A weird day

Slowly releasing the handle behind him, Mike surveyed the empty pub. Okay, near-empty pub. Joe was there, of course. Else the door would have been locked. Almost just as given was Lonely Ed, sitting in the corner as always, nursing his pint of stout. Only every now and then taking a tiny sip.
Loosening his tie a bit and unbuttoning his collar, Mike walked to the bar and sat down. He shook his head when he saw Joe reach for a beer-glass.
“No, not tonight. Tonight I will have vodka.”
Only a hint of a frown fleeted across Joe’s brow as he hobbled towards the other end of the bar and poured a liberal dose. Looking Mike straight in the eye he placed the drink in front of him, finally raising an eyebrow in silent question.
Mike, not completely catching the innuendo, looked back with a steady gaze. The face before him was completely covered in wrinkles not made by an American sun. Mike knew the barman’s real name was Xenophilius, but as most people didn’t know that, and he owned “Joe’s Bar”, everybody just called him Joe. Mike stared down at his glass of spirits and sighed. Xenophilius was such a long name as well, and hard to pronounce. Mike rarely used it. Only when he was getting pissed, actually. Be it by drink, or by arguments. Realizing Joe was still waiting for an explanation, Mike looked up.
“Just a weird day, Joe. Just a freakin’ weird day.”
Well, Xenophilius could relate to that.

Normally, he loved his Mondays. The only day he allows himself to sleep in, after the busy weekend-nights. Then, after a quiet breakfast he would do some accounting, check on his stocks, and slowly open the bar for the usually quiet Monday evening.
But no, not this Monday. This Monday started with him waking up to the soothing screams of his telephone ringing next to his ear at 6 am. With a grunt he picked up the rude destroyer of sweet dreams and looked who it was, ready to ignore and call back later.
Seeing it was Hestia, he knew that ignoring was not an option, so he slid his finger over the pick-up symbol and lifted the phone to his ear.
“Yes?” he said and sat up, trying to clear his head from the memories of dreamy paradise he had just been so rudely pulled away from.
The space that was thus created was immediately filled by the waterfall-of-words pouring into his ear.
“I-know-it-is-really-early-over-there-and-you-know-I-normally-don’t-call-this-early-and-I-know-that-you-also-may-fear-that-there-is-something-wrong-with-me-but-I-am-okay-no-I-am-more-than-okay-I-am-perfectly-fine-but-I-just-couldn’t-wait-any-longer-so-here’s-the-thing; I said yes!”
“I said Ye-es!” his daughter said in a desperate sigh, as if it should be all too clear to him what she was talking about. But it wasn’t.
“Sorry dear, but you are not making any sense to this old man. I can hear that you are happy, but that is about all I understand from all of this. Why don’t you start at the beginning?” He leaned back against the headboard as he heard his little girl take a deep breath on the other end of the line.
“Okay dad, I’ll try to be calm. And I really am sorry that I woke you up. But I didn’t wanna call you while you were working, and then I also didn’t wanna call you while you were sleeping, but I just couldn’t wait any longer, and I was going crazy for needing to tell you.”
“Tell me what, dear?”
“Yeah yeah, I’m getting there. You wanted me to tell from the beginning, didn’t you? Okay, so you know Monday is my day off, right?”
“Of course I do. I’m not senile yet, little lady.”
“I know, daddy, I know. Anyway, this morning I woke up to the alarm buzzing. I was a bit annoyed that it woke me, but Dione sometimes works on Monday, so I figured she would turn it off. The alarm kept buzzing, though, and when I opened my eyes I saw I was the only one in bed.”
“So because you were buzzed out of bed early, you decided to do the same to me?” Xenophilius asked in jest.
“No dad. Be patient, will ya? I figured Dee would already be in the shower, and had forgotten to turn off the alarm, but when I reached over to do so myself, I noticed it was 10 am. Dee starts at 8.30. This made no sense. No sense at all. Just when I had decided to forget it and sleep a bit more, I heard a sound downstairs.”
“The cat?”
“No, Eros was purring on my pillow. And it was a weird sound. Vague, at first, but slowly getting louder and recognizable as music. So I got out of bed, put on a bathrobe, and went downstairs. And there she was.”
“Yes.” Hestia said, emotion filling her voice.
“Are you crying? Is she injured? Tell me, what was she doing there?”
“She was… She was…sitting there…flowers all around her…playing guitar….my guitar…which I didn’t know she could play…..singing our song….a banner over her head.”
“And what was on that banner dear. And don’t forget to breathe, you sound a bit…”
“It said: Will you marry me? I fell on my knees before her and said yes!” The last word was nearly shouted, followed by a happy sob, and then obvious crying of joy.
Dione had been living at his daughter’s house for over six years now, ever since Hestia had dared to tell her dad she was a lesbian. As if Xenophilius hadn’t known. He was old, not stupid.
“Well, it’s about time!” he said. Abruptly the crying stopped.
“What do you mean, it’s about time?” Hestia demanded, her voice almost angry.
“It’s just that I had been expecting this for a few years now. I even set aside money for it some time ago.”
“So you are gonna be there?” the joy back in her tone.
“Of course I am gonna be there. I might have to close the pub for a while, or something. But I’m not gonna miss the wedding of my only child just because it is on the other side of the world. Or against god’s plan, for that matter.” he concluded, the jest being an old one. “I love you, dear. And I am happy for you. Now let me get back to sleep, and we will talk things through tomorrow or so. If you mail me the date I can check for flights later today.”
“Oh, yeah dad. Sorry dad. Will do, dad. I will mail you everything right now, dad. Sleep well, dad. I love you too, dad.” And then she hung up.
Xenophilius tried to sleep again, then. But of course sleep, and the beautiful dreams with it, eluded him. Washed away by a torrent of thoughts and plans.

After tossing and turning till 8am, he finally gave up and decided this was not going to be his restful day anymore. He got up, took a shower, made breakfast and opened his mail. Besides the usual spam and nonsense, he only saw two mails of interest. One, of course, from Hestia. The other a reaction to his job-offering he posted on a website recently. Work before pleasure being his motto, he opened the latter first.
It was from a weird e-mail address, consisting mostly of numbers. The actual text seemed legit enough, though. But whilst reading it he got this nagging feeling he knew the sender somehow. He looked at the bottom to check for a name, and when he saw it, all became clear. Eduardo Cassillas. Lonely Ed, for his friends. If you can call Xenophilius and the regulars of Joe’s Bar friends.
Xenophilius would have to be really desperate before he hired Ed. He was hoping for some young woman to help him out. That is why he had placed the add on that chat-room. Not to get reactions from guys like Ed. No, Ed was not an option.
Having decided that, Xenophilius opened the mail from his daughter. He expected to read that the marriage would be at least 6 months away. Alas. It would be October 26th. And today was September 23rd. Reading on, he understood why it could be done with such short preparation-time.

It would be a mass gay-wedding in Alkazar park, opposite Achillius Cathedral, to celebrate Greece having legalized gay-marriage as of the end of August. While church had been strongly opposed, the government had tried to use it as pacifier towards the influential European countries, to get them to help with the crisis Greece was having. Show they were really trying to change, and all that.
Xenophilius looked at the clock and saw he had some time before he had to be at the bar. He opened the browser and started to look for tickets to Larissa for the end of next month. Within half an hour he had booked himself a seat, and for a reasonable price as well. Quite happy with himself he started to do some administration, hoping to get this day back on the normal track. He almost managed to do that, were it not that his mind kept mulling over the problem of his time away from the bar. He was still pondering different solutions when the evening was nearing its end and Mike ordered a vodka.

“A weird day, huh? Aren’t they all?”
“No, Joe.” Mike said, shaking his head “Not like this.”
“Didn’t you tell me yesterday you were gonna have the early shift today, Mike?”
“Yeah, I started at six in the morning.”
“But you are still in uniform, and it is nearly midnight.”
“A long weird day, yeah.” Mike replied, emphasis on ‘long’. He then downed his vodka in one go and held the glass out towards Xenophilius. “Pour me another one, and I will tell you the tale. You will read it in the paper tomorrow anyway, I guess.”
Xenophilius refilled the glass and placed it on the bar. He then grabbed a stool for himself, reached for his wine, and sat down opposite Mike. This was going to be a long one, he knew.
“It had been a calm and quiet night, so when I arrived at the station the holding-cell was empty. Carl was writing some reports as I walked in, his desk clean so he could leave as soon as possible. While dumping my coat over a chair I looked over his shoulder and saw it was a report I could finish for him, so I sent him to his bed.” Talking about his coat made Mike realize he was still wearing his, so he took it off and draped it over the stool next to him.

“I grabbed myself a double espresso and went to work. As long as the phone stayed quiet I would be able to finally catch up on our reports. I was nearing the end of the pile, and the clock was nearing 10 when the phone rang for the first time that morning.” He took a sip of his drink. “That call was the end of my peace and quiet.”
“Calls can do that, alright.”
“What do you mean, Joe?”
“Ah, never mind. Go on, who was it?”
“It was Pete, from the fire department. There had been a fire at the retirement home, and he thought there was something fishy about it all, so he needed me to go in first. He didn’t wanna disturb a possible crime-scene, he said.” Mike started to clean his fingernails while he kept on talking. “So I closed up shop and drove to the scene. The fire hadn’t been in the main building, but in one of the semi-bungalows. Ms. Bonsack’s, to be precise. As I got out of the car Pete told me what he knew so far, which wasn’t much. The fire had started in the living-room and had had an immense heat. Way hotter than it should have been. But by the time the firetruck arrived, it had already spread through the whole house. Somehow the fire was quickly under control, though. When I got there they were already dousing the last flames.”

Trying to drink Xenophilius noticed his glass was empty, as was Mike’s, and he decided to fill them again. He was a big fan of CSI, but this was even better. This was the real thing. Mike probably hadn’t even noticed his glass had been empty as he kept on talking without acknowledging the refill.
“As the building was still a bit too hot for my taste to start nosing around, I started with the witnesses. Weren’t many, of course. The service-bungalows are at the back of the grounds, and the elderly that live in the main building don’t usually leave it before well after noon.”
“Who had spotted the fire first?”
“Now see, Joe. That is why I always say you would make a fine assistant. You ask the logical questions. Pete had told me the fire was first seen by the gardener.”
“Suspect?” Xenophilius asked, almost eager for a crime.
“No. No crime yet, so no suspects either. Be patient, will ya?”
“People keep telling me that today. Okay, I will shut up.”
“Must be that Mediterranean blood. Anyway, the gardener didn’t know anything specific….” he continued.

While Mike spoke of his talks with the gardener, the firemen, and the manager of the retirement-home, Xenophilius listened intently. He always liked it when Mike had something big to tell. Offering ‘Uhuh’s’, ‘Yeah’s’ and ‘Oh’s’ at correct moments to keep the story coming, he slowly walked to the other side of the bar. Ed had silently come for a new pint, and as he accepted it he whispered.
“I could have tapped it myself, you know. You just had to nod.”
“Mkay. As long as it’s just the three of us, help yourself.”
“Will do.” Ed whispered, and walked back to his favorite haunt. Xenophilius grabbed a new bottle of wine and sat down near Mike once more.

“By now the house had cooled enough for me to enter, so I suited up to do so. Pete told me to be careful and to get out should I not trust the ceiling. As if I ever was reckless.”
“Pete just likes to be on the safe side, you know that.” Xenophilius offered as defense of the fire-chief.
“Yeah yeah, moving on. Inside it was a gory mess, as one might expect after a fire. What I didn’t expect, though, was two bodies.”
“Yeah. One was obviously Ms. Bonsack, her famous platinum spectacles still on her nose. The other one was easy to place as well. It was her grandson, Jake, in his hulking wheelchair. And that is where the mystery started.” Mike paused for extra drama, looking Xenophilius straight in the eye.
“What? Go on already.” He refilled Mike’s glass, who smiled and resumed.
“There was a huge tank on the back of the wheelchair. Now I know he had asthma and needed extra oxygen, but this tank was way over the maximum limit allowed. And when I looked closer I saw his regular tank was next to him in the seat.”
“Was it even an oxygen-tank?”
“Ahh. Again you ask the right question. But you will hear soon enough what was in the tank. First I will tell you what else I noticed. The bodies weren’t burnt enough to have died by that. And they were both sitting in their chairs, as if they had fallen asleep right there.”

Mike began to explain that the fire had been fierce, but short. Except for the couch in the far corner of the room and the bookcase, which had kept the firemen occupied for a while. Things had melted from the intense heat, but the wooden table had not been burnt. Ms. Bonsack even had some of her hair left. Singed to a crisp, but there nonetheless.
“Discussing all this with Pete and the coroner, who had arrived, the first conclusion was that they had either died by lack of oxygen or by some poisoning.”
“But who would wanna kill a granny and her grandson?” Xenophilius wondered out loud.
“Exactly! I was just as baffled as you are right now. Intent on solving this puzzle, I called Sam to tell him his shift started a little earlier today. The station had been unmanned for too long already. Then I went back in to see if I had missed anything.”

As Mike talked about how he searched each room for clues, Xenophilius saw Ed getting himself a new beer. Seeing his own glass was empty as well, he decided to take a soda. After all, he still had to call his daughter after closing tonight. All of a sudden Mike banged the bar with his fist, unintentionally making Xenophilius snap to full attention again.
“And then I saw it! Under the seat of the wheelchair. Some sort of timer connected to, what appeared to be, a dismantled lighter. They weren’t both killed. Oh no! Jake had committed suicide, and had taken her with him. I didn’t know the exact method yet, but somehow I just knew that was what had happened. And just as I went outside to tell Pete what I had found, I got the text.”
“What text?” Xenophilius asked, taking the bait.
“A text-message, on my private phone. Very few people have my private number. My parents, my doctor, my boss, you. This was an unknown sender, though.”
“But what did it say?”
Mike leaned forward and whispered in his most spooky voice: “It will all become clear when you are here.” He leaned back again. “And then a number.”
“A phone number?”
“No, or if so a very long one, and with a whole lot of dots in it. But whatever it was, I had a lead. Something to work with. So I told Pete he could reach me on my cell if he found something else, and went to the station. I had some calls to make, a puzzle to solve.” He looked at his vodka. “I would like that beer now, Joe.”
Xenophilius got up to tap the lager, but as he wanted to pick up the still full vodka to place the beer in it’s stead Mike shook his head.
“No, leave it. They make a perfect couple.“
“That they do.” Xenophilius agreed with a smile, thinking about the wedding next month.
“What got you smiling like a madman all of a sudden. No. Wait. Don’t explain. I need to finish before the cab gets here.” Mike always pre-ordered a cab when he knew he was going to drink alcohol.
“Go on then. I will explain my smile some other time.”

“Okay. So there I was, sitting at my desk, thinking things through. First thing I had done was call an old friend of mine who works at the NSA. I helped him survive high-school so he owed me something.”
“What’d you ask? Background check of Jake?”
“Nah, I knew enough about Jake for now. No, I asked him to trace the text that was sent to me.
While I waited for him to call me back, I made some other calls. I tried to reach Jake’s doctor, to check if he had seemed depressed lately, but her voice-mail told me she was at some convention and would be back on Wednesday. I was about to call Pete to check if he had learned anything new when the phone rang. My old friend had what I needed.”
“And? And?” Xenophilius, once more caught up in the story, hardly noticed Ed helping himself to another stout.
“The message was sent by…” Mike paused for dramatic effect again. “Jake!”
“But…but…but Jake was dead when you received that text. So…how?”
“Now that was the new mystery now, wasn’t it? But as the message said all would be clear when I got there, I grabbed my coat and went to Jake’s house.” Mike took a sip from his vodka, followed by a gulp from his beer.

“Driving there, I wondered if I should call for back-up. There could be traps, of course. But somehow I didn’t believe Jake to be that type of person.”
“I didn’t think he would commit suicide either, but he did that. Or didn’t he?” Xenophilius stroked his pointy chin with two fingers as he contemplated that thought.
“True. But still. I eventually decided not to call in reinforcements. I didn’t really see the benefit, and it would take too long. I was eager to get this mystery solved, after all.”
“Your puzzle-mania is gonna get you killed one day, Mike.” Xenophilius said with a smile. “You know that, don’t you?”
“Maybe so, but not today. Anyway, when I got to Jake’s house, I noticed nothing out of the ordinary. So I tried the door and found it unlocked. Safety first, I pulled my gun before I slowly and softly opened it. But there was, as I had expected, no one there.” Mike finished his beer, handed Xenophilius the glass, and checked his watch. “One more please, Joe. I’ll be right back.” He then got up and went to the toilet.

Sitting back down, he first drank long from his beer before continuing. “The room was immaculate. Not a speck of dust to be found, not a dirty plate on the table. No old news-papers or carelessly discarded old letters. This was one well-tended house.”
“I guess sitting in a wheelchair does make one think twice before throwing something on the ground, Mike.”
“Okay, but this was extreme. And the fact that there was no dust anywhere.”
“Erm, he did have asthma, Mike.”
“Yeah, eventually I came to that conclusion as well, but at the time I found it a bit spooky. The cleanest house of a dead man I ever saw. Even his bedroom was impeccable. As was his kitchenette. Only when I got to his office did I see any signs of someone actually having really lived there. A used coffee-mug, a big stack of papers on the left side of the desk. And a piece of paper over the keyboard, three words on it.” He leaned back and slowly emptied his vodka, placing the glass back upside down.
“Go on, stop teasing.”
Press any key” Mike said “So I did. The computer sprang to life, and there he was. Jake. Telling me he just had to do it, and that all would make sense if I studied the papers he had left for me. The last thing he said was that he had arranged for a mail to be sent to a journalist from the Gazette at the end of his message, so I could expect someone at the door in 20 minutes.”
“Ooh, sneaky git. Even dead he was still pulling the strings.”
“Yeah, he may have been a sick man, he was also smart, with his computer wizkidry. Ah well. I had twenty minutes to form a basic idea of what happened, so I grabbed the papers and started reading.”
“Did it help to puzzle the pieces together?”
“Well, the first document at least gave an insight into why he was suicidal. It was a report from the hospital.” Mike said sadly.
“His asthma had gotten worse?”
“I don’t think asthma can get worse, Joe. No, he was diagnosed with lung-cancer on top of it all.”
“Ooh, that is enough to make a clown depressed alright. Didn’t his mom die of lung-cancer?”
“Yeah, she did. But nothing justifies suicide, if you ask me. But okay, moving on. Next there were a couple of receipts for all the stuff he had needed for his plan. There were also some schematics he had made, and a lot of measurements. Slowly I began to get an idea of what he had done. And how.”
“But not why? I mean, we know why he committed suicide, but why take his grandma with him?”
“I’ll get there. Now let me tell the story or the cab will be here before I am done.”
“Pff, I will just make the driver a coffee and he can have that for free while you finish. Now, keep talking.”
“Okay, okay. What I figured out so far is this. Jake had gone to Ms. Bonsack early in the morning, as he did every Monday apparently. She wouldn’t smoke in the first hour after waking up, just so he could come and see her. But this time, she would never smoke a cigarette again.” Mike shook his head, both to emphasize the statement, and to clear it a bit. Maybe that last vodka hadn’t been that smart. “As Jake made the coffee for the both of them, he dropped sleeping-pills in the can.”
“That is why they sat so serenely in their chairs when you found them!” Xenophilius nearly shouted.
“Yeah, he had thought it all through, that much is clear. I guess that when he was beginning to feel the effects of the drug himself, he pushed a button, setting the rest of his plan in motion. From his drawings I know that it did three things. First, it started the timer for the lighter-mechanism under his seat. Then it sent a signal to his house, starting a countdown for the text to be sent to me. And third, it opened the valve of the big tank on his wheel-chair, slowly filling the room with carbon monoxide.”
“That is supposed to be a peaceful death. So why the lighter?”
“I think he wanted to create an explosion. Go out with a bang, so to say. His measurements pointed in that direction, anyway, but a drafty kitchen-window foiled his plan somewhat. The flame didn’t cause an explosion, but a flash-fire.”
“Well, I am happy about that for the sake of the other elderly. An explosion might have been a bit too much for some of those hearts. But I still don’t get why he killed his granny.”
“That’s because I haven’t told you about the last document in the stack. And before I could read that myself, I was surrounded up to my nostrils by journalists. That is why I’m still in uniform. I have been giving interviews for the better part of the afternoon, and most of the evening. It took a while before I could manage to slip into the station under the pretense of further investigation so I could read it.”
“No pretense, then.”
“Well, it kinda was further investigation, wasn’t it.?”
“Oh, that. Yeah, but try telling that to the news-hounds. Even so, I finally understood it all after reading the last piece of the puzzle. It was an article in a medical journal by one Dr. Virender Rehan and his team. Now, I have had some basic medical-training, but this was way beyond me. Luckily, there was an explanation-for-dummies at the end.”
“Use that for me as well please,” Xenophilius said with a grin. “I have had no medical training whatsoever.”
“Their research was about the effects of smoking. They had given nicotine to pregnant rats, and studied what kind of effects that had on their off-spring.”
“Oh, I see where this is going. Let me guess, the off-spring got asthma and lung-cancer?”
“You are on the right track, yes. Not lung-cancer, as far as I know, but the off-spring, both first and second generation, did get asthma. And next to that Jake had written ‘The bitch has to die’ in red.”
“So it was an act of revenge? He blamed her for his asthma?”
“I think he also blamed her for his mother’s death. And for all the suffering both he and his mother had to live with because of HER smoking.”

At that moment the door opened, the face of a man looked around the corner. “Anyone order a taxi? Ah, it’s you, Mike. I guessed so already. Well, I’m standing out front, if you’re ready.”
“Yeah, I will be right there, Saul.” Mike drained his beer, grabbed his coat, and headed for the door. “Goodnight, Joe. Goodnight, Ed.”
“Yeah, sleep well, Mike.” Xenophilius responded. Ed just waved his near-empty pint in greeting.
For a while after Mike had left, the only sound to be heard in the pub was the swish-swish of the ceiling-fan. Suddenly Ed began to laugh. Xenophilius looked at him, startled, and asked what had gotten into him.
“If I understand it correctly, in the end it was her smoking that killed Ms Bonsack after all.” Ed said, a sparkle in his eyes. Then they were both laughing.
Catching his breath, Xenophilius thought back to Ed’s mail that morning, and his calm demeanor over all. Maybe he wasn’t such a bad idea after all. “Hey Ed, what are you doing next month?”