It was unusual for Lenka to sleep past eight a.m., but it was also unusual for her to lose count of how many beers she’d drunk. Still, it had been necessary to deal with the emotional overload of realizing she might actually believe in ghosts, especially in the ghosts of incinerated fast food workers. Or maybe the ghost was the spirit of the restaurant itself. Yes, the conversation had gone in that direction in the end. After all, once you allow yourself to believe in the possibility of undead burger flippers, you had to admit that pretty much anything might be possible, really.
She had trouble getting her eyes open. She couldn’t feel any moisture in them at all. She fumbled around for the glass of water she always kept by the bed. It wasn’t there.
This was going to be one of those days.
At last, she managed to sit up and focus her vision on her bedside table, where her phone was sitting. She had failed to plug it in, and of course, the battery was now dead.
She had to get down on all fours to retrieve the cable from under the bed and start charging the phone. In the meantime, she stumbled into the kitchen, yawning and wondering what that awful smell was. She poured herself a glass of water and drained it in three big gulps. Apparently she was thirsty. The water tasted sweet. Apparently the awful smell was coming from inside her mouth.
After tracking down a bottle of painkillers and swallowing two (something she very rarely did), and after making a very long visit to the toilet (during which she may have gotten a few more minutes of sleep – she wasn’t sure), Lenka returned to the bedroom and powered up the phone.
She downed another glass of water while she waited for her messages to come in.
It seemed like she was waiting an awfully long time. She checked the signal: it was fine. Full bars. She just didn’t have any messages.
Odd. Usually after a night out like that, Honza would bombard her with messages.
Empty gaps in her memory slowly started to color themselves in. Something about a phone call, and a robot. No, Honza was the robot. A tiny robot. No, his voice. He had a tiny robot voice.
What was it he had wanted?
She tried calling him. It rang and rang, but there was no answer. If the battery was dead, it would have just failed to connect.
He was probably passed out and being crushed by a massive hangover, just like her. Still, she’d better swing by his place and check that he was okay. He really hadn’t been himself the night before. Anyway, it wasn’t far.
The buzzer in Honza’s place was particularly loud. He’d planned on complaining to the landlord and asking to have it turned down somehow, or possibly just disabled altogether, but he hadn’t gotten around to that.
Right now, it was ringing as loudly as ever, but there wasn’t a living soul inside to be bothered by the volume.
He was probably just passed out, she assured herself. Just asleep in bed with a bad hangover. And Krystof? He could be anywhere, up to anything. Maybe he was home and just didn’t feel like answering the buzzer. That would be perfectly in character for him.
Her phone buzzed in her pocket. It was Hana trying to call her. As much as she didn’t feel up to a phone conversation right now, she knew she’d feel a lot better if she heard a friendly voice.
“What’s up, Hana?”
Lenka paused for a moment to try to remember how to speak her native language. Yes, she was still fluent. But no, she still didn’t understand what Hana meant. “What?”
“Pavel Hora. I found the name in one of these articles.”
Hana didn’t always have the most organized conversations, much to Lenka’s dismay. “Hana, sweetie, you need to back up a few steps.”
“Right. Sorry. Last night, after you and Honza stumbled home (you two are super lightweights by the way), I looked up some more info on that Burger Fortress place. And I found a list of the victims’ names. Guess who was on the list?”
“No, I don’t want to rent the apartment. I’m asking about the guy who lives there.”
The old man’s eyes twitched several times, and for a moment he appeared to be talking to someone standing slightly behind her. “Yes, the room is in very good condition. Everything renovated. The walls were freshly painted just yesterday.”
“But I don’t want to rent it. It’s not even vacant. I’m looking for the guy who lives there now. His name is—”
“No, no, that apartment has been empty for ages. That’s why I’m offering such a good price. But I can’t negotiate on the utilities. Heating and electricity are at a set rate every month.” A horrid grimace flashed across his face so quickly that Lenka couldn’t be sure it had even really happened.
“You know what, thanks, but I don’t think you can help me. Thank you for your time.”
She gave up, turned and walked towards the exit. She heard the landlord’s door close behind her without so much as another word. It was all probably a prank by the boys, just their way of getting back at her for being so serious and rational all the time. They were always saying how she spoiled their fun. They’d turn up soon.
She was relieved to get away from the landlord and out into the fresh air. His breath had smelled like old hamburger meat.