The more you see, the less you know

He ambles into kitchen an hour before lunchtime, unable to state his urge to contribute or explain the unwarranted lack of voice.

Hernandez notes his nervous hover while pouring a large mug of rice into a huge pot of bubbling water. "Give me a hand with those, will you?" The priest asks seemingly innocent, nodding at the heap of colorful vegetables waiting in the sync.

He moves to the sink slowly, wondering what to do.

"Just rinse them." The hint saves him embarrassment of asking for guidance.

Just as he finishes, Hernandez joins him by the sync. The priest goes straight to slicing up the vegetables for salad, and he follows suit, his cuts swift and clean.

"You work like a chef." Hernandez comments.

He contemplates the idea that is not without merit, but an altogether different urge tugs at him, and he decides to go along with it, just to see if it would take him anywhere interesting. Unprompted, he takes another knife from the rack and starts making compact, complicated and graceful moves in the air above the halved tomato. In mid-swing he stops, catching padre's worried attention. "Why do I have the feeling I should be sowing this back up, then?"

A pot whistles on the stove behind them as the aroma of cooked rice escapes a bouncing, clacking lid. It blends with the salt and iodine twang of the raw fish from across the room, and he is instantly struck with a photo-album's worth of flashbacks. A narrow, crowded street, Asians in outdated clothes, odd but familiar wooden architecture, paper lampions and intricate pictograms written in bold ink.

"Ginowan dojo." He reads aloud from the mental image, once again scaring father Hernandez. "Dojo is like a gym. Not sure about ginowan."

"I think it's a town in Japan." Hernandez says. "One of my older patrons used to talk about it often. He was a Marine, stationed at Okinawa airbase during the Vietnam War."

The names mean nothing to him, yet are tantalizing clues, fitting in with his knowledge of Japanese, especially the extensive fighting lexicon. His hands comes into the strange fist again, almost of its own accord. "Mune tsuki." Realization dawns. "Chest strike." He translates. "I must have trained some marshal art there." Facts click. "I dreamt I was a soldier. Could I have been in that war?"

"You look around fifty, which would mean you were still a minor at the time, but just barely. Maybe you were, for just a few months. It would explain why how you survived."

"Was there a desert there?"

"'Nam?" Hernandez is surprised. "More like jungles. Desert wars are more recent."

"Are?"

"Three in the last twenty years. All of them with the Arabs."

He finds Arabic on the list of languages he speaks - a hard and soft variety in fact. "I think I've been there, too."

Hernandez is incredulous. "All of those?"

Uncertain, he turns back to chopping the greens, the fading odor of rice working under his radar. He feels a string of odd revelations, starting with the feel that he is now de facto, if not formally, a lay monk. The conclusion is baffling given padre's lack of expectations on his commitment, or anyone else's for that matter, but sticks with him despite evidence to contrary. It's cause is beyond him, just a rule that popped out of nowhere, followed by surprise, as he could have never seen himself in that role. For reasons unclear to him, he seems to believe a bald-shaved head and a bright-colored bed sheet would fit in. The odd tidbits of knowledge drop in uninvited, each more senseless than the last.

But just as he begins to wonder if the unprompted facts are reliable memories or fantasies that should not be trusted, the double door swings open for Hernandez junior.

"Trays are ready." Policeman says to padre, spotting him but keeping up the act of not noticing, Jose walks over, fetching an apple on the way and washing it in the nearby sync. "You wanted to talk?" the officer mumbles, his low voice inaudible to the more distant volunteers.

The question takes him unprepared but he nods quickly.

Jose nods in return and leaves through the back entrance, him following inconspicuously some ten seconds later.

"I'll need a ride." He says as the policeman leads the way o the parking lot. "D'Or placed an ad up for a piano player at the bar."

"Starting career as a jukebox?" Hernandez get's in an old, creaky van.

"I thought you're supposed to encourage my return to society." He snarks form the car.

"That's Raul." Hernandez corrects while starting the engine. "I'm here to take the bullet for you."

The words trigger another gunshot memory, this time accompanied by a searing flash of light and an image of a blonde young man hovering over him, the angelic face concerned.

Jose glances at him worriedly. "You all right?"

"It's nothing-" Words lodge in his throat when a whiff of freshly baked bread drifts in through the open window from a passing fast food stall. He sticks his head out, the wide asphalt avenue instantly transformed to a dusty, pedestrian road, crowded with olive-tanned men and veiled women. A youth on a tiny motorbike weaves through the throng, on his head a large wooden surface loaded with flatbread.

He stares at it in shocked awe at the ghostly images as an old man blares as if from loudspeakers, drowning out the street noise. Nasal voice is too distorted to grasp the words. A deep part of him recognizes it as a summon, but to what, he can't decide. The call fades and with it the images, leaving him in the busy street.

Leaning back in the car he rubs his face intensely. "I'm seeing things."

"Good. Maybe if you remember something useful-"

"That's just it." He implores. "None of it is useful." A sigh of exasperation drifts out of him.

The van turns a corner off the broad avenue and onto a side road, stopping at the back end of a fifty-story hotel. "Here we are." Jose pulls over.

The two men enter cautiously, native glancing around for hidden dangers, the other overwhelmed with luxury.

"Stuart?" Someone calls from behind them. "Stuart Jansen?" A short, brown-haired Caucasian jogs up to them, middle aged and wearing a fancy version of d'Or's uniform and a name tag reading Arialdi. "Professor at Michigan University?"

He balks. "You're talking to me?"

Arialdi frowns, insulted. "I'd expect the others to go bad from money, but not you?"

"What do you know about the money?" Hernandez interjects sternly.

"What do you mean do I-" The short man gasps. "Is this a prank?" Arialdi frowns at him. "Are you messing with me?"

"No." He holds his hands up, sighs. "I- I don't remember who I am."

"Really?"

"Really." Hernandez deadpans.

A slough of expressions flickers across Arialdi's face in short succession: bewilderment, sadness, and finally good cheer. "Follow me." He smirks cunningly, leading them into the grand casino.

"We have no money." Hernandez preempts any possible scan.

"Funny you should say that." Arialdi smiles over his shoulder, pressing on past roulette tables and slot machines.

He gazes around, skill pouring at the fore of his awareness as if he was experiencing wireless download from the casino straight to his brain. He knows to stay well away from machines, roulette too, unless he has trillions of dollars. He knows poker is easy as pie, boiling down to psychology and math. A sight of the black-jack table brings up a different set of tips, like how to stare at cards with the peripheral vision while seemingly glancing around oblivious. Or how to keep count with a beat of the left corn, out of view of spying eyes and hidden cameras. He also knows how to avoid suspicion form any one casino staff by circling around all the town's establishments, so as to spread the gains thin and wide.

Before he can process the sudden fountain of knowledge, he almost blunders into a picture of himself, framed amidst unfamiliar faces. Large black-and-white photo lines up almost perfectly with his full-colored reflection, mirrored in the polished glass.

"Stuart Jansen." Arialdi reads the plaque below with a smile to his tone. "All states poker tournament. One hundred million dollars."

"Stuart Jansen." He parrots in a whisper. His mind skips the name itself and immediately unleashes the inner linguist to dissect the source phrases: John's son, in Dutch; a steward, as in a house guard. He frowns, finding everything about it fitting yet wrong.

Hernandez's brow rises. "Didn't see that one coming."

He stares dazed at the image of himself, consistent right down to the slight crook of nose. He mulls the other fact over. One percent of the prize is still a million bucks. It's more than enough for anyone to risk anything, yet small enough a percentage to for someone to invest in fixing a fiasco. "What else do you know about me?"

"I know the reception should have everything on you." Arialdi grins, striding back toward the reception.

The two trail behind him, greeted by a Valkyrie receptionist. A smile later, Arialdi has her looking up everything on Stuart Jansen. The print-out is ready in seconds.

"Sun suit, nice- choice…. Huh." Arialdi smirks. "Its reserved until New Year's day."

He shares a hopeful look with Hernandez.

"Come on." The man takes them to the elevators and calls the car. "Let's see what you've got."

Ten stories up, a universal card key opens a spacious room, furnished with minimalistic but refined furniture.

Hernandez nudges him in the ribs, "You've got taste, Stu."

The name strikes no cord in him, unlike the homey mess of clothes scattered about the bed, chairs and carpet. He steps in, oblivious to the comment, taking in the blend of formal, casual and athletic garments, with not one outfit complete. "I've got a weird taste in clothes." He holds up one neon-green sneaker and a navy-blue blazer. Yet despite the comment, he feels comfortable with the selection, as if he could put both on and walk out confidently. "This is mine." A certain nod confirms it, his satisfaction evident.

"Holland-" Hernandez speaks into his phone. "Come to d'Or and look for Stuart Jansen, you are not going to believe this. ... I can do that now." The cop gestures at Arialdi to hand over the print-out.

"Jansen, Stuart." Hernandez reads slowly. "221 Baker street, Ann arbor, Michigan. … Okay."

He looks on impatient, tense hope swelling in him.

"There isn't?" Hernandez frowns.

He gulps.

"Can you check Michigan University? ... I see. Okay." Hernandez shuts the phone. "You're not Stuart."

The concierge and he share a befuddled look. "What?" They ask in unison.

"There is no Baker street in Ann Arbor, and the three Stuart Jansens in all of Michigan are a sixty eight, seven and twenty-four."

He's bewildered. "But- That's my picture down there." He points at the flor. "This is my stuff" Hands wave around. "How?"

"Fake ID." Says the sullen concierge.

Hernandez nods.

"The money." He whispers, his face affixed in a thoughtful mask. "We have to follow the money."

to be continued...


"City of Blinding Lights", U2