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The October Surprise

by Walter Rhein about a year ago in grief
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The word of God is written in the stars

The October Surprise
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

“Everything’s ready. Are we going to do this or what?”

“Just wait a second. It doesn’t feel right, it’s not supposed to be like this.”

“Nothing ever turns out like it’s supposed to Kees, when are you going to learn that?”

“I don’t know, maybe one more year?”

“That’s what you said last year, c’mon, don’t you think it’s time to drop your anchor and fly?”

“Maybe,” Keesey sighed, “it just kind of feels like I’m killing him again.”

Jacob reached over and slapped his friend on the back. “The old mystery’s still gnawing at you isn’t it? What’s it been now, five years?”

“Six.”

“Like father like son eh? You get hooked on a riddle and the whole world disappears. You just can’t let it alone and live without that answer can you? Jim Keesey junior.”

“Jim was my dad’s name, not mine.”

“Fine, Alex. But if it means something to you to prove you’re different than your old man, then now’s the time. He was the one famous for being held captive to a question, and you saw how he ended up. That doesn’t have to be you.”

Alex didn’t answer. Jacob persisted.

“Maybe the universe is having a big laugh at your expense, did you ever think of that? You’ve been chasing your tail. Maybe there is no riddle and there is no answer. Maybe the sorry truth is that your dad’s whole legacy came down to a worthless, meaningless, little black book. Maybe the only thing that makes sense is that he was just as nuts as your stepmom said.”

“Don’t say that,” Alex snapped. “She’s the last person I want to think about right now.”

Jacob lifted his beer to his lips. He noticed Alex’s bottle was abandoned on the railing, so he pushed it over as a sort of tepid peace offering. Alex picked it up.

Jacob sighed. “The idea of tonight was to mend old wounds, not open them again. Everyone knows you haven’t been dealt a fair hand. It isn’t right that she’s up there living in that mansion, while you’re stuck working three minimum wage jobs and crashing on my couch.”

“No argument here,” Alex said.

“Yeah man! But it doesn’t have to be that way. This situation is driving you crazy. You’re as smart as anyone I know, but you’re letting this grand injustice...and I’m not denying there’s an injustice...but you’re letting it ruin your life. Yesterday sucked for you, I get it, but you can’t let that pain ruin your whole future!”

Now it was Jacob’s turn to take a hard pull off his bottle.

Alex took a deep breath and he withdrew his dad’s black book from his inside pocket for what must have been the thousandth time. Would it be the last?

Alongside the six pack, there was a bottle of lighter fluid and a box of matches. The plan was to set the book on fire and launch it into the ocean. Put the past to rest. Start tomorrow clean.

But Alex just couldn’t let go.

Hefting the book, he became reflective. “I don’t remember much of my mom,” Alex said. “But dad was always there. He was always sitting at his computer but he was there. When he got married again, I thought things might get better, but I’ve never known a woman as cruel as Gretchen.”

Jacob said nothing, he just watched as Alex flipped through the pages.

“She just let him waste away, it came on quick and six months later he was gone. Six months after that I was out of the house. Dad had money, but somehow none of it came to me. Somehow Gretchen got her claws into it all. Even then she acted like she was mad at me. Like I’d somehow been the one to steal from her.” Alex laughed. “Can you believe that?”

“Some people are just evil Alex,” Jacob said. “There’s nothing we can do about that.”

“Yeah, but the way she acted, it’s like she knew something. It’s like she knew that something was out there...”

“Here we go again. Some people find out a guy is worth a million instead of a billion and they resent him for it. Nothing is ever enough.”

“Jim Keesey, tech genius,” Alex said, “somehow died with only $986,000 to his name. The great mystery of our time! And into my hands falls this little black book.”

“That was it huh? The only thing you got?”

“That and a receipt from a dot matrix printer showing a purchase of $19,846. When you add in the service fees, that’s 20k of something lost into the ether.” Alex made a gesture as if blowing onto his hand and then throwing it into space.

“The ether huh?”

“What can it mean?”

“Can I have a look?”

“Ha!” Alex said, “sure, just don’t go burning this. That’s something I have to do.”

“No, no tricks like that. Just let me see.”

Alex passed the book over. It was a simple address book. It had a leather cover embossed with the number 15.

“15 huh?” Jacob said.

“That was the year.”

Jacob nodded. He examined the object. The book was 60 pages long but the first 5 and the last 4 pages were blank except for the page numbers. “What about the names in here?”

“Gibberish,” Alex said. “Nobody knows any of them.”

“Did you try calling the phone numbers? Sending anything to the addresses?”

Alex gave Jacob a disgusted look. “There’s nothing in that book written in my dad’s hand that is of any value to anyone.”

“I see,” Jacob said. He turned to the first page with any printing and pushed the book hard against the railing. There were two numbers printed on either side of the seam. “What’s this?”

“Some sort of production remainder,” Alex said. “Random numbers to tell the machine where to cut and where to staple. You wouldn’t want the ‘C’s’ mixed up with the ‘R’s’ now would you?”

“BK,” Jacob read, then “Vv.” He flipped to the next page, “Bk and Mp, weird.” He kept skimming through the book, “after page 38 there’s only one number on each seam.”

“You know what Jacob,” Alex said, “I think you’re right.”

Jacob looked up, “About what?”

Alex reached for the lighter fluid. “I’ve had enough. You’re right, it’s time to start clean. Now’s the time, let’s do it.” He reached for the book.

Jacob pulled it back.

“Jake! Now’s not the time to play games.”

“Just bear with me for a second, something you said gave me an idea.”

“Do you think this is easy for me? Come on, I’m ready to go! It's time to move on!”

“Where did your dad get this book?”

“Who cares? He could have bought it at a gas station for all I know.”

“Could he have had it printed?”

“Who would print up an address book? That seems like an enormous amount of effort to make for an object you can get anywhere.”

“What if he was hiding something and he wanted to put it in a place that wouldn’t get lost, yet wasn’t easy to find?”

“Now you’re talking gibberish...”

“What year was the purchase from?”

“The what?”

“The $20,000 purchase, when was it from?”

“October, 2011, I remember.”

“Paper,” Jacob said, “electronic wallets wouldn’t be popular until later.”

“What?”

“You said ‘into the ether,’ that got me thinking crypto.”

“Etherium wasn’t released until 2015 genius.”

“Not Etherium, Bitcoin, that came out in 2009.”

“Bitcoin?”

“And back in 2011, traders commonly used paper wallets. All you need to access the fund is a 34 character alphanumeric bitcoin address and a 51 character private key. But here’s the thing, the address starts with the number ‘1’ and the key starts with the number ‘5’.” Jacob held up the book. Even in the low light, Alex could see the number 15 on the cover.

“A paper wallet,” Alex said, “I’m a fool.”

“With $20,000 in Bitcoin purchased in October of 2011,” Jacob said with a smile. "I think your dad might have left you something after all."

Alex took the little black book and slipped it back into the inside pocket of his jacket. “That would be a nice October surprise.”

Jacob laughed, “Yes it would.”

Alex smiled. Perhaps the epiphany had belonged to Jacob, but Alex was enough his father's son to have developed an instinct to recognize when an answer was right.

It brought with it a sense of calm, a feeling of relief, an overwhelming sensation of satisfaction.

Alex felt that way now. His world had been transformed, and for the first time in a long while, the future was bright.

grief

About the author

Walter Rhein

I'm a small press novelist. Shoot me an email if you want to discuss writing in any capacity, or head over to my web page www.streetsoflima.com. [email protected]

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