and looked at his alarm clock. 02:40. Jonathan went into the kitchen to get a glass of water. He had had a horrible dream. He had found Giorgio lying in the street, his body shattered and covered with blood. Jonathan had crouched at his side. Giorgio had fixed his eyes on him and with a barely audible ‘ciao’ had died. His dead eyes had kept staring at Jonathan.

Jonathan emptied another glass of water. The phone rang. Jonathan almost jumped. He picked up the phone. A sobbing voice spoke to him.

“What?” Jonathan asked, his heart beating faster.

“Rose. Oh, Jonathan…” Her voice broke.

“Rose?” Jonathan asked, feeling puzzled. Rose was his editor at Beryls Publishing Company. She had never called him that late at night. And moreover, she had never sobbed on the phone.

“What happened, Rose?” Jonathan asked, gazing to the window of his living room.

The thought of someone watching him with a telescope crossed his mind briefly, yet immediately disappeared when Rose spoke to him.

“James Cutterfield is dead,” Rose said under her breath.

There was a silence. Jonathan heard Rose’s stifled sobbing.

“What?” Jonathan asked.

“James Cutterfield is dead,” Rose repeated. “We watched Belles Lettres TV together. Half an hour later, he left.”

Rose broke off.

“Belles Lettres TV,” Jonathan echoed.

Again, Rose started to sob.

Now Jonathan remembered that James had been in a hurry.

“James went to see you?” Jonathan asked dumbly. Then he blushed. James and Rose had been a couple. They had tried to keep it secret for some inexplicable reasons.

“What happened?” Jonathan asked again in a softer voice.

“James got a phone call. A neighbor, he said. The man said that he had just returned home and had watched someone breaking into James’ house. I told James to call the police. But he left instantly. I tried to call him until about 2 am. But he didn’t answer the phone. So I drove over to his house. The lights were on. The front door was open. I entered the house and called his name. And then…”

Rose started crying.

“Rose?” Jonathan asked. He looked into the mirror. He looked like a ghost. His face had turned pale.

“I found him in the shower. He was fully dressed. He looked horrible. His face was cramped. His eyes and mouth were open. They hanged him, Jonathan. I don’t think he hanged himself.”

Rose fell silent. Jonathan heard a voice speaking to Rose.

“Rose?” Jonathan asked while unconsciously moving to his computer.

“My sister has arrived,” Rose said in a low voice. She sounded almost absent-mindedly.

“She’ll take me to my home. She’ll be staying with me. They gave me sedatives. I just needed someone to talk to. Sorry, Jonathan.”

“Don’t worry,” Jonathan said, feeling his words were utterly inappropriate.

Rose put down the phone.



Jonathan sat down at his desk. His limbs were limp. His mind was blank. He gazed at the blackened computer screen. Finally he touched the pad and opened his email. A new email had come in. Jonathan gazed at the sender’s name: [email protected] Like in trance, Jonathan opened the email.


Dear Mr. Summers,

I am disappointed. You failed miserably. You forced me to do something as a warning. Call Mrs. Rose Baker, please, for further details. Don’t think of calling the police. Time is running out. I’m expecting your reply until 3 am. Let me know the wisdom of Tarot Card XV The Devil.

X


Jonathan looked at the time display on his computer: 02:53. Enraged he wrote a reply in capital letters:

YOU ARE THE DEVIL

After a look on the time display, Jonathan resisted the urge to format the words and make them bold and red. He clicked the send button.

Jonathan leaned back in his chair. He felt paralyzed. But slowly his mind restarted working.

There was a monster out there that had apparently chosen him to play some morbid game. Jonathan pondered. X was either insane, had a god complex and planned to destroy the world, or he was someone who planned to destroy Jonathan’s life. Was his talk about virulent smallpox viruses true, or was it just a threat? Anyway, he had killed James Cutterfield. X was a killer and he was apparently ready to go on and put his further plans into action.

Jonathan picked up the phone. He was about to phone the police when an email came in. Jonathan put down the phone.


Dear Mr. Summers,

I feel pleased at your reply. I acknowledge the wisdom in it. Though the devil is said to be a supernatural being, I think that you are right, in a sense. The devil is much the evil side in man. The majority of people are desperately trying to hide their evil side. They usually fail miserably. I’m more courageous than others. I do not hide my evil side. Thus I consider myself more perfect than others. I have decided to put an end to the world’s imperfections.

Thanks for your reply, Mr. Summers. Let’s go on with the game. Let’s go on with Tarot Card IX The Hermit. An easy one to make you feel more comfortable with the game.

I’m looking forward to your reply.

X


Jonathan read the email twice, and then he opened his browser and googled ‘The Hermit’. He found an image of the card at once. It showed an old man with a lamp and a cane, turned to the left side of the image.

“In fact, it’s by no means difficult to write a reply,” Jonathan hissed. “You can have it, if you want it. Then I’ll call the police. They’ll probably have you before you are even able to send me another of your crap emails.”

Jonathan typed:

Thus spoke Zarathustra and left his cave, glowing and strong, like a morning sun coming out of gloomy mountains.

Jonathan clicked the send button, stood and went into the kitchen. He drank a coke. His thoughts turned to James Cutterfield. Not that he had been attracted to James. James was a stout man in his forties. He had founded the publishing company ten years ago to support new authors. James had self-published a book because his novel had been rejected by many big and small publishing companies. He had been a professional, a very rational and calculating man. But he was warm-hearted also, always willing to listen to his aspiring authors. He had encouraged Jonathan to complete his novel. He had published and promoted Jonathan’s book
Jonathan threw the emptied coke can at the window. Hate-filled, he went back to his computer. X had already replied.


Dear Mr. Summers,

Excellent quote. I almost think we are on a par. But it’s too early to come to a final conclusion. Don’t you think so? Here’s the next card. A single card again before we move on to level 2 of the game. Tarot Card X Wheel of Fortune.

I’m expecting your answer until 04:00 am.

X


Jonathan looked at the time display: 03:22.

“Plenty of time,” he hissed angrily.

He googled the card and gazed at the wheel that was surrounded by some strange creatures.

“Not too difficult either,” Jonathan said aloud.

He googled ‘Wheel of Fortune’ and within a few minutes found a few poems and quotes.

“Is it worth killing a man for crap like this?” Jonathan murmured.

He copied and pasted the texts he had found. He wrote a reply.


Okay, Mr. X, not too difficult either. You want it sophisticated or simple? Choose whichever you like:

Fortune, good night, smile once more; turn thy wheel!

(Shakespeare - King Lear)

Or a Turkish proverb maybe?

The wheel of fortune turns without stopping, they say.

That’s it exactly, I’d say.


Jonathan clicked the send button.

“What am I doing?” he said, looking to the window. The buildings outside were dark. No lights were turned on.

“You’re somewhere over there, aren’t you?” Jonathan said to himself.

He wiped his forehead. This was just absurd. Surreal. Had he not spoken to Rose who had found James hanged in the shower, he’d just shut down his computer and go to bed.

“I must call the police,” Jonathan said. “They will talk to me anyway because of James.” 

However, he was hesitating. He waited for the monster’s reply. But no email came in. Jonathan looked at his watch.

“03:36 am. He’ll probably wait until 4 o’clock,” Jonathan murmured.

He crossed the room and lay down on the couch. He gazed at the ceiling.

“I must not forget about Celia,” Jonathan murmured with a yawn, and then, without realizing it, he drifted to sleep.



He woke when the door bell rang. Slightly dazzled, Jonathan opened the door. Two policemen stood in front of him.

 “Jonathan Summers?” one of the policemen asked.

Jonathan nodded. Rose’s phone call came to his mind.

“You want to talk to me because of James Cutterfield?” Jonathan asked.

“Exactly,” one of the policemen said, looking him up and down. “You already know what happened to him?”

“Rose Baker called me,” Jonathan said and asked the two men in.

“How is Rose doing?”

“We spoke to her only briefly,” one of the men said. “She was in a bad state as you can imagine.”

The men looked around curiously and exchanged a look before they introduced and identified themselves.

“Mrs. Baker told us that you spent the evening in James Cutterfield’s company?”

“Yes. I read from my newly published book in the library not far from here. It was an official and announced event. Many people attended the book reading. James had accompanied me to promote his publishing house. He’s…he was the director.”

“You left together?” police officer Harper asked.

“Yes. He hailed a cab. I walked home.”

Harper eyed him. Jonathan brushed back his hair. He realized that he looked somewhat disheveled.

“I stopped at the sandwich bar nearby,” Jonathan added, feeling suddenly uncomfortable.

Harper nodded and looked around in the room. So did police officer Bailey.

“You’re wearing pajamas. But it seems you were up all night.” Harper said.

“I rested on the couch,” Jonathan said defensively. “I watched TV. I was on the news last night. Later I phoned with my sister Celia. She’s in Europe with her husband Dave. And then Rose Baker called and told me of what had happened.”

Jonathan looked between the policemen, wondering why he was trying to justify himself. His inappropriate babble would raise their suspicion. He coughed.

“Do you have any idea who might have murdered James Cutterfield?” Harper asked.

“He did not hang himself?” Jonathan asked.

“Why? Did he mention to you he had plans to do so?” Bailey asked.

“No. No, I was just wondering. Why should anybody enter his house after midnight and hang him?”

‘You know very well the reason why,’ a voice said in Jonathan’s head. ‘Show them those emails. What are you doing, Jonathan? You are covering up a crime.’

Harper looked him up and down again.

“Anything else you might want us to know? Anything James Cutterfield said or did?”

“We left the library and we parted. I thought he was in a hurry. He went to see Rose Baker, apparently.”

“Okay,” Harper said. “We might want to talk to you again.”

“Sure,” Jonathan said, “I won’t be around for a couple of hours early this afternoon. I’m going to pick up my sister and her husband at the airport.”

“You have an answering machine? We’ll leave you a message and you call us back.”

Jonathan nodded. He showed them out, then hurried into the kitchen, opened the window and looked outside. His mind was spinning.

“Spinning like a wheel,” Jonathan murmured.

“God,” he cried out. “The Wheel of Fortune.”

Jonathan hurried to his computer. The screen was black. Jonathan touched the pad and gazed at the time display: 08:17. Four and a half hours had passed. Reluctantly, Jonathan checked his emails. Two emails from X. One sent at 04:11 and one at 06:00 exactly. Almost frightened, Jonathan opened the first email.


Dear Mr. Summers,

Thanks for replying so soon. I see you prefer the simple quote: The wheel of fortune turns without stopping, they say. I was feeling disappointed at first. I thought you were able to look deeper. But I gave your answer a second thought. They say that the wheel of fortune turns without stopping. That’s what they say. It’s not necessarily the truth. Yes, you are right, Mr. Summers. The majority of people assume that the wheel of fortune turns without stopping. They are not able to control it. I, for my part, I am able to control it. You will see very soon.

Great, Mr. Summers. Let’s go on. We proceed to level 2. Two cards now. Combine them, please. Tarot Card III The Empress and Tarot Card V The Hierophant.

You have time to answer until 06.00 am. Good luck!

X


Jonathan read the email again. Then he opened the second one.


Dear Mr. Summers,

I thought you took the game seriously. You apparently did not take heed of my previous warning. As The Hierophant states, there are two paths to choose from. The image shows two keys. I have the keys. And I’m going to wield the scepter like The Empress does.

You’re having a nap on the couch? Rest well, Mr. Summers. Please await my next message.

X

P.S. You might want to know what is coming next. The Tarot cards are XVIII The Moon, II The High Priestess and VIII Strength. Image VIII rotated.


Jonathan read the cryptic email twice. He googled the cards and gazed at them in utter confusion. A moon, a woman with a scroll in her hands, a woman subduing a lion. His mind was entirely blank. However, he felt the need to solve the riddle.

Jonathan gazed at the window, wondering if X still watched him.

“What do you mean, bastard?” Jonathan said aloud. “It doesn’t make sense, does it?”

The email was sent at 06:00. Jonathan pondered. It was Saturday, 14th of March 2009. The sun rose at about seven o’clock. Jonathan scratched his head.

“So, it was dark at 06:00. And the moon was probably shining,” he said aloud, pacing the room. “What about the cards with the women? A woman subduing a lion. And a woman with a scroll.”

Jonathan sat down and gazed at the cards.

“Image VIII rotated. So…A lion subduing a woman.”

Enraged he rose. “You’re planning to attack a woman. You planned to attack a woman. You…”



The bell rang. Jonathan turned around abruptly. What if X had rung the bell? Reluctantly, Jonathan opened the door. Police officers Harper and Bailey stood outside.

“Have you forgotten anything?” Jonathan asked.

“Not exactly,” Harper replied. “Just one more question. Did you leave your apartment after six o’clock?”

Jonathan looked between Harper and Bailey suspiciously.

“No. Why are you asking?”

“Rose Baker was attacked at about 06:30 am. Someone entered her house. The intruder apparently had the keys to her house.”

Jonathan winced slightly. Bailey watched him closely.

“What happened to her?” Jonathan asked in a stifled voice.

“Someone tried to suffocate her with a pillow. Rose Baker struggled, but she was not able to defend herself vigorously because of the sedatives she had gotten. And because of a knock on her head. The attacker wielded a weapon.”

Jonathan looked at the policemen with widened eyes. He wiped his mouth.

“Luckily, the alarm clock started to ring. Rose’s sister had forgotten to switch it off. She hurried up the stairs. The attacker must have heard her. He climbed out of the window. Rose Baker was taken to hospital.”

“How’s she doing?” Jonathan asked.

“No serious harm,” Bailey said. “She’ll stay there for one or two days.”

“She’ll be home in two days?” Jonathan asked.

“Why would you want to know?” Harper asked.

“I might want to call her,” Jonathan said, looking between them again. He realized that they suspected him of being the attacker.

“Mr. Summers. We advise you to not go out today. Most certainly we’ll be having some more questions.”

“My sister…,” Jonathan started.

“A relative or a friend might pick her up at the airport,” Bailey suggested.

“Okay,” Jonathan said. He resisted the urge to lower his eyes.

When he shut the door behind them, he heard Bailey say ‘He has much to answer for’.

Jonathan hurried back to the computer. He looked at the cards again.

“The woman with the scroll in her hands. Rose Baker, my editor. You bastard!”

Jonathan gazed into the room for a while. “He’s a serial killer,” he said, suddenly feeling very calm. “And for some reason he wants to kill the people around me. I’ll be the last one, most likely. Unless that talk of viruses and destruction of the world is true. But…why me?”

Jonathan leaned back in his chair. He felt tired out. He checked his emails. Nothing. He stood and crossed the room. He took Celia’s photograph. A shudder ran up his spine. Jonathan put back the picture.

He went into the bathroom, showered and brushed his teeth. Afterwards, he checked his emails. Jonathan made some coffee.

“Perhaps X is holding a grudge against Beryls Publishing Company,” Jonathan pondered aloud. “He knew James’ phone number. He had Rose’s keys. Where did he get them from? He might have found them in James’ house.”

Jonathan emptied his cup. “Why did he contact me? Why does he not just kill me like the others?”

He looked at his watch: 09:15. X was definitely late. Jonathan picked up his phone and called his cousin Steven. Without asking questions, Steven agreed to pick up Celia and Dave at the airport. Jonathan sighed with relief.

The next email came in at 09:23.


Dear Mr. Summers,

I am a bit late due to some unexpected event. I apologize. I suspect the policemen told you the news. I suspect you follow the game more attentively now.

Please send me a line of wisdom regarding Tarot Cards XI Justice and XVII The Star until 11 am.

Thank you.

X


Despite his fear and rage, Jonathan started a Google search. He found a most enlightening paragraph:

‘Astrea is the goddess of justice. She stands proud with a stern look upon her once joyful face, as she holds a sword in one hand and the scales of justice in the other hand. She is judgment and justice, and she is purity. When Astrea saw the violent way the mortals dealt with each other she was disgusted. She called to her father, Zeus, and he placed her in the heavens among the stars. Astrea never returned to earth.’

Jonathan summed it up for X: Astrea, the goddess of justice, is placed among the stars. She never returned to earth.

Half an hour after he had gotten the email, Jonathan clicked the send button. Only three minutes later, he received a reply.


Dear Mr. Summers,

I feel delighted. As you said, there is no justice on earth. So I must not fear it. Well done. With your help, we will reach Absolute Zero quicker than I have expected. The next cards are Tarot Card XVI The Tower and Tarot Card IV The Emperor.

Be careful to not abandon the game. These cards are powerful. Keep in mind, please, that I have the power.

You have time to answer until 12:00 am.

X


Jonathan scowled.

“What a fool I am. Instead of replying, I should have taken advantage of the time he gave me to solve the riddle.”

Jonathan wiped his forehead.  He was frightened, confused and tired. Finally, he went into the kitchen and had another cup of coffee. He was hungry. He looked at his watch: 10:15. Enough time to go out and get something to eat.

Jonathan put on his jacket and left the apartment. He went to the sandwich bar. He had not thought of Giorgio for hours. He was not even able to imagine his face. This was absurd. Surreal. He entered and stopped short when he saw Giorgio behind the counter. Giorgio smiled at him. His smile faded when he saw Jonathan’s frown.

“What’s wrong?” Giorgio asked. It was his first personal question.

Jonathan found Giorgio had the right to ask, after he had called him at night. Jonathan straightened and gave Giorgio a smile. He realized, however, that his smile was somewhat artificial.

“I’m just tired,” Jonathan said. “I did not sleep well.”

“I would have imagined you did,” Giorgio said innocently.

He fell silent, however, when Jonathan didn’t reply. Giorgio handed him a sandwich and gazed after Jonathan, when Jonathan abruptly turned and left.

Jonathan headed back to his apartment. He called himself a fool again. He had scared Giorgio away most certainly. He shrugged. After all, he was busy saving the world.

Jonathan laughed loudly. A woman looked him up and down before she turned away. Jonathan entered his apartment. At once, he checked his emails. Spam only. Jonathan relaxed a little. He ate his sandwich.

The bell rang.

Jonathan dropped the rest of his sandwich. His hand was trembling slightly. Instantly, he looked at his watch: 10:35. Enough time to write a reply. Perhaps the cops had come back.

The bell rang again.

Jonathan went to the door. Reluctantly, he opened it.

Giorgio stood in front of him.



“Hey,” Giorgio said.

“What…,” Jonathan started.

Giorgio interrupted him. He pushed open the door and entered the apartment. For a second, Jonathan wondered if Giorgio was X and had come to murder him. Jonathan’s face apparently showed his fear, since Giorgio’s smile faded.

“What’s wrong?” Giorgio asked. He sounded worried.

Jonathan retreated into the living room. Giorgio followed him reluctantly. His dark eyes rested on Jonathan. Jonathan suddenly felt weak and vulnerable. He was tired and wrecked with tension.

For a moment or two, Giorgio just looked at Jonathan. His face showed surprise first, then concern, finally a mixture of sympathy and affection. Then Jonathan abruptly turned around and walked into the kitchen. He started to make coffee.

They sat at the table in the kitchen. Giorgio listened. Jonathan told him all. After a while, Jonathan forgot to look at his watch every few minutes. Finally, Giorgio left and returned with pizza.

“You must call the police,” Giorgio said.

“They were here twice already. I didn’t mention the emails.”

“Tell them you thought it was a bad joke. Then you thought again and found those emails were important.”

“They’d ask questions.”

“You thought it was some kind of internet game. There are lots out there. Or we say I came over for lunch and read those emails and we found we should tell them.”

“I don’t want you getting involved in this, Giorgio.”

“I’m involved already,” Giorgio said laughing. “I took time off after you left. I don’t need go back to the bar.”

Jonathan gave him a surprised look.

“I called a friend. He’s going to help Marco. Just a favor. Not a problem.” Giorgio smiled.

Jonathan returned the smile. Suddenly a thought crossed his mind.

“What time is it, Giorgio?”

“11:55.”

“God,” Jonathan jumped.

“You mean…” Giorgio started.

“Yes,” Jonathan said, heading to his computer already. “I have five minutes to reply before he will go out and murder someone.”

Giorgio followed him. Jonathan gazed at the screen.

“The Tower and The Emperor. A line of wisdom. I have no idea,” Jonathan said. He looked at the time display of the computer.

“The Dark Tower by Stephen King,” Giorgio suggested.

“What’s the wisdom in this line?” Jonathan asked, turning his eyes to Giorgio.

“I have no idea. Write ‘image rotated’ or something like he did in that previous email. Perhaps he’ll find something in it.”

Jonathan typed nervously.

‘The Dark Tower by Stephen the King.’

“Hopefully, he replies instead of going out,” Jonathan said in a low voice.

His heart was beating fast. Instinctively, he knew that his reply was not correct and that X would act immediately. He was right. An email came in three minutes later.


Dear Mr. Summers,

I’m not in the mood for joking. I add a card: XX Judgement (image rotated).

I’m sending you another email in a couple of hours.

X


“What does he mean?” Giorgio asked nervously.

“He is going to kill someone,” Jonathan said tiredly. “He won’t kill me. I’m the last one he’s going to murder.”

“So, who is he going to kill?” Giorgio asked. He sat down on a chair he had taken along from the kitchen.

“I have no idea,” Jonathan said. “Someone I know.”

“Someone working at Beryls Publishing Company?” Giorgio asked.

Jonathan shrugged.

Giorgio took the mouse and googled the card ‘Judgement’.

“An angel playing the trumpet and dead people ascending from their graves,” he said. “Does he think he is Jesus?”

“Godfather rather. Or the devil. Or all in one,” Jonathan said.

They gazed at the picture for quite some time.

“Image rotated,” Giorgio said. “What does he mean by that? It doesn’t make sense.”

“His mind is twisted,” Jonathan said drily.

A thought struck him like lightning.

“He’s announcing the dead of several people,” he said. “Look, they’re ascending from their graves because the angel called them. Rotate. Invert or whatever. Then you get: They are put to death. They are sentenced to death by X, the dark angel. He’s the emperor. A lightning will strike the tower. They fall and die.”

“A tower?” Giorgio asked puzzled. “Oh, no, you don’t think he’ll hijack a plane and…”

Giorgio fell silent. “I don’t think he has the power.”

“He told me he had the power,” Jonathan said. He gazed into the room.

“Why should he want to do that?” Giorgio asked. “I mean if he plans to set free those virulent viruses…Why undertake the efforts and crash a plane into a tower?”

“Don’t ask me why, Giorgio. He’s mad. He’s dangerous. He shows his might and power.”

“Do you really think you can stop him, Jonathan? Call the police before it is too late.”

“You’re right. It’s too dangerous a game. I mean, it’s not a game at all.”

“Yes, you have to…”

Jonathan’s phone rang. Jonathan grabbed it absent-mindedly. His face turned pale.

“Okay,” he said and put down the phone.

“My cousin Steven called. He was on the way to the airport to pick up Celia and Dave.”

Jonathan stopped and gazed at Giorgio. He had a terrified look in his eyes.

“What?” Giorgio asked, giving Jonathan a questioning look.

“My sister and her husband. They are supposed to arrive at 13:30 at the airport.”

“What happened?” Giorgio asked in a rough voice.

“They are evacuating the airport and cordoning off the area because of a bomb threat. Steven’s trying to find out what happened to Celia’s flight. I don’t think the plane has landed.”

Jonathan looked at his watch: 12:29.

“How did he know?” he asked, his voice breaking off.

Giorgio went into the kitchen. He came back with two cups of coffee.

“Calm,” he said. “Why do you think he plans to kill your sister and her husband? It’s 12:30.  They were supposed to arrive at 13:30. Plenty of time to redirect the plane to a different airport. I’m pretty sure there is no bomb.”

“Don’t forget. He announced the killing of several people.”

“I don’t think there’s a bomb. Why announce it? That’s stupid. No, that’s not his plan.”

Jonathan switched on his TV. It was on the news already. Jonathan leaned forward. Giorgio slowly sipped his coffee. So far, they had not found a bomb. The evacuation was almost completed. The airport was closed to incoming flights. All flights were redirected to other airports. They announced a hotline and the url of a website. Jonathan dialed the number. The line was busy.

Jonathan and Giorgio went to the computer and typed the url. Celia’s flight was redirected to John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York. Jonathan called his cousin Steven. Steven told him he would drop by in an hour or so.

“I don’t understand that crap,” Jonathan said angrily.

“I was thinking,” Giorgio said. “He told you he would call and announce the killing of people. I mean, that’s exactly what he did. The angel calls the people to ascend. X called the airport. That’s what they said in the news. They are after him now. If ever he wants to finish that game, he must play quickly.”

Jonathan nodded slowly. “How many cards are left?”

“Eight,” Giorgio said. “Twenty-two cards. Fourteen already dealt.”

“22 hours from now,” Jonathan said. “He planned to deal one card every hour. He started the game at 2 am. He planned to finish at midnight.”

“He changed the rules,” Giorgio said.

“He’s the ruler, the emperor, god or so. What time is it?”

“01:02 pm.”

“Eleven hours. Eight cards. What do you think, Giorgio?”

“You said he’s watching you. We better leave your apartment, Jonathan.”

Jonathan lowered his eyes. “I’m a fool. Why didn’t I leave earlier?” He paused. “What about the cops? What about Steven?”

Giorgio took a piece of paper and scribbled a few words. “Call them. Tell Steven to come to my apartment. And tell the police to call my number. That’s my address and number.”

“Geneva Street,” Jonathan read. “Just around the corner.” Jonathan smiled briefly.

“Yes,” Giorgio said, unaware of Jonathan’s nightly internet research.

Jonathan called Steven who was still driving back to the city. Luckily, Steven agreed without asking questions. He was a nice guy. Jonathan also called the police station and asked to forward his new address and number to Harper and Bailey. He put down the phone to avoid any further questions.

“Can we leave your apartment without X watching us?” Giorgio asked.

“We just have to close the door of the living room. Kitchen, bathroom and bedroom are on the other side.”

“No, closing the door would make him suspicious. You have not left your apartment for hours despite him watching. You have not called the police. Police was even here. You didn’t show them your emails. He thinks himself safe. He controls the game. Make him think he’s in control. I want him wasting his time watching your apartment with his telescope.”

“You’re not just some pizza boy, are you?” Jonathan said. “Sorry,” he said, blushing deeply.

Giorgio smirked. “No, I’m not. I’m just that guy who volunteered to work from six to twelve every evening for three weeks, waiting for you to enter that bar, which luckily you did every evening.” Giorgio laughed loudly.

“You can come to my bedroom,” Jonathan said.

Giorgio stopped laughing and leaned back in his chair. He looked at Jonathan in amazement.

“Wow. You’re quick. I’ve read your book. It was a bit sophisticated for my taste. You have another side, definitely.”

Jonathan blushed deeply. “No. I meant we could pretend going to my bedroom. X can watch us enter it. But there’s a door to the bathroom. He can’t spot it. There’s a door from the bathroom to the corridor.”

Giorgio smirked. “Sorry,” he said. “I was just thinking you…anyway. Good idea. We better get started. Your cousin will be back in the city soon.”

Jonathan nodded. “Okay. How do we start it?”

“I’ll get us another cup of coffee. Check your emails,” Giorgio said.

Jonathan looked at him slightly puzzled. He turned to the computer, however, when Giorgio rose and left the living room. X had not yet sent another email. Jonathan deleted a bunch of spam emails. Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder.

Jonathan turned his eyes slightly. Giorgio was standing next to him. His hand playfully moved from Jonathan’s shoulder to his neck and back. Jonathan looked at the screen in front of him. Giorgio bent down and kissed his cheek. Jonathan smelled his scent. His heart beat faster.

“Do you think this is a good start?” Giorgio purred into his ear.

Jonathan turned his head. Their eyes met. Giorgio smiled.

“I’m sure he’s watching us. I feel his eyes on my back,” Giorgio said.

Giorgio’s hand cupped the back of Jonathan’s neck and his lips touched Jonathan’s lips. Jonathan felt the tip of his tongue. Jonathan lifted his arm and subconsciously placed his hand on Giorgio’s hip. Giorgio pulled him closer. Jonathan’s mouth opened wider. Finally, Giorgio pulled Jonathan from his chair, and they stood in a tight embrace in front of the computer, kissing passionately.

“You still want me to come to your bedroom?” Giorgio asked in a low voice. His hand slid under Jonathan’s shirt.

“Yes,” Jonathan whispered. “But we don’t have the time to. We need to escape.”

Giorgio nodded. His arms still wrapped around Jonathan, he pushed him to the door. Giorgio kicked open the door of the bedroom. After a brief glance back through the corridor and to the window of the living room, he pushed Jonathan on the bed and lay down next to him, their heads towards the door, thus making sure that X was still able to watch them with his telescope.

“We have to lie close to the wall, and then creep from the bed and out of the door,” Jonathan said, his eyes fixed on Giorgio’s face.

“We better don’t hurry,” Giorgio whispered. “It might make him suspicious.”

He turned on his side. Again they embraced. After a couple of minutes, Jonathan rolled on his back, pulling Giorgio with him. Giorgio looked up briefly. He could still see part of the window of the living room. He turned back to kissing Jonathan.

“I really hate to stop this, but we better roll around now and get out of his sight,” Giorgio said after a couple of minutes.

They rolled around. Jonathan, now on top, unbuttoned his shirt.

“We should make this more authentic,” he said.

Giorgio watched him in apparent admiration.

“There’s a shirt in the bathroom. It should be dry by now,” Jonathan said, flinging his shirt into the room.

“Do you think X saw this?” he asked.

“I think so,” Giorgio said. His hand rested on Jonathan’s belly. Reluctantly, he pulled it away.

“Okay, let’s move now,” Giorgio said, smirking.

Carefully and with some difficulties they moved along the wall and down the bed and finally through the door into the bathroom.

They looked at each other awkwardly. Then Jonathan put on his washed shirt.

“I can’t take along anything,” he said.

“I’ll provide you with all you need,” Giorgio said with a smile.

Jonathan returned a brief smile. Three minutes later, they left the house, hurried down the street and quickly disappeared around the corner.



“What if he sent an email?” Jonathan asked when Giorgio unlocked his apartment.

“I’m pretty sure he’s at a loss now. The cops are after him. We’re out of sight. I don’t believe his talk of viruses is true. I guess we have two hours or so to find out who is our unknown enemy…Come in, Jonathan.”

Jonathan looked around. Giorgio’s apartment was small and there was quite a mess. Giorgio pointed at the couch. He placed his laptop on the table and opened it. They logged in to Jonathan’s account. No reply.

Giorgio leaned back on the couch.

“Okay, Jonathan. Let’s gather the facts. A person is chasing you. This person is X. X contacted you. He sent you several emails. He asked you to play a game, some kind of word game. He told you that if you lose the game, he will set free virulent viruses. Anything else?”

“Rose Baker called me and told me that she found James Cutterfield in the shower, dead. He was hanged. Police came and questioned me. They told me that someone attacked Rose Baker in her house and tried to suffocate her with a pillow.”

Giorgio nodded.

“The airport was evacuated because of a bomb threat.”

Jonathan jumped. “I need to call Celia. What time is it?”

“03:26 pm,” Giorgio said.

He handed his cell phone to Jonathan. Jonathan dialed a number.

“She’s fine,” Jonathan said, turning to Giorgio. “They’ll stay in a hotel for the night and will rent a car tomorrow. No flight.”

Jonathan smiled weakly. Again he dialed a number.

“I’m calling Rose.”

They spoke only briefly.

“She’s fine also. She’s not hurt. She’s just in a state of shock. She said the man was wearing gloves. They found one in the backyard, just beneath the window of her bedroom.”

Jonathan handed back the cell phone. He leaned back on the couch.

“Now that Rose mentioned it…I remember James told me that he rejected a poorly written novel. The title was ‘The Blood Glove’ or so. I don’t remember the author’s name. I must think about it.”

Jonathan thought for a while. Frustrated, he gave up.

“What are we going to do now? Perhaps he abandoned the game,” he finally said.

“I guess he’s sending an email when he finds out that we left your apartment. Perhaps we should check again,” Giorgio said tiredly.

They checked. No reply. They read the previous emails again.

Giorgio made coffee. For some time they sat on the couch, speculating.

“I’m wondering why he has not yet replied,” Jonathan said. “I mean, he could almost be sure we’d miss the next deadline…”

Jonathan swallowed.

“I mean, he thinks we’re in my bedroom. We’re not checking emails. He could send one and immediately go out and kill someone.”

“Perhaps his next target is out of reach. He must wait for some time. He cannot send an email. We’d have time to warn the person. He or she is out of town maybe. He’s waiting for him or her to come back,” Giorgio said thoughtfully.

“Steven,” Jonathan said and jumped from the couch. “Where the hell is Steven?”

“Who would know that he left for the airport?” Giorgio asked.

Jonathan paced the room.

“Who? His wife… no, not Angie. Why should she want to murder him?”

“Calm down,” Giorgio said, rising from the couch. “Why should she want to murder you, James Cutterfield and Rose Baker? Call Steven.”

Jonathan took the cell phone. Nobody answered it. He dialed Angie’s number. No response. Nervously, he checked his emails again.

There it was. X had sent another email. Jonathan opened it. Giorgio leaned forward.


Dear Mr. Summers,

I am very annoyed. I suppose you and your friend are having fun. You don’t take this game seriously. You’re making fun of me. I’ll wipe the smirk off your face, Mr. Summers. My patience is exhausted. I’ll take drastic measures. The next cards are Tarot Card XIV Temperance (image rotated), Tarot Card The Sun XIX and Tarot Card XIII Death. You have fifteen minutes exactly.

X

Jonathan looked at the time display. 04:03 pm.

“He’s going to kill a child,” Giorgio said, his voice trembling.

“Why?” Jonathan asked.

“Look at these cards,” Giorgio said, scrolling up and down a site. “A child on a horse under the sun. And the Grim Reaper, on a horse also. A dead child in broad daylight.”

Jonathan looked at Giorgio with widened eyes.

“Write a line,” Giorgio urged.

“I have no idea,” Jonathan shouted. He almost screamed. “Which child? I don’t know which child. Wait. Steven’s daughter?”

“What?” Giorgio asked, gazing at the screen.

“Steven’s daughter. Steven and Angie’s daughter! She’s three years old!”

“I’m just wondering…Temperance rotated…,” Giorgio said slowly.

“Listen, Giorgio, he’s going to kill Steven’s daughter. He abducted her. That’s why they don’t answer the phone. I don’t know of any other child I’m close to. What can I do? Tell me, what can I do?”

“I’m just wondering…What time is it?” Giorgio asked.

“Why? 04:17 pm.”

Jonathan slumped on the couch. “Too late anyway.” He started to laugh hysterically. “I killed Steven’s daughter.”

“Stop that crap,” Giorgio hissed.

Jonathan shot him a dark  look. Giorgio narrowed his eyes.

“Now, do you want me to help you or not?” Giorgio asked in a very calm voice.

“Sorry,” Jonathan said, turning his head away, unable to hide his tears any longer.

“It’s okay,” Giorgio said. He also sat down on the couch.

They sat quietly for a while. Jonathan closed his eyes. His mind was empty. Giorgio sat quietly, gazing into the room. He felt every single heartbeat.

They were waiting for another email or the ringing of the cell phone.

They both winced when the door bell rang.


Giorgio stiffly rose to his feet. Without looking to Jonathan, he walked to the door.

Jonathan closed his eyes and clenched his fists. Now he would have to face the police again and…

He jumped at a loud noise, like someone falling to the floor. Giorgio called out a name.

Jonathan rose and entered the corridor. Giorgio hastened past him. Jonathan saw someone lying on the floor. He turned and saw Giorgio grabbing his cell phone. He spoke rapidly, and then hurried back to the boy on the floor. He crouched beside him.

“Luigi, can you hear me?” he asked desperately.

Jonathan’s head was spinning. Like in trance, he watched what happened. The ambulance arrived. Four men crouched beside Luigi. They carried him away on a stretcher.

“Wait for me here, please, Jonathan,” Giorgio begged. His face was white as snow. Then the door fell shut behind him.

Jonathan wrapped his arms around himself. He felt cold as ice. His whole body trembled. With a vacant stare, he looked around.

Finally, Jonathan sat down on the couch. He looked at a shirt that was sprawled on the floor. He kept looking at it for almost an hour. Slowly, a thought crept into his mind. ‘Temperance rotated,’ a voice echoed repeatedly.

“No temperance,” Jonathan murmured. “Intemperance.” Luigi’s website came to his mind, and the picture in the center of the page. “He’s overweight,” Jonathan said in a flat voice, as if that explained what had happened.

Jonathan rose and checked his emails. He was not surprised to see that X had sent another one. Jonathan opened it.


Dear Mr. Summer,

rofl

X

P.S.  Please check back soon. The game’s not over yet.


Jonathan leaned back on the couch and looked at the screen until it turned black. Then he crossed his arms and gazed into the room.

Time went by and night fell. Jonathan kept sitting in the darkness. He didn’t notice that the door opened. Only when the light was switched in, he realized that Giorgio had stepped into the corridor. Jonathan turned his head slowly. He looked at Giorgio with widened eyes.

“Food intoxication,” Giorgio said tiredly. “They pumped his stomach. He was in a critical condition. But he’s over the worst. Mom and Dad are with him.”

Giorgio turned to the door of the bathroom. He looked back to Jonathan.

“Steven called. There was an accident. And then he took the wrong exit. I told him Celia was safe. He drove home. He’ll call you tomorrow.”

Jonathan nodded. He looked at the shirt on the floor.

Finally, Giorgio came back and sat down on the couch. He leaned against Jonathan.

“How did he find out about Luigi?” Giorgio asked in a tired voice.

“I’m so sorry,” Jonathan said.

Giorgio cuddled closer. Jonathan put an arm around him.

“They said it was food intoxication. Spoiled tuna salad. Luigi ate a huge amount of it. I’m sure they’ll find some poison. They’re waiting for the results of the blood tests.”

“Tuna salad?” Jonathan asked.

“Before he lost consciousness, he told me that he found a big bowl in front of the apartment door when he got home. He ate it all.”

“You think X placed it there?”

“Yes, Jonathan. Mom would never put a bowl of salad on the floor in front of the door. Luigi didn’t give it a thought. He just wolfed down the food.”

They pondered.

“Luigi felt sick almost at once. He came over here. Thank God I was here.”

Giorgio stretched.

“What time is it?” he asked.

“09:56 pm,” Jonathan said.

“Did he reply?”

“I checked a couple of hours ago. Crap again.”

Giorgio read the email.

“He’s a psychopath,” he said. “What is he waiting for? Two hours left. He has to hurry up.”

“How many cards are left?” Jonathan asked.

“Five,” Giorgio said after he had checked. “Perhaps he deals them all at 11:55, before he sets free those viruses. Yeah.” George clapped his hands. “The final countdown.”

He rose, paced the room, and then turned to Jonathan abruptly.

“Let’s leave town, Jonathan. Let’s stay in a motel. I don’t believe this ‘It’s the end of the world’ crap. He’s after you…and me. He knows where to find us.”

“I came to believe he’s having a grudge against Beryls Publishing Company. That rejected author maybe. But why should he want to kill you and Luigi?”

“I have no idea,” Giorgio said. He wiped his face. “Jonathan, I beg you, let’s leave and think it over again. And then call the police.”

Giorgio put on a jacket. Reluctantly, Jonathan rose. He closed Giorgio’s laptop and took it.
“We need to stay connected,” he said.



Giorgio drove the car. They left Boston. They drove south for about an hour, and then checked into a motel with Wi-Fi. Giorgio booted his laptop. It worked. Jonathan immediately logged in to his email account. No reply.

“He gave up,” he said.

“I don’t think so,” Giorgio said.

He sat down on a chair and looked around in the room briefly. The room was shabby and the air was stuffy.

“Time?” he asked.

“11:08,” Jonathan said.

“Not much time left,” Giorgio said drily.

“How did he find out about Luigi?” he asked.

“I can’t say,” Jonathan said. “He watched us with his telescope. He recognized you. He had seen you before. He knows your family. Coincidence maybe.”

“In this case, he must have changed his plans. He didn’t know that we were together. I didn’t know it myself,” Giorgio said.

“Are we?” Jonathan asked, glancing up.

They looked at each other awkwardly, and then smiled.

“Yes, he must have changed his plans,” Jonathan said in a low voice. “He found out about you and me. He decided to attack you also.”

“Who’s your enemy, Jonathan?” Giorgio asked. “I think that you are his target.”

Jonathan shook his head. “I have no idea, Giorgio.”

He checked his emails again.

X had sent another message.


Dear Mr. Summers,

You think you are very smart. You are not. I always thought so. Your novel is crap.

I have not abandoned the game. Only little time is left. Please check Tarot Card I The Magician (image rotated), Tarot Card 6 The Lovers and Tarot Card VII The Chariot.

You don’t have to send me a line of wisdom. You are not wise. You are not even smart. I was mostly disappointed when reading your lines. You did not even check your spelling. You’re a blockhead, Mr. Summers.

Please await my next email.

X


Jonathan read the email again. He bit his lip.
 
“Arrogant bastard,” he hissed. “What’s the hidden message this time?”

“No hidden message,” Giorgio said. “It’s quite simple, actually.”

He pointed at the screen. He had found an internet site. The page showed all Tarot cards.

“Look. A chariot leaving a town. Two lovers. And a black magician.” He paused. “Image rotated. Assuming the upright image shows a white magician, I mean,” he added.

Jonathan nodded slowly.

“It means he followed us. Where do you think he is?”

He turned his head to Giorgio.

“He sent an email. He’s using a laptop. He’s in the motel, I’d say. Next door, perhaps,” Giorgio said.

He stood and checked if the door was locked.

“I’m calling the guy at the reception and ask him who checked into the motel after we did,” Jonathan said, seizing the phone.

He tried several times. The line was busy.

“Shit,” Jonathan hissed. “What’s he doing?”

“Talking to his girl,” Giorgio said drily.

“Time?” Jonathan asked.

“11:43.”

“The final countdown,” Jonathan said.

“What do you think?” he asked. “Do you think he will break into the room and shoot us at midnight?”

“Some sort of this,” Giorgio said.

He rose and opened the window.

“How about we climb out and run and hide behind this truck over there?”

He turned back to Jonathan who nervously checked his emails.

“Jonathan?”

Jonathan looked up.

“Jonathan, come. He’s busy writing his last email. Let’s run. Now!”

“Yes,” Jonathan said.

He looked at his watch. 11:46.

Already rising to his feet, he checked his emails again. Jonathan gazed at the subject line of the email that had come in. He swallowed.

“Absolute Zero,” he said, his voice surprisingly calm.

“Open it, quick,” Giorgio said.


Dear Mr. Summers,

I apologize for any inconveniences you had. We’ll reach Absolute Zero in a couple of minutes. At midnight, the world stands still.

Your world, Mr. Summers. I suspect you have never believed in me being a virologist. In fact, I am not. I’ve just decided to destroy your life and kill you, because you are the root of evil. On a personal level, of course.

You won’t be surprised by the final card I’m sending: Tarot Card XXI The World (image rotated). Don’t speculate. It’s the end of your world. Your time has come.

X

P.S. Don’t hesitate to send me a final line of wisdom, if you wish. It’s not yet 00:00.


Jonathan looked at the time display. 11:51.

“Come, Jonathan,” Giorgio pushed him. He moved to the window.

“He made a mistake,” Jonathan murmured.

“What? Jonathan, I beg you.”

“He forgot one card.”

“Jonathan!”

Jonathan scrolled up and down the page with the Tarot cards that Giorgio had found previously.

Giorgio joined him. He placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Jonathan, quick,” he said in an urgent voice.

“Tarot card 0 The Fool,” Jonathan said triumphantly.

They looked at the image. It showed a young man with a rose in his hand.

Giorgio started to love hysterically.

“I know some lines of wisdom. Song lyrics, actually. I’ve listened to that song five hundred times or so. Since I fell in love at you at first sight.”

Jonathan turned his head and looked up. Giorgio smirked.

“Type. Quick.”

He dictated the words. Jonathan typed hastily.


You don't know me but I know who you are
Mind if I sit down
Do I look familiar if I don't well I should
I'm sure you've seen me around
I know you've probably heard my name
Though we've not been introduced
I'm the fool in love with the fool


“What do you think? Good prose. Got it?” Giorgio said.

“God,” Jonathan said. “Look what I’ve typed.”

You dont know me but i know who youare Mind if i sit dwn. Do I look familar if i dont well I shoud. Im sure you#ve seen me around i know youve probaby heard myname. Thouhg we#ve not beenintroduced. i'm the fool in love wiht thefool Whatdo you thinkgod rose Gotit?

Giorgio looked at the time display. 11:58.

“Send,” he commanded.

Jonathan clicked the send button. Giorgio dragged him from his chair and to the window. They climbed out and ran like hell.



At 00:30, they left their hiding behind the truck. Nothing had happened. The motel was quiet. They watched it until 2 am. Then they entered the motel.

The guy at the reception looked up and yawned. They told him that they had forgotten the key card in their room. The guy looked between them for a second or two. Then, unwillingly, he followed them to their room and opened it. He did not ask a single question.

Giorgio and Jonathan entered the room. The window was open and the laptop untouched. Apparently, nobody had entered the room.

Jonathan checked his emails. No reply.

Almost confused, they left the motel and checked into another one, thirty miles away.
“It doesn’t make sense at all,” Jonathan said, already half asleep.

“Let’s talk tomorrow,” Giorgio said. He cuddled against Jonathan. “The game is over, I think.”


***


Rose Baker was found dead in a motel the following day. She had hanged herself with a belt in the shower. Her laptop was running. An email was opened.

Police had contacted Jonathan in the afternoon. They had dialed Giorgio’s number. Giorgio had picked up the phone.

They had been interviewed both separately. They were dismissed at 8 pm. Jonathan’s lawyer told him to keep cool.

Jonathan phoned Celia and Steven. Then he sat down on the couch in his living room.

Jonathan waited for Giorgio to return from the hospital. He made coffee when Giorgio came back. Luigi was fine. His Mom was still with him.


***



Giorgio leaned back in his chair. He looked at Jonathan. They had just finished their pizza. It was a warm summer day in June. Three months had passed.

“So she waited for James Cutterfield in his apartment?” Giorgio asked.

“Apparently,” Jonathan said. “The investigations showed that James went home after we had parted in the street. The taxi driver drove him home. A neighbor saw him enter his apartment. Another woman had seen Rose Baker enter James’ apartment some time earlier.”

Jonathan leaned back also.

“She strangled him with the belt of a bathrobe, then dragged his body into the shower and arranged that hanged man scenario. She must have surprised him. He struggled in vain. Rose was a strong and stoutly built woman. And she was desperate.”

Jonathan stretched.

“She waited for an hour, then phoned the police and told them her story. She phoned me just to make sure I received the news. She phoned her sister. Her sister accompanied her to her house. Her sister heard the noise in Rose’s bedroom. She did not see the intruder, however. There was no fight. Rose hit her head against the wall to pretend she was beaten. The glove in the backyard belonged to her former husband.”

“You received emails all night long. How did she do that?” Giorgio asked.

“She used James’ laptop first, later the one in her bedroom. She sent me an email at 6 am. At 6:30 she called for help and her sister entered the room. She was taken to hospital.”

“She sent you several emails in the morning.”

“Yes, she resumed the game at about 9 am and sent several emails until about 12 am. She had been taken to hospital at about 7 am. They did a quick medical examination. They found she was not hurt seriously. They insisted she stayed in the hospital for a day or two. This didn’t disturb her plans.”

Jonathan rose and looked out of the window before he turned back to Giorgio.

“Rose had insisted on a single room with internet access. The hospital is a private clinic with very comfortable rooms. Rose got what she wanted. She used her cell phone to call the airport. They assume she used a towel to muffle her voice. She phoned American Airlines and told them that a bomb would detonate in short and destroy the tower. A delicate matter. Believe her or not? They decided to evacuate the airport.”

 Jonathan sat down again.

“She did it just to impress me. She knew Celia would return to Boston on the weekend. I had told her. But I had not told her that Celia had rebooked her flight. This was coincidence. Unfortunate coincidence. They did a second medical examination in the afternoon. She was in hospital. She was never watching us. She was just guessing. The bedroom thing we did was entirely in vain.”

“I don’t think so,” Giorgio said with a smirk.

Jonathan smiled.

“Well, I took your cell phone and phoned her. That’s how she got your number and found out about us. She googled your number like I did the previous night.”

“You googled my number?” Giorgio asked amused.

“Yes, well,” Jonathan said in embarrassment. “I found Luigi’s website. He mentioned his full name and his address. That’s how she found him. Luigi also wrote he liked tuna salad. Rose made up a plan.”

“Good he closed his site,” Giorgio said.

“Yes,” Jonathan said. He continued.

“She bought tuna salad and poured insecticide with an odorless and tasteless thallium compound on it. Rose rushed to your parents’ apartment. A neighbor told the police that a woman had asked for Luigi. Rose had told her she was his aunt. The woman innocently told Rose that Luigi would come back from school soon and that his parents were at work. Rose put the bowl in front of the door. At about 4 am she sent us an email. She used a computer in the internet café in Venice Street. She used the computer again after the ambulance had left.”

“Then she was waiting in front of my house,” Giorgio said.

“Yes, that’s why she had not replied earlier. She waited for you to come back. I guess she was unsure of how to go on.”

“She could have killed you while I was away.”

“That’s a mistake she made. She was fascinated by her own game. She had not dealt all the cards. And she was fascinated by her power. She killed James Cutterfield. They had evacuated the airport because of her call. She was sure she had killed Luigi. She planned to go on and finish the game at midnight. I’m speculating. But that’s what I’m thinking.”

Giorgio nodded.

“We left my apartment at once. She was still around and spotted us. She followed us.”

“Yes,” Jonathan said. “I think that at this point she actually had gone insane.”

“How did she plan to kill us? We were locked in our motel room.”

“She had taken a gas can into her room. She wanted to set fire to her room and thus force everybody to leave the motel.”

“And kill us on the way.”

“She had taken along a gun. I suppose she would have waited for us outside in the parking area.”

They looked at each other.

“Why, Jonathan?”

“She hated me and she made me responsible for having destroyed her life.”

“Why?”

“First, she hated my writing. She was my editor. They found emails she sent to James Cutterfield. She wanted to stop editing for me. She told him my book was crap and my grammar and spelling were horrible. James asked her to finish her job. She apparently thought that James favored me.”

“I don’t quite understand,” Giorgio said.

“James and Rose had dated. They had dinner together two or three times. Rose made it appear a secret love affair. James neither confirmed nor denied it. Rose had the keys to James’ apartment. She had mentioned it to a few people. So everybody thought they were a couple. But James had given the keys to her when he was on holidays in November. He had asked her to water the flowers and so. She never gave back the keys, and James must have forgotten about it.”

“That might explain why she hated James. But why did she want to kill you, Jonathan?”

“Well,” Jonathan said, “They found a word document on James’ computer. Kind of a diary.”

“Yes?” Giorgio asked.

 “He filled several pages. James wrote about his secret dreams. He wrote quite passionately. I’d rate the writing NC-17. Porn stuff.

Giorgio leaned forward.

“You were the man of his dreams. And Rose found out about it.”

“Exactly,” Jonathan replied.

“I’m about to snicker,” Giorgio said. “But it’s too grave a matter. Why did she give up her plan at the last minute and kill herself instead?”

“Do you remember the final message I sent her? I made a lot of typos. She marked them all red. All but one. One mistake she underlined and marked it yellow.”

“Which one?” Giorgio asked?

“You said ‘Good prose.’ I wrote ‘God Rose’. She must have thought that I had known all the time that she was playing god. She thought I had fooled her entirely.”

“The Fool,” Giorgio said. “Tarot Card 0.”

“The game was over at midnight,” Jonathan said.

Giorgio nodded.

“00:00. Absolute zero.”


THE END


© 2009 Dolores Esteban

Contact

First published at GA Gay Authors - Gay Quality Fiction