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Eric Bar entered his kitchen at seven o’clock precisely.
He liked everything to go as planned.
He liked to be logical.
He liked to wake up at six thirty sharp, to lie in bed for ten minutes exactly, and then to shower for another neat ten minutes. Afterwards he would spend another ten minutes brushing his teeth and shaving his wisp of a beard and putting on his gray slacks and gray shirt and gray tie for the day. When he was all finished, he would enter his kitchen just as his large grandfather clock chimed seven.
This morning everything went perfectly.
His oatmeal cooked in two and a half minutes. His tea boiled in one, and he set the table in another minute. While he ate his oatmeal with one teaspoon of brown sugar mixed in, taking five minutes exactly, his toast toasted, and he ate it in another two minutes. He made his way downstairs in three minutes, and entered the lobby at seven fifteen sharp. He gave his customary good morning to the doorman, and left the building, his safe haven of order, and entered the world, pulling on his jacket as he walked out of the doors.
His day passed as ordinary. The average number of calls came in exactly. He was sent four emails throughout the course of the day, which was the expected number, and filed all the paperwork he was handed. All of his figures turned out their estimated numbers, and his boss gave him a pat on the back as he left.
“Good work today, Mr. Bar,” he said, and Eric’s face cracked a rare smile, an uncontrolled twitch of the lips, his nostrils flaring just slightly, and he walked out of the office with a spring in his step—but of course no more quickly than usual.
It was Wednesday when things first began going wrong.
Eric liked Wednesdays. He felt invincible on Wednesdays: it was the middle of the week, he had two perfect days behind him and two ahead, the dreaded weekend with all of its possibilities was a distant memory; his work surrounding him like an impenetrable wall, comforting and unmoving.
He woke up at six thirty-one. He must have pressed the minute button one time too many while setting his alarm last night, he consoled himself. It would be alright, he told himself. He would have a nine minute shower and right the damage. He would shampoo a little more quickly than usual. It would all be alright.
His toast burned.
He must have set the toaster on the wrong setting, but it was alright, he didn’t need his toast this morning. Of course there was no time to make any more, but no matter. He didn’t need toast this morning, he told himself again.
The doorman was absent, a young, bearded man in his place. Eric hated men with beards. It was unclean. Unprofessional. Inefficient.
When he said good morning, a slight cold edge to his words, the doorman tipped his cap and opened the door. “You too, old man,” he said.
The usual doorman always said thank you, and left it at that.
Eric was seething on his way to the train station.
The train was late.
By the time he got to work, he was ready for the weekend—he would be disrupting his Circadian rhythm, he knew, but he was already planning on sleeping an hour extra on Saturday. To actually be eager for the weekend was an alien feeling for him, and it made his stomach ache.
“How is everything today?” his coworker, Neal, asked him during the lunch break.
“Late,” was the brittle reply.
“Some things you just can’t control,” Neal said lazily, flicking his napkin into the garbage can.
Eric had no reply. He was eating his lunch as fast as he could, hands shaking as he struggled to make up for the lost time.
“Are you sure everything is okay?” Neal asked again.
“I have said already that it is not. Please leave me alone,” Eric snapped.
“Touchy, touchy,” Neal muttered under his breath. Eric bristled. He hated when people spoke under their breath. If you wanted to communicate something, he thought, you should say it outright, in as even a tone as you could muster, in order to best make your point.
The week became worse and worse as the days passed. Eric’s toothbrush broke that evening, and the bottom of his kettle burned on Thursday. On Friday, the train was half an hour late, he received too many phone calls and too few emails, and none of his figures came out as estimated. Neal kept asking him how he was, and his boss did not seem to notice him at all. The only thing that had improved at all was the return of the regular doorman. But by Friday evening, Eric was at his breaking point.
He got off the train, which had been late again, and made his way back to his apartment building with sweaty hands and a rapidly beating heart.
When he saw the smoke, he nearly fainted.
Firefighters ran past him clenching hoses and pushing people out of the way. Sirens wailed and the family on the fifth floor, the Walshes, stumbled out of the doors of the apartment building, coughing and holding towels up to their faces, surrounded by firemen.
Another resident, a Mrs. Portman, ran up to them to ask what was going on. “The stove lit on fire,” Mrs. Walsh choked out.
“It was an accident,” Mr. Walsh said. “Martha was cooking dinner as usual, and Leo came running in with his toy horse and tripped and fell and the horse went right onto the stove—it’s a gas stove, you know…” He paused a moment, coughing. “The stove went right up in flames! We’re lucky we weren’t hurt.”
“My god!” Mrs. Portman exclaimed. “You are! I’m glad the smoke detectors here are on the grid. I didn’t know to get out until I heard them wailing, and I didn’t even think to call the fire department.”
“That’s right,” Mrs. Walsh said distractedly, gathering her children next to her. “Look, the smoke is stopping. I think they’ve put the fire out now. Thank you,” she added to a firefighter who had handed her and her family water bottles.
Eric turned away, his mind still turning over what he had heard.
Wednesday, October 8.
Leo Walsh, an eight-year-old schoolboy, vanished on the way to the school bus Monday morning. He was found, shot cleanly in the heart, in a river in north Marchhill this morning. Murderer still not found. No leads so far. Please call this number if you have any information that may be relevant to police investigations.