Henrik Nordmark is a bald, middle-aged security guard with few friends and no romantic possibilities. Tired of being the weed sprouting out of the wallflower, generic in his generality, Henrik has an epiphany. He will have one moment of inimitable distinction, even if it kills him.
Henrik first sets out to experience the throes of addiction, then to become virtuous, and barring this to be known as a public menace. Inevitably he resolves to find true love and fails miserably. Along his journey, Henrik inadvertently becomes the target of a team of elderly assassins — one blind, one deaf, and the other mute.
Henrik’s counterpart is Roland, a young office worker who, thinking he’s won the lottery, dumps his girlfriend and casts aside his friends. He addresses an email to the company where he works: “Dear Heartless Bastards …” Soon Roland’s entire world — the fictional one he’d built up in his mind — comes crashing down to painful reality.
Henrik’s and Roland’s lives intertwine with that of a young couple, the aptly named Bonnie and Clyde, two formerly star-crossed lovers who have grown to loathe each other. Bonnie and Clyde now have homicidal intent in their hearts, but do they have the cleverness or proficiency to pull off their respective crimes?
The characters’ lives all come together in a crescendo in which Henrik realizes his true purpose on earth.
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About the Author
Christopher Meades lives in Vancouver, BC. In 2009, his short story “The Walking Lady” won the Advisor’s Prize in Fiction from the Toyon print journal. Christopher also won a 2008 fiction contest staged by the Vancouver Province and his “Serial Thriller” winning entry appeared in the newspaper.
Read an Excerpt
The Three Fates of Henrik Nordmark
By Christopher Meades, Jennifer Hale
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2010 Christopher Meades
All rights reserved.
Until that fateful day, Henrik Nordmark had always been an entirely unremarkable fellow. He spoke in a monotonous, repetitive drone. His conversation was benign. He thought only nondescript thoughts and had no particular ambitions in life. To those around him, he was unnoticeable, camouflaged entirely by his blandness. Henrik worked as a security guard in an office building where for twenty years he had not encountered a single incident that required him to pull out his nightstick. He stood by the doorway all day every day, sphinx-like in contrition and advancement, smiling hesitantly and being constantly ignored. You couldn't blame the people who walked by. Henrik had no redeemable features to draw one's eye. They passed him as one would pass faded wallpaper in an old hallway during an increasingly urgent search for a toilet.
Henrik didn't do anything.
He had no hobbies, no particularly close friends or interesting relatives.
His outward physical appearance resembled Alfred Hitchcock, with his bald head and stout demeanor, his double chin and the slight waddle in his walk. The only features that distinguished Henrik at all from the great filmmaker were a severe redness to his skin and a pair of Wookiee-like sideburns that book-ended his round, bulbous head, making the shadow of his skull look like an oversized grapefruit being squished in a vice.
Not even Henrik's sideburns could set him apart in a crowd. He was neither young nor old, weak nor strong; not fat enough to be obese, but chubby enough that parts of his sides folded over onto the seat next to him on the bus. He smelled a little, but his musty odor — part mildew, part inside-of-a-reptile-cage — wasn't particularly malicious and rarely did it cause great offense. Henrik had no interesting stories to tell. He'd never run through the streets in the middle of the night in a desperate search for condoms or had a girlfriend force him into a sunflower costume for Halloween. In fact, he'd never had a romantic relationship of any kind. Henrik had lived his entire forty-two years in complete obscurity. He was the weed sprouting out of the wallflower; generic in his generality.
Henrik loathed being ordinary. His whole life he'd wished for just one unique characteristic, one thing about himself that was different from the norm. For a long time, Henrik hoped that some imaginary force would miraculously intervene and make him special. During his teenage years, he waited for fate to strike. It never did. One morning in high school, a beautiful young girl with ashen hair and a bright smile accidentally mistook Henrik's locker for her own. Henrik approached the girl as she tried to enter her combination into his lock. He mumbled a vague remark about the unbridled clout of destiny and how it must have brought them together on this day. The pretty young girl looked at him as though she might become physically ill and moved three lockers to the left. Henrik knew then and there that fate would never be on his side, no matter how much he rallied for it to come his way.
In his twenties and thirties, Henrik turned his attention to karma. He tried opening doors for little old ladies and giving up his seat to people on the bus. One evening, he took off his jacket and threw it over a puddle for women to cross, thinking himself a modern-day Fred Astaire. The women on the street corner gave him a confused look and then stepped around the jacket-covered puddle before hurrying off in the opposite direction. Henrik wouldn't accept that chivalry was dead; he increased his efforts tenfold. The next painful sacrifice he made was allowing a woman who came into the pizza parlor after him to take his place in line — only to watch her order the last slice of Szechwan chicken pizza: the very slice Henrik had been dreaming of all morning, the one with the pea pods and the red pepper, the one he had taken two buses in the sweltering heat to purchase. Dumbfounded and heartbroken, Henrik ordered a slice of monotonous pepperoni and watched as the woman took three bites before brazenly tossing her slice into a nearby garbage can. Henrik would have broken into tears had he any to shed. For years, he'd tried to twist the arm of karma but it would never bend into submission. This ruthlessly discarded slice of pizza was the final straw. Karma, Henrik decided, was merely a random phrase that surly baristas wrote on tip jars in order to grossly inflate their hourly wage.
Henrik gave up on karma and fate. It was quite a serious undertaking to believe in either of these concepts wholeheartedly and without skepticism. He simply didn't have it in him to do so. The challenge was too great and the results had alternated between nonexistent and counterintuitive in every way. Everything he'd learned over the years told Henrik that he was destined to live a life unnoticed in the background. It was in the very nature of his design.
At age thirty-seven, Henrik made the optimistic assumption that perhaps his surroundings had something to do with the sheer banality of his life. He packed a bag containing two pairs of underpants, one toothbrush, a half-used jar of surprisingly ineffective Rogaine and three packages of dental floss, then walked to the train station and asked to purchase a ticket on the next train to another city.
"Which city?" the woman at the counter said.
"Any city," Henrik said, full of pride over his spontaneity.
The woman frowned in general vexation and handed him a ticket to a city 200 miles away. Henrik climbed on the train with a smile brimming from ear to ear. During the three-hour journey, that smile steadily shrank until it formed a short, agonized grimace covering just a fraction of his face. Henrik couldn't believe what he'd done. He wasn't ready for this. Nothing in his life had prepared him for new surroundings. And what if his surroundings weren't the issue at all? What if this new city proved him to be equally as boring as he'd been in his hometown? Or worse — what if it was overflowing with wide-eyed charlatans and eccentric oddballs? Henrik would shrink even farther into life's background, overshadowed by their colorful personalities and individual distinctiveness. No, he couldn't take it getting much worse. With every mile he traveled away from home, he felt more uniformly generic than he'd been the mile before. Henrik asked the conductor whether the train would eventually return to his hometown. The conductor confirmed the current route was round-trip, but that Henrik would have to purchase a return ticket at the next stop.
As the train arrived at the station, Henrik planned to scurry out and buy a ticket and then return as quickly as he could to the confines of his car. He made his way toward the door but was so terrified of what he might find outside that he hid himself in a custodial closet reeking of industrial soap. He sat amongst the filthy mops and grimy toilet plungers until the train finally returned home, at which point Henrik made a mad dash from the train doors, jumped face first onto the concrete and kissed it like some B-level Hollywood actor would kiss sand to express his undying love for the land in which he was born.
Only Henrik didn't love his home. It was merely the lesser of two evils. He would never try to leave again. He simply didn't have the gumption to start a new life. Henrik returned to his post as security guard at the office building and lived a life of monotony, secretly wishing that he would someday be unique, yet knowing his dreams would never come true. Henrik lived five more years in life's background.
Until one morning when he went to the market to purchase some plums.
On the infamous morning in question, Henrik waddled along the street in better spirits than usual. Earlier that day he had sat down on the toilet to rid himself of a particularly troublesome blueberry muffin. His bowels were free. It was a quite joyous sensation to be walking down the street two pounds lighter and he was looking forward to purchasing some plums. He'd always enjoyed the taste of plums — apples and oranges be damned — and his Tuesday trip to the market was often the highlight of his week. Henrik entered the market as he normally did and said hello to the cashier. The cashier grunted in acknowledgment but didn't look up from his stack of receipts. Henrik walked through the store and surveyed the fruit. The papayas looked plump and slightly orange, as though they'd just arrived and come into season. Their big brothers the bananas were slightly worse off, with a few scattered brown liver spots covering their torsos. He rounded the entire store, past the nearly ripe peaches and the forgotten raspberries, before returning to the front where the plums were located beside the cashier's desk. Keenly, Henrik leaned over and selected three of the most delicious-looking morsels. He tucked them under his arm and selected three more.
As Henrik picked up the sixth plum, fate struck. His fingers gripped the plum precariously, like the three-pronged claw of an arcade machine clenching a stuffed animal. Henrik increased his grip to keep it from dropping. Ripe and bursting with juice, the plum's skin ruptured without warning and sent a wild spurt of liquid up into Henrik's eye. Henrik dropped the plums and recoiled in agony. He turned around and crashed into a man and a woman, both of whom were purchasing lottery tickets from the cashier. The woman slipped on a tiny puddle of plum juice, forcing the young man to catch her. Amidst the chaos, the cashier flew into a rage and began berating all three of them.
Henrik immediately felt embarrassed. He picked up five plums and set them on the counter. His eyes searched for the sixth plum. It had rolled along the ground, toward the entrance and out through the doorway where it was gathering momentum on the sidewalk, heading toward the street. Henrik darted outside and valiantly chased the renegade plum. He was about to leap into the street when a stranger grabbed him by the arms, saving him from diving headlong into oncoming traffic and most certain death.
Henrik faced his savior. It was a man in a black tuxedo.
"Thank you," he said.
"You must be careful, my friend," the man in the tuxedo said.
Henrik couldn't help but stare at the man. With his neatly combed hair and formal attire, the man in the tuxedo appeared to be quite the international man of mystery. How strange it was for him to be dressed this way so early in the morning.
From across the street, two shadowy figures were watching from a car with darkened windows. They saw the descent of the plums and a great kerfuffle take place around the lottery booth, then watched the man save Henrik's life. In rapid fashion, they unrolled a window and extended an old-fashioned camera. The man in the tuxedo sensed danger and bent over to pick up the plum for Henrik. The camera's flash went off. It was so strong the bulb broke and smoke gasped from the tiny pieces of shattered glass.
"Was this what you were so desperate to find?" The man in the tuxedo handed Henrik the lost plum as the car squealed its tires and took off down the street. Flummoxed by the brightness of the flash, Henrik nodded his head and took the plum in his hand. The man in the tuxedo turned and left the scene, never to be heard from again.
Henrik brought the plum back into the store where the cashier and the two people he'd bumped into were still sorting out the mess. Both customers had finished filling out their lottery tickets but couldn't figure out whose was whose or which was which. The cashier, displeased with the whole situation, grabbed the tickets, ran them through his machine and handed one to the woman and the other to the young man. The young man tucked his in the back pocket of his jeans and apologized, then left quickly. The woman placed hers in her purse and shook her head before storming out the doors. Sheepishly, Henrik paid for the plums and exited the store. He rounded the corner and left the marketplace behind.
As the shock wore off, Henrik reflected on his near-death experience. A nagging thought burdened him as he walked down the sidewalk. Like a tick slowly burrowing to the forefront of Henrik's skull, it gnawed away at his brain. Were it not for that stranger in the tuxedo, he might have died back there in the street. Henrik's reflection grew into a realization, burgeoned rapidly into comprehension and dove headfirst along the path to awareness. He stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, plagued with the notion that he could have died this morning without ever being unique, without ever having a defining characteristic for which he would be remembered. He wondered what they would say at his funeral. Moreover, who would even attend such an event? Henrik maintained little contact with his extended family and his mother's agoraphobia had kept her as a shut-in since the mid-nineties. She wouldn't be there. His employer might make an appearance. That Jamaican woman who worked the night shift at his office building. She might attend. Or she might not. She rarely acknowledged him and had out-and-out ignored his suggestion that their two-person department have a Secret Santa program last Christmas. Henrik racked his brain for who else would attend. He could think of no one. There was not one single soul on this green Earth who he could be absolutely certain would take the time to attend his funeral and Henrik couldn't even blame them. The poor person giving his eulogy would have nothing to say. Henrik himself would probably fall asleep at a ceremony so boring.
He stomped his feet on the sidewalk.
"Enough," he said underneath his breath. He said it again and again. The word swelled in volume until it reached a crescendo. "Enough. Enough! ENOUGH!" Henrik picked the fatal plum from his bag. It was covered in street grime. He tossed the plum into a nearby garbage bin and listened to it splat atop the other refuse. Standing in front of an Asian foot massage parlor, Henrik had an epiphany. He would turn his life around. He would find something interesting about himself.
He would become unique if it killed him.CHAPTER 2
The man in the red suit entered the retirement home carrying an envelope full of money in his breast pocket and a briefcase loaded with weaponry in his right hand. He approached the reception desk and asked to speak to Conrad. The woman behind the counter stared long and hard at the young man's bright red suit, his slicked-back hair and the brazen bravado on his face. She'd heard rumors that this kind of man had visited Conrad in the past. Briefly, she considered calling the retirement home director or better yet the police, before reluctantly leading the man in the red suit down a corridor and up a flight of stairs. She opened the door to the large music room.
Inside, fifty seniors were singing in chorus. The sound was ghastly. Most of the seniors merely muttered the words while a few shrill old ladies belted them out as though they were debuting at Carnegie Hall. The only reason the residents attended the singing hour at all was because the music teacher had a friend in the kitchen and each of them feared the unhygienic things that could happen to their string beans were they to skip a session. The teacher was cruel in her song selections, forgoing the classics in favor of the more contemporary, booty-shaking tracks of today in which the elderly were forced to chant phrases like "shake that ass" and "lovely lady lumps." They'd just finished a listless rendition of Rihanna's "Umbrella" when the man in the red suit entered.
"I'm here to see Conrad," he said.
The seniors looked over and stared at the man in the red suit. A nearsighted, expectant grandmother even approached him in the hope that it was her grandson before being turned away by the young man's scowl.
Standing in the center of the room, the music teacher had no patience for visitors. "And aone and a-two ..." she called out. The piano started up again and the ivories chimed out the first three bars of Eamon's "I Don't Want You Back." The seniors turned to face the group and joined in halfway through the first verse.
From the back, three shadowy figures stood up from their folding chairs.
A smile pursed Conrad's lips. He walked towards the man in the red suit, a cane assisting him as he moved. Alfred and Billy Bones followed.
"Is there someplace we can talk in private?" the man in the red suit said.
Excerpted from The Three Fates of Henrik Nordmark by Christopher Meades, Jennifer Hale. Copyright © 2010 Christopher Meades. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Henrik Nordmark is the most unremarkable man alive--no, he's not even *that* remarkable, but he's at the centre of this screwball romp featuring accidentally switched lottery tickets, three nonagenarian hitmen, a married couple trying to kill one another and a man who successfully ruins his life in one afternoon. With Douglas Adamsesque humour this is an excellent book if you're looking for an escape into the realm of the not-quite-reality.