lex parsimoniae – a short story in two parts

 

Part One

I

 walked into the Waffle House that Friday noon to meet my best friend Ryan for our usual weekly lunch. I had not spoken to him in about a week, when he had called to cancel that week’s lunch. He had sounded harried and nervous, but no warning bells went off in my head, I just supposed he was busy with work. He had become a stockbroker at one of the multiple minor brokerage houses that dotted the Nashville area back in 1993, and his job usually left him stressed.

Ryan and I had been friends since high school, and a fight had begun our friendship. He had been playing soccer goalie a bit too aggressively and had taken me down roughly as I approached for a close-in shot. I got up and pushed him away, cursing. He came right back at me, shoving his chest into mine, his shoulder length blond curly hair bouncing back and forth as a cacophony of curses and spittle flew from his mouth. His eyes were wild, his face frozen with a sneering, malevolent look.  He stood at least two inches taller than my five-foot-eleven height, and outweighed me by at least twenty pounds.

But something about him struck me as funny, and I began to smile, then laugh.

He stepped back and looked at me with incredulity, trying to figure out if I was bat-shit crazy or just certifiably insane, and then he began to laugh as well.

“What, that wasn’t scary?” He said, trying to look stern as he smiled.

“No, no, it’s not that. I’m sorry… You were intensely scary. It’s just, well… you reminded me of Bill Murray.” I replied, barely able to contain my laughter.

“Bill Murray the actor? In what freaking movie?” He now began to laugh along with me.

“No movie. I don’t know, you just… You just sounded like him” I said, extending my hand.

When he shook my hand then, little did we know that the friendship would last through the next fifteen years, through attending the same college, to being the best man at my wedding, to playing golf on Sundays, all the way to our weekly lunches. Our friendship had lasted till this day.

I saw him sitting at our usual table. He had grown a small paunch and lost most of his hair, and what he had left he kept close-cropped. His usual goofy smile was missing from his face. I joined him at the table and asked our waitress for a Coke. Ryan told her he wasn’t drinking or eating today. He never looked up at her; his eyes darted vigilantly from side to side, occasionally looking at the parking lot through the glass front.

“Ryan, what’s up buddy? You are acting really strange.” I looked around to see if I could tell what he was looking out for.

“Mike, I’ve got to talk to you. I don’t know who else I can trust.” His face was pale, and dark semi-circles framed his bottom eyelids.

“Sure. Is everything okay? Is Kathryn ok?” I asked, wondering if something had happened to a dear friend whom I’d introduced to Ryan a year ago. They had been going out steadily ever since.

“I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to her in a couple of weeks. Listen, Mike, I think my parents are trying to kill me. They are trying to poison me.”

I would have smiled, maybe even laughed, if he had not said this so seriously, true fear recognizable in his voice.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“They have been trying to poison me. They tried all weekend while we were away at the summer house. My drink, my food… everything.” Ryan’s voice had gone thin and high-pitched as he spoke. “And I found out some other things. I am really afraid that others are trying to kill me as well.”

“Ryan, please, you are not making any sense. Why would your parents try to poison you? Do you have any proof? Jesus, are you messing with me – Is this a prank?” I looked around again to see if I recognized anyone that might be in on it, but I knew he believed what he was saying and that this was no prank.

“I need you to focus on what I’m saying, Mike. I know they are trying to kill me. I have proof. And Kathryn is in on it.” He grabbed a rolled up newspaper as he spoke and placed it on the table. “I’ve intercepted their message.”

“Buddy, you are scaring me. Please act normally. You sound insane.” I said in a hushed tone, trying to get him to lower his voice. Other tables had begun to look this way and the waitress was not hiding her interest in our conversation, standing stock-still with a carafe of coffee, her eyes locked on us from behind the counter.

“Here. It’s all here. Read this.” He opened the Thursday’s copy of the New York Times and pointed to the editorial page. “Read this article. Tell me I’m crazy then”

I pulled the pages closer and began to read:

“The Lifting of the Veil”

By David Brunner

This year’s summer movie season has begun with the ultra-violent “The Lifting of the Veil”, the big-budget science fiction film directed by Mary Meredith. Like all such inconsequential summer films, this one contains gratuitous nudity and brain matter sprayed all over the place…

 

I stopped reading. I did not understand.

“I don’t understand what this has to do with anything, Ryan.” I said, looking up at him.

“Don’t you see?” He said, grabbing the paper and turning it to face him, “It is right there. The paper is in on it as well.” He tapped the paper firmly with his index finger several times.

“In on what? Ryan, are you nor feeling well? Have you been sick?”

“In… on… killing… me. Please pay attention!” This he said loudly enough that a few shushes were directed our way. “I have discovered a conspiracy by the Jewish owners of the New York Times, in complot with my family, and yes, even Kathryn to poison me. They want to shut me up. They want me dead. I spent all weekend trying to stay alive. It says it so right here. See? Kill Ryan - Over and over, every article.” He had strewn the paper onto the floor as he went from page to page. His face was now red, and spittle gathered on his bottom lip.

“I believe you Ryan, calm down, please.” I grabbed his arm as I spoke and he reacted violently, pulling his arm away, and throwing my Coke glass at me.

“Are you in on it too, Mike? Did they get to you too? You fucking bastard! How could you let them get to you?” He looked at me with eyes that reflected the level of betrayal he felt. He leaned down, never taking his eyes off me, and gathered the paper into his arms. He then walked out of the restaurant calmly, as if he had already forgotten what had happened.

I left a twenty and walked out. I had calls to make.