What had been a long day for David Broussard was looking to turn into a longer night. He hoped it wouldn't.
After clocking out at his usual time of six, he took the subway home from his office in Samsung-dong to his riverside apartment in Yongsan-gu. Nine stops, one transfer, a five-minute walk. The train was -- as it tends to be when the temperature jumps from minus zero in the morning to past ten degrees in the early evening -- much too hot for his attire (Paul Smith suit, Armani overcoat, Roberto Cavalli scarf), but the ride was brief, and he planned to take a shower as soon as he arrived home, anyway.
One of his many habits -- what friends, lovers, and acquaintances past and present preferred instead to call neuroses -- was showering twice daily, regardless of whether or not it was necessary. It usually wasn't; David himself would admit as much. But sometimes, as in cases such as today or during the suffocating humidity of late summer, it was; and, sometimes, even two showers were one or two too few. A slim man on the cusp of turning forty, David Broussard's sweat glands betrayed his weight, as, too, did the acne clustering his jawline betray his age.
The doorman, by nescient proxy, would ensure that David would enjoy neither his after-work shower nor his usual, peaceful night at home -- one typically spent these days drinking Czech beer and running through his collection of Kurosawa films (tonight was supposed be The Bad Sleep Well; not a personal favorite, but at least it had Mifune).
"Mr. David," the doorman said a second before David could push the elevator button, "there's a delivery here you need to sign for."
A delivery? David wasn't expecting a delivery. Still, he supposed someone from home office had sent over specs or some other similarly non-pressing document. If it was urgent they would have called.
"Who's it from?" he asked the doorman, Mr. Cho, an amiable fellow in his mid to late fifties who, save for a few linguistic quirks (to wit: "Mr. David"), spoke English very well. None of the apartment's three other doormen spoke it at all, at least not to David.
"Ah, I'm not sure," Cho replied. "Let me get it for you."
He stepped out from around the front desk and fished in his pocket for the key to the storage closet which housed stacks of packages undelivered to absent residents, of which there were legion. He unlocked the door and emerged from the closet moments later holding a white plastic shipping envelope. "Looks like it's from an online auction site," he said.
"But I haven't ordered anything," David said. "Are you sure it's for me?"
"Well," Cho said with a confused look that resembled David's own, "it has your name on it. I can hold on to it if you think it might be some kind of scam, though. Those fraudsters can be damn clever."
David considered this briefly but decided to sign for the package. He was careful to a fault in some respects (driving, food preparation, birth control), but his curiosity won out. He hoped it wouldn't ultimately get the better of him.
Mysterious, unsolicited delivery in hand, he bid Cho a good evening and took the elevator to his apartment on the sixth floor. There, he stripped down to his civvies; and although he badly wanted to wash off the itchy film of dried sweat that clung to his skin from brow to foot, again his curiosity took precedence. He sat on the living room sofa and punctured the package's plastic with his index then tore it open.
Inside was a white wool coat. David took it out and lay it on his lap. It was without a doubt feminine in design. He checked the label. A brand called Lazarus Fish, made in Cambodia.
I hope this doesn't entail a chase across Mount Rushmore or torture at the hands of a Nazi dentist, he mused cynically, tossing the coat aside and heading for the bathroom.
He showered and shaved (also for the second time today, for he loathed five o'clock shadow, AM and PM). Throwing on a pair of grey Adidas sweatpants and a navy blue USA Basketball tee, he then went about preparing a simple dinner: bowtie pasta simmered in Ragu with a dab of ketchup for sweetness. Simple fare, sure, but it tasted good, and you could eat it with a spoon, from a bowl. Fine dining for overworked bachelors as far as David Broussard was concerned.
Just as he was about to sit down at the kitchen table to rejoice in his pedestrian meal, however, he noticed something alarming on the back of the Lazarus Fish coat. Splayed front downwards on the sofa like the molted skin of a drowned man, the coat had four numbers written on its back, in red. Dumbfounded, David could see them more clearly as he approached his ill-gotten bounty.
1004, written with what was unmistakably a Sharpie Magnum.
A chill ran down his spine and spread to his extremities. The numbers meant nothing to him, but the sheer weirdness of it all made him nervous and terrified in equal measure.
"That joke isn't funny anymore," he evoked in a whisper.
Those four numbers, loud and angry, weren't the only ones written on the back of the Lazarus Fish coat, David soon realized. Underneath them, in black, like an ironic postscript, was a mobile phone number of eleven digits. Presently more panicked than curious, he fetched his Blackberry from the living room coffee table and input them.
Instead of a dial tone he was treated to "Spanish Flea" by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. He let it ring for over a minute until a computerized service-provider message prompted him in a language he didn't understand to leave a voice mail. Frustrated, he hit CANCEL.
Immediately thereafter, two things happened concurrently. David's Blackberry began buzzing like a mating cicada, and incoming Skype message prompts started plinking on his laptop. In unison, they sounded like a latter-day technology apocalypse orchestra.
He checked the messages on his Blackberry. Fourteen and counting, they all read the same: 1004, NO REGISTERED CALLER ID. He took out the phone's battery to stave off what he believed would lead to increasing madness. Is this what Chinese water torture is like, then? he wondered.
The other sound remained. Plink, plink, plink, still coming from his laptop like an infernal piano key with a slack wire. He sat at the kitchen island and shook the mouse to refresh the screen before him.
What he saw defied logic. One thousand and four messages, all from one user, lazarus_1004.
lazarus_1004 wants to add you to His/Her Contact List
Fed up and determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, David added lazarus_1004. It wasn't long before he received his/her message.
lazarus_1004: First of all, congratulations on getting this far.
he_shoots_scores71: I have no idea what you mean. Just what is going on here?
lazarus_1004: Fear not. You have been selected from a large pool of candidates to compete for a significant prize.
he_shoots_scores71: Excuse me if this sounds rude, but what the fuck are you playing at?
lazarus_1004: A large intrigue, of which you are to play a minor yet very important role ^^
he_shoots_scores71: Quit fucking with me. Tell me what your game is.
lazarus_1004: You have been selected to participate in Coca-Cola's "Follow Where the Money Goes" sweepstakes! Our first prize is a weekend trip for four to the Spanish island of Ibiza!