Short Story: The Quelle Text (an excerpt)

Abstract. LJ Frank. Artist

(c) by L J Frank

 Quelle: The German for source, spring, well, fount, headwaters, fountainhead, origin.

Chapter One

The chill of an autumn’s breath arrived in the early morning hours. A yellowing leaf from a tree overlooking a solitary figure on a park bench, trembled. The hue of mortality, muted on occasion, is always personal. And the truth may betray us when the perception of what is real vanishes.

The distinguished older man with blue grey eyes and a troubled expression etched in the lines of his jaw sat on the bench under the scattered shade in Central Park, New York City. He may have been reflecting on what to write while gazing at a distant building when he looked down at the cellular phone he held in his hand. He began pressing the keys with his index finger. A shadow appeared from behind him as he began typing the last text message he would ever send. As he finished typing a drop of saliva was suspended from his lower lip. He tried wiping it a way. His cellular phone dropped to the ground as a wind caused a tree branch to creak.

A woman who was approaching him from behind wearing a leather trench coat, blue jeans and black suede high heels placed her hand on his shoulder, slowly leaned over, gazed at his now drooping countenance and felt his pulse. She stood up and looked towards the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the distance. “Perhaps?” She murmured and then departed. As she walked away distancing herself from the old man, her eyes watered. She shook her head and called the police and then disappeared into the city. 

An early forties looking detective with thinning hair and brooding eyes, who I met the next day, noted the dead man was perhaps in his late forties or mid-fifties, had thick, messy grey hair and wore expensive looking cordovan cap toe boots and a grey wool blend suit with an open button-down collar blue shirt underneath. “He didn’t look homeless…except there was no wallet, no papers. No identification on the man. He seemed different in an odd sort of way. He couldn’t put his finger on it.  He noted that the cellular phone of the man’s was a dated Blackberry cellular model and displayed only one message. All other names and messages if listed, were deleted. There was little evidence the man ever existed except for his body and the message. A baby who perhaps was once cradled in his mother’s arms he now was just another older man who died alone in the city.

***

The sign on the interstate read – Detour. Driving north exiting and entering I-81, I would cut over to New York City. I was to meet the distinguished gentleman who lived in Manhattan about a writing project. I was listening to some forgettable music on the radio and thinking about the project while driving. We had spoken with each other for what seemed like endless hours exchanging our thoughts. I wondered in the back of my mind if the meeting might be connected the previous potential book I was to collaborate on in the city. I had spoken with the other person for over an hour on the phone. The story seemed riddled with glitches. My initial research suggested to step back. I did. I moved on to the next project which in this case was with the Manhattan gentleman. We connected weeks ago through a third party. Everyday either through text message or telephone call for clarification and through email we communicated about what he identified as the mystery surrounding an ancient writing, he called the Quelle Text.  From a theological standpoint the word quelle is German for source and according to some authorities may have been the actual source to the Christian Gospels. However, the text he in which he was referring was more enigmatic and complicated. 

Low hanging grey clouds in the western sky caught my sight. The city was still a couple of hours away given the volume of traffic. I anticipated the swift moving rain clouds would arrive in the city before I crossed the Hudson River. According to my android phone navigator there was a coffeeshop at the next exit. I exited the interstate and within five minutes found the coffee shop, parked, walked in, and ordered a cup of black coffee with a drop of cream. I looked at my phone. There were nine messages.

Click. The first three messages were sales pitches for whatever. Delete.

Click. Message four was from a former colleague now living on the east coast outside the District of Columbia. “Just checking in. Are you still alive? If you answer I’ll know one way or the other. Good luck.”

I text back. “Since I’m replying to you. I am. Good to hear from you. More later.”

Click. Message five. The name and number were unavailable. Delete.

I took a sip of the coffee filling the thick white paper cup with its cardboard sleeve. 

Click. Message six. It was an appointment reminder from another colleague. “Let’s get together when you’re in town. Miss our conversations.”

Click. Message seven. A politician was asking me for his vote. Delete.

Click. Message eight. A fundraiser. What money? Delete.

Click. Message nine. “Ghost: The Quelle Text. Remember 323,949. Manhattan Gentleman.”

I called him. It kept ringing. Finally, a deep baritone voice.  “Who is this?” It didn’t sound like Liev who had a higher pitched tenor voice. 

“The Ghost.”

“Ah. You’ve reached the Central Park Precinct…. it’s him,” he said to someone nearby…” your friend is dead.”

“What?”

“We found him a short time ago. His phone had one listing. The Ghost. I assume it’s you.”

“Yeah.” 

 “Stop by when you get a chance. We’re at 86th Street and Traverse Road. It’s known by local historians as the home of the old horse stable.” His baritone voice crackled and betrayed the ambiguity of his pride.

“Thanks. I’ll be there in the morning.”

“See you then…Ghost.” The detective coughed.

“Jesus,” I mumbled to myself after hanging up.

I arrived at my hotel destination a block or so from Central Park. The following morning, I spoke with the detective who reviewed the case. 

“We had about a half-dozen or so deaths yesterday in and around Central Park, this one was the most curious, the man was so well-dressed with no identification, save that cryptic message to you.” The detective stopped and scratched his beardless chin. “He was stylishly dressed for a man without an identity. Usually, we find the absence of any papers among the homeless. If it was a homicide or suicide, we’d expect it to be in a subway rather than the park or even the river.  An autopsy will be performed if it already hasn’t been. You can check back tomorrow or the day after.” He paused then asked, “You wouldn’t happen to know his name?”

I hesitated. “If it’s the right man I knew him as Liev Buchmann. He was a very private man.”

“Well, if it wasn’t the right man would he have sent a text to the Ghost? Unless?”

“I’m a Ghostwriter. And experience suggests I be patient with my clients.”

 “Hm. If you have the time, patience works for you. Also, I assume you don’t know where he lived?”

“I’m sorry. I’ll make some calls. May I see his body?”

“Of course.” The detective appeared to have a frown engraved on his face. “Since you were apparently the last person in communication with and….” He hesitated and then nodded. “You wouldn’t care to enlighten us?”

“About? I don’t know. My profession has an enigmatic quality about it. I never have any details until the last moment…until I meet a client and he or she tells me the whole story. Again, my apologies.”

“Ah, Ghost.” He smirked. “Yeah, okay.”

I half-smiled and departed. Within the hour I was viewing my client or so I thought. The coroner’s assistant drew back the sheet to uncover the man’s face. I found it striking in an odd sort of way. His nose was distinguished and angular. His face possessed a striking cast, with thickish brows and a long face. He reminded me of a photograph I’d seen of a 1920’s business tycoon. Something felt wrong. The voice I’d been listening to on the phone and the face didn’t match. He had sent me his physical description so that I’d recognize him. He really didn’t like sending his photos through emails, and or text. I felt uncomfortable. Experience suggested that a mismatch between voice and self-description is not uncommon. 

“When he first arrived here his eyes were still open. The look in his eyes. It was unnerving.” The coroner’s assistant said with an edgy tone to his voice.

“What do you mean?”

“He had a stare that looked more alive than dead as if he was searching for something on the horizon. The Coroner and I call it the one-mile stare. It was as if his mind was still alive. Chilling…and I’ve done a lot of autopsies, a few people have that look as if they were somewhere between being alive and fully dead.” His voice trailed off.

I wanted to say that I thought all autopsies would be a bit chilling. I remained quiet. My mind instead asked. “What is human existence?” The question is ancient. Almost pragmatically dull but philosophically necessary. Is it an ephemeral struggle of the brief transitory light offered a human between the eternity of the darkness prior to birth and the darkness after death? I asked these questions because the Liev and I spoke about the meaning of Quelle. The very word struck an inner chord of curiosity. It excited my mind. He knew it would. That’s one of several reasons he sought me. Still, I didn’t know what I might be looking for. 

Looking down at the face attached to a body lying on the coroner’s table seemed so irreligious and sterile. As my gaze was fixed on his face, I realized it retained a vague familiarity like a picture one might see in an old magazine from the distant past. Was it really Liev? I wondered what would happen to his body…burial, that sort of thing. There was a backlog and he’d be there for hours or possibly days. Only the coroner knew for sure. I felt a kinship to Liev if indeed it was him. Why was I skeptical? Odd in that it was over a short period of time. What should I expect? Could it be someone else? But who?