Brian Flugler was depressed. His head rested on the soft pillow the porter had given him; his eyes searched the monotonous Kansas landscape as it rolled by the window. He sighed.
Eddie and Patience Spalding finished their iced tea in the club car and began their search for the compartment to which they were assigned. Patience carried a large, Prada handbag, and Eddie gingerly toted a muslin sack the size of a bowling ball bag.
No longer able to stand the numbness of Kansas, Brian dug out a Sudoku puzzle book out of his knapsack and tried to fill his head with numbers. It was useless; the only number that kept coming up was one–one out of 187. One, the number of patients he had killed. One equaled Kerry-Ann Spinoza, the hot-air balloon pilot who had come to him for help for her disorder, for her chaos.
As Kerry-Ann’s pale, dewdrop face began to float behind Brian’s closed eyes when he was jolted out of his reverie by the sound of the compartment door banging open. “I think this is it Eddie,” said the stunning woman in the doorway. She was tall, five-foot-ten inches at least, with Slavic cheekbones, piercing blue eyes, and she was rounded with child.
Brian sat up a little straighter. “If you’re looking for 5B, then this is it,” he said with a smile.
Patience swung her laser blues around until they landed on Brian’s face. “Oh…uh, thank you,” she said, momentarily startled.
A voice behind her said, “Come on Patience, go have a seat; I need to get out of the way, there are people trying to get by.”
To Brian, the voice had a slight Asian accent, Chinese perhaps, no, more Vietnamese or Cambodian. Patience moved to a seat opposite Brian and stowed her bag in the overhead bin. Eddie entered, all three-foot-nine inches of him. He was dressed in a charcoal-grey suit, light-blue shirt, and crimson tie. “Hi,” he said turning towards Brian, “I guess we’ll be traveling together for a while. I’m Ed, and this is my wife Patience.”
Patience smiled again, and Brian introduced himself to his traveling companions. Eddie placed the sack he was carrying under the seat and sat, legs dangling. “Sweetie,” Eddie told Patience, “You need to get some rest. Why don’t you lay back and try to sleep?”
(Bored yet? Don’t be, the monkey will soon make an appearance.)
Brian offered Patience his pillow. She accepted, and when he leaned over to hand it to her, his nostrils filled with the odor of roadkill. The smell, it seemed, was coming fro the sack at Eddies feet.
The rocking of the train soon lulled Patience into a deep sleep, and when Brian noticed her unconscious state, he moved over closer to Eddie and asked, “So, Eddie, what’s in the bag? It has a rather unpleasant odor.”
Eddie, who’d been writing in a small notebook, looked up at the sound of Brian’s voice. He quickly glanced at his wife to make sure she was asleep before answering. “Well, Brian, there’s a dead monkey in the sack, a dead spider monkey named Victor.”
This bit of news startled Brian. “Jesus Eddie, what the hell are you doing carrying around a dead spider monkey?”
“Yeah, I know, but it can’t be avoided. I doused it in cologne before we left, but that hasn’t seemed to work. Patience and I are taking Victor to California to be buried at Primate Paradise in Reseda. We promised her mother we’d do it; Victor was her companion, and she wants him interred in the same place as Bobo, the movie monkey. Her mom is nuts, but are you gonna do?”
Brian asked, “How did the monkey die?”
“I killed it,” said Eddie. “The little bastard wouldn’t stop screwing with my ears; it was driving me crazy. He’d stick those little spidery fingers and wiggle them around. I warned him several times, but he wouldn’t listen. When Patience and her mom went to the grocery store, I broke the monkey’s neck. I guess it’s the least I can do to see that he gets a nice send-off. What about you Brian, what’s your story?”
Eddie’s confession made Brian uneasy. He couldn’t imagine how anyone could be so blase about admitting he killed a pet monkey, but being a therapist, he knew people dealt with their lives in many different ways. Brian decided to deal with this by telling his story.
(Still bored? Eddie is close to revealing his past.)
“I killed someone, too, although neck snapping was not the mode of dispatch. You see Eddie, I’m a psychotherapist, and I gave a patient of mine some bad advice, and then she ended up diving off a hot-air balloon without the benefit of a parachute.
“Whoa, suicide. Bummer. You didn’t really advise her to jump did you?”
“No, I didn’t. I can’t tell you exactly what we talked about, but I badly misread her situation; now she’s dead, and it’s my fault.”
“You’re probably being too hard on yourself Brian, she may have killed herself even if she saw another therapist.”
“I don’t think so, no, it was my fault, and now I’m having a very hard time living with the guilt.”
“It will get better. I’ve killed 17 people, and after the first one, the others were not too bad.”
Brian was shocked and moved a further away Eddie. “You…uh…you kill people?”
“Only 17, and I don’t do it for a living. I did it for revenge. You see Brian, I’m Cambodian, and when I was s small child, the Khmer Rouge slaughtered my family in a particularly nasty way. I vowed I would find the guys who did it and punish them. I did, and they are all dead. I haven’t killed anyone since…except Victor.”
“Jesus Eddie, that’s hard to believe.”
Eddie looked at Brian with steely eyes and said, “Believe it.”
(Still bored? Then bite me, this is a good story. Read on.)
Brian did believe it. Despite Eddie’s diminutive size, he sensed this was a man you didn’t want to cross. “Don’t you ever feel guilty about what you’ve done?” he asked.
“Well, I do feel a little bad about Victor but the other guys, not anymore. Look, Brian, I can tell you are really agonizing over the death of your patient. If you’re interested, I got a deal for you that I think may alleviate your burden.”
Warily, Brian asked, “What sort of deal?”
“If you’re interested in putting that girl’s death behind you, we can trade guilt. In my old country, it is believed that people can trade guilt burdens to help each other move on with their lives. I’ve done it before, and it works. If you take my guilt for what I did to poor little Victor; I’ll take responsibility for the death of your patient.”
“I don’t know Eddie,” said Brian. His Western mind couldn’t quite grasp such an alien concept.
“It’s a good deal,” encouraged Eddie. “The guilt you accept from me won’t bother you much, a monkey, even though you accept the responsibility. You can easily live with that, although you might feel a bit sad about Victor now and again. I’ll be a little bummed about your patient, but, what the hell, I didn’t really tell her to take a flying leap. It’s a win-win situation, Brian. What do you say?”
The more Brian thought about it, the more sense it made to him. Guilt swapping, it beat Freud. What did he really have to lose? “Hell, why not. Let’s do it. Victor’s death is now on me, and Kerry-Ann’s pale face is yours.”
“Deal,” said Eddie as he handed the muslin sack to Brian. “Now, Patience and I have to get off at the next stop, be sure the monkey gets a proper burial.” He put his hand on Patience’s knee and jostled it. “Come on sweetie, we got a dead girl to trade.”