by Steven Cuffari
Johan, an American in Berlin, woke up in his studio apartment with a pulsing hangover. He looked at the other side of his bed. It was empty. He looked around the room, checking for clues about the night that had passed. Everything seemed to be in order. There was no mess, no broken bottles, no vomit, no destroyed furniture, no naked women, no strange animals, no chaos of any kind. It all came back to him. Last night, nothing happened. He drank ten liters of beer and sat in the same raucher kneipe that he did almost every Saturday night. The same people, the same beer, the same bar, the same chair, the same bartender, the same music. All the same.
And the same hangover. He sat up in bed and rubbed his head. He yawned and his mouth clapped with dryness. “Fuck,” he said. He smelled his own breath and winced. “Jesus. I’m starving.” He pushed himself out of bed. He washed his face. He threw on the same clothes he was wearing yesterday and went downstairs.
Outside, he looked across the street as he waited for the ampelmann to turn green. The big yellow sign of the currywurst place, Imbiss 49, was always a morning-after comfort, especially when the night before was so drab. He took a deep breath and exhaled cold white vapor. He looked down the street and admired the rows of altbaus. He smiled just as the light turned green. He rushed across to the imbiss and stood in front of the window. It was early, and it hadn’t opened yet.
A chill vibrated through his body. He knocked on the foggy glass. Currywurst was his favorite hangover food. Sometimes he would have two or three. This time he just wanted one. He knocked on the glass again. “Fuck, it’s getting cold out here,” he said to himself. He grunted and turned away from the window. Before he could take a step, the window swooshed open. He turned back around, momentarily elated. He smiled, but frowned when he saw who opened the window. It was not the woman who usually served him. Instead it was a raven-haired beauty wearing a lot of white makeup and super-red lipstick.
“You’re late,” she said in German.
Still frowning he said, “I’m sorry, what? I don’t speak German.”
The woman was surprised. “An American?”
“This is Berlin,” he replied.
“You’re late. They’re coming. You should make the purchase now.”
Johan’s frown turned into a look of confusion. “I think that was lost in translation. I’ll take one Currywurst.”
It was the woman’s turn to frown now. “Yeah, one currywurst, with pommes or without pommes?”
“Without please,” he said smiling.
“Fuck you,” she said and swooshed the window shut.
Johan was flabbergasted. “Jesus. Bad morning, I guess,” he said to himself. He put his hand in his right pocket to get his money out. The pocket was empty. He tried the left one. Empty. He pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and checked every compartment. No cash. Then another part of last night came back to him. He remembered standing in front of an ATM outside the kneipe. Even through double vision, the two pairs of zeros separated by a comma were easily recognizable. He was tapped out.
He knocked on the window again. “Hello!”
“Hello! I want to cancel my currywurst!” He knocked again.
The window swooshed again, and now he was face to face with the raven-haired beauty. He could tell now that she would have been beautiful even without the makeup. She looked him in the eyes and smiled. She placed a briefcase on the window sill.
He smiled back at her, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to cancel my currywurst.”
She quickly frowned and pulled the briefcase back inside. “I don’t want to play games. You’re late, they’ll be here any minute, make the purchase or I’ll kill you.” This time she placed a gun on the window sill.
“What the fuck,” he said putting his hands in the air. “I’m from Brooklyn, please don’t shoot me.”
He took a step back.
The woman’s frown turned into an expression of mortal fear.
Johan turned to see what she was looking at.
It was two giant thugs.
“Holy shit.” When he turned back to the woman, she was gone.
The thugs kept getting closer.
Johan tried to walk in another direction, but they blocked him.
“So you’re Friedrich?” the thug with black hair said in German. He grabbed the front of Johan’s jacket and pulled. The blonde thug watched.
“What? I don’t understand. Friedrich, no I’m not Friedrich. Can you let me go now?”
“Where’s the money?”
“I told you, I don’t understand German. You need to let go of me.”
“You’re a lot smaller than I thought you would be,” said the black-haired thug in English. “Now where’s the money?”
“Holy shit, money? I have zero money. Now let me go!” Johan tried to yank his jacket back, but the thug was too strong.
“You playing games, little man? 10,000 Euros. We know you’ve got it.”
“Ten thousand Euros? I don’t have ten cents!”
“That’s not gonna make the boss too happy.”
“I’m warning you one last time,” said Johan.
Johan punched the thug in the nuts. The thug’s knees went weak, but he still kept a grip on Johan. Johan saw his opportunity and punched the thug on the back of the head. He fell face first unconscious onto ground.
It happened so fast that the blonde thug didn’t have time to stop it. But once he realized what happened, he was angry. He charged full speed at Johan.
Johan couldn’t get out of the way fast enough and he felt the huge mass of the thug crash against him, smashing them both onto the ground. Luckily for him, the thug inadvertently smashed his own head into the ground in the process. He got his wind back and got up while the thug was dazed. He looked down at the squirming giant. He thought about kicking him while he was down, but didn’t. Instead, he just ran.
He didn’t have any other place to go. His girlfriend’s house was nearby, and he had a bad feeling about going back to his neighborhood.
Her apartment was bigger and cleaner than his. His sweaty dishevelment looked very out of place in her warm home.
“Sit down,” she said. She guided him from the kitchen into the living room.
He sat down. She sat down next to him. His hands were shaking so she put her hands over them.
“Just calm down,” she said. “No one is trying to kill you.”
“You don’t understand. It’s a misunderstanding.”
“You’re just repeating yourself now. You’re not making any sense.”
“They think I’m someone else. I think I killed a guy.”
“You could never kill anyone, trust me.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Whatever. I need to get out of this city. It’s too crazy out there. Everybody speaking German. I can’t do it anymore.”
“Oh god, Johan. I’m getting tired of this.”
“Exactly, so you know what I mean?”
“No. I want to break up with you.”
He stared at her.
“But I moved here for you,” he whimpered.
“I know. It’s so sad,” she whined.
“So sad?” he asked. “Do you ever listen to yourself?”
Before she could answer, someone knocked on the door.
“Sorry, Johan. I really tried to make it work.” She got up and went to the door.
“You tried? We’ve been here six months.”
“For me, that’s trying.” She looked away from him and through the peephole. She opened the door.
“Hi, can I help you?”
Johan sprang to his feet. “That’s them,” he rasped.
The two thugs pushed their way in. The blonde grabbed Casey by the shoulders and kicked the door shut. The black-haired thug walked up to Johan and cracked his knuckles.
“You got lucky,” the thug said.
“I don’t want to fight, but I will if I have too.”
“It won’t come to that,” he said as he got closer.
Before Johan knew it, he was in punching range for the giant thug. It took one quick fist for the lights to go out.
Johan woke up in an old computer factory. He was tied at his hands and feet, gagged and surrounded by thugs and manufacturing equipment.
“He’s awake,” said someone in German.
“Good, boss is on his way.”
Johan had a splitting headache. He could taste blood in his mouth.
As his blurry vision cleared up, he recognized the thug he had knocked out in the street. He looked pissed. He stared at Johan.
He moaned again and squirmed. He was tied up tight. He felt a pain in his wrist and immediately thought it was broken. As he regained full consciousness, he felt more and more parts of his body in pain. He was in bad shape.
He moaned again, this time with tears in his eyes. He wanted to be strong and fight back, but every movement cost him. He tried to pull his hands apart, and a shockwave of pain crashed and spread up his arm. He tried to separate his feet, and a pain unlike any he had ever felt before shot from his shin up to his thigh.
“Quit your moaning,” said someone behind him. It was an American voice. For a brief moment, he felt relieved to hear a compatriot.
Johan moaned. No one cared. Except for the thug who glared at him. He closed his eyes and held back sobs.
The sound of heavy metal doors opening and closing diverted everyone’s attention. The clacking of well-heeled, ill-intentioned men approached and then stopped.
Johan didn’t want to look up. He hung his head. Tired and weak.
Someone touched his chin and raised his face. He didn’t fight it.
“What is this shit?” the man said in German. He let go of Johan’s face. “This is not Friedrich. You are all fucking idiots. Get me the money. Get me the case or I’ll kill all of you.”
There was a murmuring of accusations.
“Shut the fuck up! Now go!”
There was a shuffling exodus.
Johan didn’t dare to hope. He continued to hang his head. Defeated.
“Then what about this guy?” Someone asked.
“I don’t care. Kill him if you want to. Just get him out of here.”
The well-heeled clacking left and the heavy metal doors opened and closed once again.
The room sounded empty. Johan felt alone, so he opened his eyes. His stomach sank when he saw the vengeful thug still standing there.
He took a moment before walking up to Johan.
He whispered in his ear.
“Now it’s time for fun.”
TO BE CONTINUED