Thanks for waiting 25 years

From a story I started back in 2011 called “Hank Patrick is Dead, Long Live Hank Patrick” – more on that here.

When he woke Marcus was most assuredly still drunk, but his mindset more closely resembled a sober man; he was focused and engaged.  He performed a normal ritual of forcing himself to throw up and then showering and brushing his teeth to remove the first layer of foul smell that was emanating from his body.  It was a good ritual that besides the obvious symbolism of washing away the sins of the prior evening’s activities also provided a mental boost.  He planned to spend one more night at the hotel, though tonight he would be completely sober in an attempt to shock himself back into his usual life.

He didn’t bother reflecting on the events of the previous night because he didn’t remember them all too well and besides the whole point of this exercise was to forget everything.  It was blissful for him to loose almost two entire days worth of memories and feelings into the ether of alcohol and it was the main reason he continued with this activity.  He suspected deep down that his wife might know what he was up to when he said he was leaving on a business trip over a weekend every second month, but she had never said anything.  

His more depressive thoughts would take their time resurfacing so for now he was able to appreciate the smaller aspects of a horrendous hangover, such as watching Saturday morning cartoons and laughing at things he wouldn’t normally find amusing.  The morning ritual had granted him a short reprieve from the inevitable feeling that follows the consumption of an entire bottle of whiskey on ones lonesome, but that reprieve was coming to an end quickly.  He moved to the bed and placed a couple of pillows parallel to the headboard so he could lie down in a partially upright position.  As he assumed his position the alcohol began seeping out of his pores again and his stomach churned in displeasure.  Hangovers are no man’s friend and Marcus knew this full well, but he was always slightly surprised at how hard they hit him in waves.  Soon after lying down he knew that he would begin to feel better, but for these moments it was agony.

It was unclear to Marcus what day it was as he had passed out again, but it was in fact the same day as he had only been out for half an hour.  He was roused by a loud noise on the TV; it was a car blowing up or a sudden scream but he couldn’t discern which.  Quickly he reached for the remote and shut off the TV and then stared at the greyish black screen for a few minutes thinking of absolutely nothing.  The conversation with Hank Patrick from the previous night flashed back into his mind.  He felt that it was curious that a person would strike up a normal conversation with someone in his state but he put the conversation out of his mind believing he would never see the man again and forgetting that he had his business card.

Half sitting, half lying in the bed he thought about his next move in the day.  There was a growing urge within him to go to the toilet, but he was reserved not to succumb to that urge until there was no choice because the feeling of calm would dissipate if he moved and it was far too enjoyable to relinquish.  The need to eat was stirring within him and it slowly moved throughout his conscious thought dominating it like an invading army.  He still wasn’t sure what time it was, but as he hadn’t eaten anything since he woke he craved breakfast.  Still, he would be forced to face the same roadblock of lifting himself out of bed if he wanted food so he waited for the urges to reach their pinnacle.

The memory of the conversation with Hank Patrick poked its way back into Marcus’ mind for a moment before fading.  He couldn’t remember why he had been talking to this stranger or rather why the stranger had taken an interest in him, but the memory of the conversation prompted him to sift through his wallet.  Amongst the old receipts, room keys, and family photos was the business card Hank Patrick had handed him last night.  He turned the card over in his hands observing and questioning its simplicity.  

“Did the phone just ring?” he thought to himself.  No, it hadn’t, but his inner belief that this mystery man might present some new type of opportunity had tricked him into thinking it had.  Eventually he would realize that he was supposed to call Hank Patrick to arrange breakfast, but it was taking time.  The card was really a test to see if Marcus would want to have breakfast with a stranger when his head had cleared.  Now technically Marcus still didn’t have a clear head, but that is beside the point.  His urge to use the toilet, find some sustenance and decipher the mystery of Hank Patrick finally forced him out of bed and he was determined to deal with them all swiftly so as to avoid the debilitating sickly feeling.  

Luckily there was a telephone in the toilet.  Marcus had always questioned the need for a telephone in such an odd location when he was a child.  People, he thought, should do their business and then talk on the phone, but not both at the same time.  Now as a grown man he realized that there were very good reasons indeed for having a phone in such a location.  When he made it to the toilet he placed the business card on the floor in front of it with the phone number facing upwards and as he began his bowel movement he reached for the phone and punched in the numbers.  The phone rang several times while Marcus focused on his business.  

After six rings a man answered the phone, “Hello.”

“Oh, hello,” Marcus responded back and then paused to quickly concentrate on his toilet activity.

“Who is this?”

Marcus was still paused but then became relieved and responded, “This is Marcus, I believe I met you last night, but I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t quite remember our conversation.”

“I’ve been waiting for you to call Bengtson.  Are you ready for breakfast then?”

The use of his first named rattled Marcus but he was able to get out a, “Yes, breakfast would be lovely.”

“Perfect.  Why don’t you come up to my suite?  There is a keycard outside your door that will allow you to access the top floor.  See you shortly,” and then he hung up.

When Marcus had first begun taking his weekend binge trips he tended to find a random person to be his buddy for the weekend to assist in taking his mind off of everything and he met a lot of interesting people and for a long time it was great.  Eventually he needed more and more drink to satisfy his destructive urges and that didn’t facilitate making friends all too much.  Instead he would just obliterate himself and let the night ride out in blissful drunkenness.  In the past it had not been odd to meet a friend from the previous evening for breakfast drinking, but as the drinking buddies had ceased to materialize the breakfasts became solitary affairs in front of the TV so it was quite interesting to be presented with this invitation up to a suite for breakfast.  Perhaps he would have a few drinks today after all, but he promised himself that he’d take it easy.

He tidied himself up quickly before exiting the bathroom and then after grabbing his blazer he opened his door and found the keycard lying there waiting for him as promised.  Off to the top floor he went, keycard in hand and flask in pocket, just in case he decided it was a good situation to break out the Irished Coffee.  He entered the elevator on his floor and pressed the button for the top floor but nothing happened.  He had forgotten that he was supposed to insert the card to get to the floor he needed.  After cursing his lousy memory he inserted the card and it automatically selected the top floor for him and the elevator started its journey upwards.  The top floor corridor was the same as in the rest of the hotel, but on this floor there were only a handful of doors.  Marcus looked on the key and saw that it said “Ambassador’s Suite” so he wandered around until he found the correct door.

Etiquette wasn’t always Marcus’ strong suit and in this situation he was completely unsure of how to proceed.  It was a near certainty that his host would be in his room, but then he had a key so he wasn’t sure if he should knock or just enter.  Most people would have concluded that the key was merely to allow access to the floor and not to be used to walk straight into the suite, but Marcus thought he might as well let himself in.  Hank Patrick was sitting at a table on the balcony that could be seen from the entrance hallway of the rather extravagant suite.  Marcus saw him as he walked in and while enroute to the balcony he spoke quite loudly, “Mr. Patrick, I hope you don’t mind but I let myself in.  It seemed like the proper thing to do seeing as you went through all the trouble to get me a key.  Nice to meet you properly.”

Marcus extended his hand and Hank Patrick accepted it warmly and said, “Please, Bengtson, call me Hank Patrick.  It’s nice to see you again.”

“I’ll call you Hank Patrick if you refer to me as Marcus.”

“Sounds like a fair deal.  Are you hungry?”

“Yeah, starved, whatever you have will be great.”

“I decided on a Spanish tortilla with some mojo mojo sauce.  I know it’s not exactly breakfast food, but it is delicious.”

“Sounds good to me; I haven’t had that since I was last on Tenerife,” Marcus said and then paused thinking about stories he had heard of extravagant people, “But I hope we won’t have to fly to Tenerife to get this food.”

Hank Patrick gave him a look that suggested that was the most absurd thing he had ever heard in his life, “Don’t be ridiculous my friend, I had a Spanish chef brought over with the fresh ingredients from Spain this morning.  Better to bring the things you crave to you instead of going through all the hassle of travelling to a place just to satisfy a food craving.”

Of course Marcus was a bit stunned, but he accepted that if you are able to do something, then why the hell not.  “So I’m sorry to say I don’t remember what we spoke about last night.  As I’m sure you can imagine, I wasn’t in the proper mindset to record the details of my evening.”

  “Not a problem friend, not a problem.  We didn’t talk about much really.  You told me the story of your names and I gave you a swig of my whiskey.”

Marcus felt obliged to offer him some whiskey back and without realizing the time of day he handed Hank Patrick his flask and said, “Let me offer you some of my 25 year scotch in return.”

Rather than being disgusted by the prospect of drinking so early, Hank Patrick accepted it happily and took a hearty swig, “Absolutely delicious.  I love a good whiskey in the morning.”

“I do as well, but unfortunately I have to lay off of it when I’m working.”

Hank Patrick took another healthy swig before handing the flask back and asking, “What if you didn’t have to?”

This was the kind of question that Marcus expected someone who was about to offer him a new life to ask, but before getting ahead of himself he answered, “If I didn’t have to lay off it while I was working it would be a great job, but it’s not possible in the one I have.”

“Well it is possible, but it’s not so much a specific job as a specific lifestyle that will allow this.”

“Unemployment?” Marcus asked.

“No, no.  It’s more like being a King.”

“Are you offering me a job where I get to be a King?” He couldn’t help but asking.  This seemed like a great job, but it wasn’t the complete change of life that Marcus craved on the face of it.

“In a way, yes.  I have been searching for a successor as I am quite ill at the moment.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Don’t be.  I’ve had an amazing and eye-opening 25 years in this lifestyle and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I will die happy.”

“So you want me to be your successor?  But I don’t even know what it is you do.”

“I don’t do any one thing in particular, I simply choose various undertakings that I think will bring the greatest prestige and wealth to my ‘kingdom’ and then when one has run its course I begin down another path.  The circle that I am in is full of people whose only purpose is to seek answers to the questions the universe around us poses.  We have such an endless supply of wealth scattered around the world that it would be impossible to spend it all and since we have fulfilled the primary purpose in life to survive we search for other challenges.  Hank Patrick is king among this circle and much is expected of him.”

“Did you just refer to yourself in the third person?”

“Yes, it is customary in my circle, and I merely forgot that I was with you.  It’s because Hank Patrick is more of a title than a name,” he paused staring into Marcus’ eyes, “I can see the look in your eyes and I know it sounds absurd, but it is what it is.  What I will ask of you will seem even more absurd.  However, from the look of you last night I believe that you have been waiting for me as much as I have been waiting for you.  See, I would like you to succeed me as the next Hank Patrick.  I want you to take over my life and be the head of this circle I spoke of.  You will have endless opportunity to discover whatever you wish and of course you will be able to drink scotch whenever you please.”

“Is there a catch?” he asked calmly, knowing that there must be while preparing to leap at this opportunity if it wasn’t too ridiculous.

Hank Patrick took a bite of the tortilla and sighed in satisfaction.  He hadn’t made eye contact with Marcus since he had asked the question.  Marcus waited patiently.

“I wouldn’t personally use the term ‘catch’ as it conjures up the image of being tricked, but there is a sacrifice you have to make.  Since you are gaining the entire life and persona of Hank Patrick you have to give up your previous persona completely.”

Marcus knew that procuring a new life in a hope of staving off the incredible boredom that had set into his own life would involve sacrifices.  He knew full well that in all likelihood having his wish fulfilled would mean the end of the parts of his life that he still enjoyed.  None of it mattered though even if some of the thoughts were unbearable.

“What you mean is that if I accept your offer, I won’t be seeing my family again,” Marcus said, taking a small bite of his tortilla and a large swig of from his flask.

Hank Patrick thought about this characterization of his offer before answering, “That would be accurate, but also there is no way to return to your previous life if life as Hank Patrick is not as you expected.  In fact, if you decide at any point that you are fed up with being Hank Patrick then you must do the honorable thing and pick a successor and be gone.  Do you understand?”

Marcus believed that he understood, but he didn’t.

“Yes, I understand.  When do I have to decide?”

Hank Patrick stood up and walked to the edge of the balcony and bent over to look down.  He saw nothing remarkable, but he liked looking over the edge nonetheless.  Turning back to face Marcus he said, “My disease is terminal but I have quite some time to live, so please take your time in deciding.  I must confess that I have had an incredible 25 years as Hank Patrick and I have done things both as far as actions and internal thought that were only mere dreams as my primary self.  Accepting would not be a foolish choice.”

There wasn’t anything left to say.  Marcus stood up without finishing his whole tortilla and found his own way out.  He was full of conflicting emotions about the fulfilment of his dream; his wish to be emancipated from the life he had cultivated for 30 years.  The decision couldn’t be made lightly, and it wouldn’t, but the stronger side of his consciousness was already advocating casting off his old life and beginning this new one without worrying about the consequences.  It was similar to the urge he sometimes had when he was gambling to simply throw all of his money onto one remaining bet and hope for the best.

He made his way back to his room and packed his things together.  His hangover had completely left him at this point after his mind was provided with something else to concentrate on.  There was a flight going home this evening that he was intent on catching.  Normally he would have sweated his hangover out over night, but this was no time to be spent away from his family.

Another large swig from his flask calmed him down.  He made the necessary flight and taxi arrangements over the phone and then waited.  About 8 hours later he was home.  He arrived so late but he still woke up his wife.  She was happy to see him and even though he was happy to see her it didn’t sway him towards rejecting Hank Patrick’s proposition as heavily as he thought it would have.  Still, he was home and for a glimmer of a moment he was satisfied with that.

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