(If you’re late to the story, you can get caught up with Part One here… and stay tuned for Part Three!)
Who. Are. You.
As I looked around the room in search of the prankster responsible for this, my new friend reached into a seemingly bottomless pocket on the inside of his coat and surfaced with a folded manila envelope, neatly bound with a black elastic band. He pushed it into my hand, his previously warm expression replaced with a decidedly more serious one. “This belongs to you… maybe it will help. Go on, take it.”
I studied the handwriting on the envelope but nothing about it struck me as familiar, not that there was much written to make much sense of; just three capitalized letters in blue ink, FPM. I offered the package back to him. “I don’t understand. I think you have me confused with someone else, I’ve never seen this before in my life.” I placed the envelope on the bed between us and turned towards my cases. “I’ll just grab my things and be on my way. Sorry to have barged in here like this.”
A smile swept across his face as he dug into his cavernous pockets again, this time coming up with a slightly wrinkled pack of cigarettes. “You’re going to keep playing this out, aren’t you? Alright, you can go. But pass me your lighter first? I used my last match.”
I didn’t smoke, and never really saw whatever joy others found in it. My father smoked pack after pack, every day of his adult life until he passed away. I remember hugging him and thinking that he smelled like he was on fire, and could burst into flames at any minute. “A light? Sorry chum, but I don’t smoke. I’m not sure you’re supposed to smoke in here, either.” I pointed at the NO SMOKING sign by the door.
The man broke into a deep and throaty laugh, howling as if he’d just heard the most hilarious joke ever told. It took me by surprise. “You don’t smoke” he barely managed to get out, “and I can’t smoke in here? Well I’m glad to see your sense of humour is still intact.” He regained his composure, but continued to chuckle while taking in my bewilderment. “I haven’t had a laugh like that in ages… thanks for that, all of this has gotten far too tense. Now enough with this. Left pocket of your blazer, a small silver lighter. Pass it here, will you?”
My eyes didn’t leave his as I reached into my pocket. “I’m telling you friend, I don’t smoke so I wouldn’t have a lighter…”, and my voice trailed off as my hand came into contact with the small object in my pocket. The tips of my fingers felt as if they were being stung by bees as they ran along the object, my palm burned as I scooped it up and lifted it out of my pocket. The barrel of the lighter caught the dim light in the room and magnified it, gleaming and sparkling. The elegant engraved script along the side spelled out FPM.
“But, how did that get there?” As I stood there confused he reached forward and plucked it out of my hands. He lit his cigarette and took a deep inhale, letting the smoke slowly escape his lips and forming an opaque cloud between us. As the smoke cleared, I could see his expression had changed; serious, almost menacing. He was studying me.
He leaned toward me and stopped with his face inches from mine. “I gave that to you, had it engraved it myself. You honestly don’t remember?” I struggled to say something, anything at all. But nothing emerged. I just stared at him dumbfounded as my head pounded away. I really needed to lie down, just for a little while.
“Why am I here, Frank?”
“Frank? Honestly friend, you really have the wrong guy. There’s no Frank here. Did someone put you up to this or did we meet somewhere, at a bar maybe? I apologize, I haven’t been feeling quite myself the past few days. I’ve had a terrible headache, and been having a bit of trouble sleeping.” There was no response to what I just said, his face was like stone. His eyes searched mine for something, something I didn’t think I was capable of giving him. I looked down at my feet to escape his glare.
“You’re having trouble going to sleep or having trouble staying asleep? Nightmares?”
The question caught me off-guard. “Um, yes, I suppose.”
He nodded. “Vivid and altogether too real, am I right? It’s never the same one, is it?”
I wanted to ask how he knew, but found myself still struggling for words. He was right: troubling, disturbing images flashed through my mind in the darkness, always different, a steady torrent of horror the moment my head hit the pillow. The late nights at the bar, the handfuls of painkillers washed down by the midnight swigs of whiskey, all attempts to drown them out. But they didn’t help. Nothing did. By the time I had finally found some words, he had walked over to the window and was staring out at the parking lot.
“Why am I here, Frank? With you, in this place? Answer my question.”
“Look, I’d love to help but I honestly don’t know what this is about. And my name’s not Frank.” My head felt like it might explode.
“You asked for this room, didn’t you? 14C, main floor, near the exit? It was a very specific request. You could have taken any other room, but you asked for this one.”
“Did I? I, I really don’t remember.”
“Please, Frank. Try.”
I had no reason to offer. I didn’t even remember asking for a particular room, just a room. He stood with his back to me for what seemed like ages before he spoke again. “I hate this part too, Frank. I wish it were that simple, that we could just walk away and forget, leave it all behind. And I wish I could give that to you. You’ve earned it, God knows that.”
He turned to face me. “It took almost two months to find you, you know. I was sure you were gone for good. It’s kind of funny, when you think about it: me, coming to find you, of all people. The irony.”
The words find me sent a chill down my spine and echoed in my ears. “Are you with head office? There must be a mistake. I couldn’t have been gone that long, I would be much lower on supplies…” The pounding in my head had taken on an entirely new dimension; the pain was blinding and unyielding, as if something was intent on clawing its way out, disinterested in my consent.
He shook his head. “You really don’t remember yet, do you? Alright. Open the envelope, Frank. Maybe that will do the trick.”
“Please stop calling me that. I’m not-”
He raised his hand. “Just open the envelope. You really need to see what’s inside.”
(You can skip ahead to Part Three here)