It's almost one in the morning when I enter the bar, my case of surgical tools against me and three grams of alcohol by liter in the blood.
Indeed, sadly, my schnapps bottle found itself empty before I could reach the alcoholic coma. Slightly reeling like a ship in the midst of a storm, I collapse on the counter then order with a slow voice a glass of whiskey.
Because for god's sake with the last 24 hours events I really do deserve some rest.
The barman seems a bit reluctant first to serve another glass to someone in the state I am in. But oddly, I barely have the time to utter a few words that he hurry to get me a glass. He must have liked my voice. Unconsciously I half-make a smile and he accelerate even more.
« Johnny... » I whisper when the glass arrive in front on me. Five years since I started living in his shadow, and even if each second I dreamed of running away as far as possible from him, his presence next to me became somehow customary. We slept at the hotel, he killed people, we hid the body, I redid his face when his portrait was diffused in the whole country and he threatened me of a slow and painful death every time something went wrong. This routine was very unpleasant, and yet it started to be a part of the normal course of events, and now it was broken I found myself helpless.
Things as simple as housing or food seemed insuperable to me. The murders and thefts Jonathan carried out may have been questionable in terms of the law but it was what allowed us – what allowed me – to eat and sleep. The bare idea of an honest life didn't cross my head. Not since I arrived in the United States and above all since I met Jonathan. Jonathan wasn't a... a complex person. You were with him or against him gifted or stupid someone to help or someone to eliminate (nevertheless there were just a few people in the first category and almost the entire world in the second one.)
Five years, years crossing every country in the world looking for a place where Jonathan didn't have a price on his head. Then a few weeks of peace, before the police traced back the « killer that looks like Boris Karloff », and before my partner choses between leaving the country or changing his face again. I always feared the moment where I had to operate Jonathan. I already evoked the binary side of his personality ; another aspect was that he wasn't very tolerant. When I misplaced my surgical case in a bar while the police was chasing us and that I had to fix his face as soon as possible, he made me pay. When I had been a bit too much ready-tongued while a police informer was standing behind us, he made me pay. When I rebuilt by mistake his face just like Karloff's he made me pay. A high price. During many days. Because there is a third thing you have to know about Jonathan, it's that, when he really wants to, he learns fast. Very fast.
As regards some of the most precises elements of the human body's resistance to pain, I think I was, against my will, a very good professor. If he finds me again... He doesn't really need a reason to make someone suffer. The bare idea that I didn't help him escape, or that the food was poor at the jail's canteen – he could kill me.
While my hand is still holding tight a glass I didn't even touch yet, my eyes linger unconsciously on the three first fingers, where badly healed wounds were still noticeable, bringing with them the memory of their pain.
Barely five seconds later the whole of my glass run into my throat and diffuse in my blood.
The glass is now empty in my hand and I feel I have a lot of trouble staying awake. I observe the few clients of the bar, my field of vision slightly blurred. There is a couple, at the back of the bar, actively talking around the remains of a meal. A dandy, more or less forty, is doing a little solitaire game with a satisfied look on his face. A kid of almost sixteen years old is sleeping somewhere holding an empty glass. And two or three hobos are sleeping their beer off on the bar.
None of them looks like a psychopath and sadistic murderer.
Maybe I'll enjoy my first peaceful night since... I can't even remember. A night without a recidivist killer with a butchered face in my hotel room... A night without the police siren interrupting my sleep... A night without asking myself what the hell I am doing here and without looking for a thousand ways to escape.
Behind the bar's pane three police cars turn up suddenly, their headlight turned on and their sirens screaming in the dark calm of the night.
I start on my chair, the alcohol dispelling almost entirely in my veins and giving way to sheer fear. They're coming for me. They finally realized the description matched. I need to leave this place, right now, but I can't, they're at the door. Johnny must have told them, no, he would never do that, so why are them in front of the bar door, they will come in, they will get me, they-
A few seconds later, the three police cars have passed in front of the bar without stopping and they make their way peacefully through Brooklyn.
At first incredulous, I finally manage to catch my breath. This night, they didn't come for me. But with the description of me they have, it won't be long before they locate me. I am starting to considerate the idea of butchering my own face. I have « succeeded » a countless numbers of operations on Jonathan, why would it be different on me ? I just have to work with a mirror and I can do it. I am already starting to draw up a plan of the new face I'll give to me when someone knock on my shoulder.
A pair of cobalt eyes are staring at me, half covered by tuft of brown hair. It is slightly graying at the temples but in a very elegant way. His face is shapely, slightly hollow but smooth and he strangely remind me someone I knew though I can't get my hand on it.
The dose of alcohol in my blood must be higher than the dose of blood itself.
It's the dandy I saw shortly before and that just finished his solitaire game. He's holding in his right hand a stained and crumpled card deck, and with his left hand he's still poking me with a huge smile. He orders another drink to the barman that brings it to me as fast as the first one.
He holds out his hand that I shake without really noticing it. He's talking, too or at least I think so. He gives me another drink but I can't raise my arms. My eyes are drawn by a little detail,a newspaper clipping sticking out from his jacket's pocket. It is folded so well that I am unable to read what's written on it – and anyway I am so much intoxicated that I could barely decipher a text plastered on my face. He gives me a small plastic package very light to touch and he closes my fingers on it. I don't understand anything anymore. My brain is working in slow motion. I sway once, and he holds me then I sway a second time and this time he doesn't hold me back.
He stares at me and he smiles.
The light is coming inside my shut eyelids as if it was an improperly closed window. It hurts. My eyes, first, and my shoulder too. And my head hurts so badly. Sort of all this light was weighting tons on my skull. I had some painful hangovers, the day after important surgeries or particularly impressive torture sessions. But I think I've never wanted so much to get back to sleep for as much time as possible.
Obviously, my neighbor to the right doesn't agree with it.
« Shh, let me sleep, Johnny » I whisper while ignoring the punches I earn on my right shoulder. My partner often awakes me in, let's say, a rather brutal way. I usually have the time to wake up before he starts using means of persuasion far more violent.
But today I feel a fist strike my cheek and send me to the ground in one movement.
My first thought is that the tiled floor is cold. And hard. It's not the carpet of the kind of motels Johnny usually chooses. I rise a tired eyes toward the ceiling and they meet bars. Bars at the windows... And it's not Johnny's way of punching either. This one is way more intuitive and also way more powerful. I rise my head painfully, blood running from the arch of my eyebrows.
The man that just sent me on the ground is a huge, huge guy. Far bigger than me. Far bigger than anyone. He clenches his fist slightly painted with blood, and goes to sit down on the bench seat I just freed by falling down. He's tall, he's terrifying, but worst of all : I don't know him.
I've never seen him in my whole life.
My heart starts beating faster. He's not alone in the room there are also two other guys, slim and patched-up, sitting silently on the bench seat – in fact it's just an horizontal metal plate stuck against the wall, barely allowing two adult men to sit down –, both of them looking downcast. The last day's memories are slowly coming down by pieces, like a giant puzzle. Jonathan in jail. The alcohol. The bar. The dandy. The kid. The alcohol. The police cars. The alcohol. The dandy. The alcohol and... blackout.
The three words « Jonathan in jail » dance in my head until I understand why.
I am in jail.
I stand up unsteadily, as fast as my little height and my hangover allow me. Bars at the window. Bars at the door. The huge guy. The metal bench seat. The tiled floor. Everything makes sense. Everything but... what happened between yesterday night and my arrival here. What if... What if Johnny was here ? What if he saw me ? I need to escape, now – but I just need to catch the bars and I understand it's impossible. I will stay here. But I must –
« Calm down, junky, » say one of the two skinnies in the corner with a drawling voice. « Panicking won't help you out of this place. »
My hands start shaking with the combined impact of pressure and fear. I need a drink. Now. For my nerves. I'm a very nervous person and I've always been one, but it didn't went better after five years with a sadistic psychopath as exclusive company.
Seeing my terrified look, the guy keeps going. « They brought you here last night with a good pack of coke in your pocket. Really, you mustn't be the clever type to stroll around with such a huge amount on hands. There was a guy with you, the type that looks very neat, very clean, without a single arrest, but with loads of troubles behind it. Beware if you meet him again, 't must be him that grassed you on. »
I barely listen his speech, obsessed by a single idea, that I manage to utter without stuttering to much : « I- I need to get out from here. »
The two guys look at each other and burst in an overwhelming laughter.
« So do we, buddy ! But it won't be any time soon. For coke traffic, you may rot here for a long time. You better start making friends. First of all, don't annoy Dan, he's not the amusing type."
He points out with his chin the guy that threw me on the ground and that now seems to be sleeping a light sleep.
"No... I really need to get out of here... Or he will... he..."
My hands twist against each other and my huge eyes look frenetically for any way out around me.
"You'd better get used to it, buddy. It's off to a bad start."
Just when I was about to do a nervous breakdown, I hear the guard's voice shouting : "Hey you ! The trafficker !"
I turn around without really knowing if it's a good idea or not.
"Someone out here wants to see you."
I freeze. My whole being screams that I shouldn't go there. I already see Jonathan's shrill eyes staring at me with that murderous gleam that shines every time he's about to–
But the guard is already opening the door and pushing me outside, because I'm so much paralyzed by fear and tiredness that I am unable to offer any resistance to him.
My eyes hesitate between closing as hard as I could so the reality would disappear too, or widening more than ever in order to look for a loophole. They don't have the time do decide that the guard is already dropping me on a chair at the visiting room, where someone, on the other side of the railings, is waiting for me.
I look at him with terror.
It's the dandy from last night.
"Dr. Einstein" he says by showing a shining smile and putting back black flyaway locks behind his ears.
I've never been that parted between anxiety and relief of all my life.
"You shall excuse me for what happened last night. The drug, the drink, the jail... I hope you don't hold it against me."
"Who-who-who-who are you ? What do you want from me ?" I stammer.
"Don't be too impatient, dear doctor. The best is yet to come. We well see each other tonight at the bar you were in yesterday. I'll wait for you somewhere around midnight. Agree ?"
I barely have the time to explain him that going out in the present conditions may be a bit complicated that he's already gone and the guard is already taking me back to my cell.
The wait until dawn may probably be the longest of my life. I spend all day huddled up in a corner of the cell, waiting, thinking, trying to make the link between that mysterious man, Johnny's recent arrest, my headache stronger than ever and my presence in jail. There isn't any. Any that my exhausted brain could find, anyway. The three other members of my cell watch me whispering evaporated reasonings, staring into the distance. I can't really recall what language I spoke. Maybe the German of my childhood, or the Polish I studied in Heidelburg, or any of the other languages I learned during my youth all over Europe. I can only tell it wasn't English.
The only indications that allow me to measure time are the guard's talks and their comments about the meals. I realize it's past 3 P.M when they bring us a half-empty kit and I notice how hungry I am ; a couple of centuries later, I understand it's almost 8 P.M when our two guards go to look for some snack at the jail's stewardship. It looks like the two skinnies in the corner can't bear hunger as well as I do. After twenty years wandering on the Eastern roads, once I got my Heidelburg diploma, I had enough time to accustom my stomach to very limited quantities. Indeed no quantities at all.
That's partly for that reason that I emigrated to United States seven years ago... And also because a mustached dictator jeopardized my security. I didn't have any family. Not to my recollection. I don't remember ever having a father, and I didn't saw my mother since I left for Heidelburg with the few pocket money I earned as a notary in my home town. As for my brothers and sisters... I couldn't even recall the correct number.
Of course, all of the plans I had for my future were quite compromised when I first met Jonathan Brewster.
As I didn't have a watch, I couldn't calculate the exact hour ; but it's more or less thirty past eight when the guard opens the cell's door and summons me again. This time with a way softer voice. Almost respectful. I stand up, driven frantic by tiredness and unsuccessful thoughts ; he guides me with some sort of kindness to the visiting room, for the second time of the day.
Expect that this this time no mannered dandy waits for me outside.
The guard simply opens the door and say with a neutral voice "You're free, Mr. Hodgkins. Forgive us for this miscarriage of justice, it won't happen again."
I rise a finger in an attempt to shed light on the current situation, but before I could ask any question, the jail's door closes right behind me.
I'm now free, a few dollars to my name, without any alcohol bottle I could get my hands on, and more lost than ever.