Karl of the 3rd Floor
The Dining Hall
“You could join our table Mr. Magnusson,” Mrs. Remple said.
Jon was about to sit at his usual table by the window. Rudy Wernbacher was already seated and had invited Oddur Gunnerson to join them. Jon waved his hand at his tablemates.
“We have space,” Mrs. Remple added. “Now that Gladys and Mrs. Chin are gone. There’s just the two of us.”
Jon gave an apologetic shoulder shrug.
“I would sit with you,” Karl Homesman said as he jauntily came to the tables. “But us guys should stick together.”
“Are you joining Mr. Homesman?” Mrs. Remple asked.
Karl puffed his chest. “I’m one of you now. Just moved in. I’m in Mable Bleakhouse’s old room. Found some plastic flowers and lady slippers under the bed if you’d like them.”
Jon sat quickly in his seat by the window. “My gawd, you’re not planning to eat here are you?”
“Of course,” Karl said. “Why wouldn’t I eat with my new friends. Wouldn’t want to be anti-social.”
“We said it was okay,” Odd said.
Rudy shrugged compliance.
Mrs. Branbury was wheeled to the adjacent table. She sat alone with her attendant, who fed her light broth from a spoon bent sideways in the middle to accommodate feeding.
Karl tied a very long green bib around his neck to prevent spillage on his lab coat. His smile was wide, pleased to be joining the meal, officially. He leaned forward; his smile transformed to a mask of serious concern.
“There is something going on,” Karl said. “Fishy stuff; all these unexpected deaths are dubious. I’m investigating.”
Jon’s eyes that had been squinted in suspicion morphed quickly into surprise.
“I’m the one investigating,” Jon complained. “How can you investigate yourself?”
“Fishy,” Mrs. Remple said. “Yes, I think I’ll have that fish for dinner today. Are they serving fish? It’s Friday isn’t it?”
“No fish for me,” Mrs. Krantz pinched her nose. “Almost as bad as liver. Anyway, it’s Sunday.”
Too bland, was the common complaint. Mrs. Chin had smuggled in a bottle of Szechuan pepper sauce to compliment her meals and had shared a sprinkle of it once onto Mrs. Kyvonis’ boiled potato. Eyes watered and her nose leaked but she praised the added flavor and thanked Mrs. Chin, between coughs.
“It is so very interesting to look at people that have passed and see an image of them when they were young with their entire life ahead of them.,” Jon said, referring to the portrait of twenty-five year old Gladys Kyvonis. “Then that life is lived, the youngster grows into a very old person and is gone, right before your eyes. An entire lifetime spent in the blink of an eye. We have consciousness and sentience. Some say that nothing is more important than human life. But what does that really mean in the grand scheme of existence? If it is so important, why is it so short, why is life even terminal at all. And most of all, why do we even know we exist, if there is no point to knowing. No doubt philosophers have some speculation on this point, but in the end it is just their opinion. Sometimes I wish I had been born a frog or a gerbil, sometimes I wish I had never been born at all.” Jon surveyed the dining hall. “Where is the dinner?”
“Anyone who says that life matters less to animals than it does to us has not held an animal fighting for its life. The whole of the being of the animal is thrown into that fight, without reserve.” Karl arranged his dinner utensils into proper setting. Fork on the left, knife on the right.
Jon studied Karl’s face. ‘A veterinarian, he must have had some feeling about living things. How could he be killing people at The Lodge? That will all stop now that he has his own room.’
“It should have been like that for us, I mean for Snorri, at the end, when he could see that death was imminent,” Jon said. He turned to Mrs. Remple and Mrs. Krantz, imagining them dressed in ancient hand woven garments. Snorri’s women; Gudrun and Oddny.
“It is a sad sad day that we say goodbye to our Harriet, our Hallveig,” Jon said. He clasped his hands together on the table in front of him, closed his eyes and bowed his head, as if praying.
Karl gave a few small shakes of his head. “Who the hell is Hallveig?”
It was fish, even though it wasn’t Friday. Poached sole. Cooked so long it was more like fish mush than a fillet. The attendant took each plate from the serving cart and placed it in front of the diner apologetically.
“Thank you dear,” Mrs. Remple said. “I wish we had some of Mrs. Chin’s sauce.”
“I’m not eating that.” Mrs. Krantz said. “I want something that walked on four legs and had red blood. And I don’t mean a piece of liver or any other animal guts.”
“Might need a spoon to eat this,” Rudy said.
Karl looked around the table for a saltshaker. There wasn’t one on his or any table in the dining hall. No extra salt for anyone, without permission.
“Just look at what’s been going on. Old man Blount. Languishing for all these years then all of a sudden. Boom. Lipton too. Can’t blame you for that one,” Karl pointed at Jon. “You weren’t even here yet. Bleakhouse, can’t say I’m too sorry about that one and now old lady Kyvonis.”
“Gladys,” Jon said. “And you forgot Mrs. Chin. Not even a body.” Then Jon imagined poor Mrs. Chin ground up in the big meat grinder in the kitchen, rolled up into meatballs and served to them when they had spaghetti dinner. Or even worse, perhaps she had been boiled into pasty white 4 ounce portions and served as fish dinner. He pushed his plate away.
Karl bent over to smell his food. “Doesn’t smell like anything at all. I guess we might as well give it a try.”
“I’ve seen you skulking about. Wandering around, snooping, poking your head in here and there, when you should have been downstairs with those other ‘disturbed’ people.” Jon wouldn’t look Karl in the eye.
Karl put a scoop of fish into his mouth. It was not necessary to chew. He swallowed, pretending to enjoy his dinner.
“I told you, I’m investigating.”
“Somehow it seems you‘re investigating just at the time when someone else kicks the bucket,” Jon said.
Rudy and Odd looked at Karl for his response.
“Of course. When else would you investigate? Before someone cashes in?”
Jon pulled his plate back in front of himself. He tore the dinner roll in half, looked for butter, there was none so he scooped peas onto the white surface, closed the roll and took a bite of his pea sandwich.
“You should stay clear of things you don’t know about,” Jon said. “You’ll get yourself into needless trouble.”
“Who couldn’t use a bit of trouble,” Karl said. “Besides, it’s all just too fishy if you ask me. Somebody is doing these poor people in and I will get to the bottom of it.”
“What do you mean? I’m the one that will get to the bottom of things. What do you know about investigating and researching things? You’re just trying to throw people off the trail.”
“I know about dead things. I’ve dealt with hundreds of dead animals, figured out what killed them. But this case,” Karl waved his finger up and down, “this case will take some serious figuring. Why don’t you just help me investigate, instead of being a pain in the ass.”
Jon huffed. “Why don’t you help me instead? Or is there some reason you might not want to have the killer found.”
“Killer. My dear goodness,” Mrs. Remple said.
Odd Gunnerson devoured his fish dinner.
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