In Search of Kafka — A High Tech, Comical Thriller

Introspective Excerpt from Kafka Novel

by Russell Dyer
published:  oct 22, 2020;  revised:  oct 22, 2020;  readers in past month:  209

In Search of Kafka

author: Russell J.T. Dyer published: 2008 publisher: A Silent Killdeer isbn: 978-0578041063 pages: 217

When I got home, it was about three o’clock. It was comforting to find my apartment, as always, neat and tidy. I cheerfully greeted Penelope, Tara’s parrot who was staying with me temporarily—the parrot, not Tara. As I walked past my desk, I glanced at Myshkin (um, the cactus) who seemed to be resting peacefully on my desk next to my computer monitor, slightly forward to catch some sunlight—there wasn’t much this afternoon, though, since it was so cloudy.

“How are you Penelope? Anything new to report?” I inquired politely while standing in front of her as she rocked back and forth.

“Jiminy Cricket! Jiminy Cricket!” she spouted, raising her head afterwards as high as she could stretch.

“Eh? That’s a new one for you. Or have you been saving that one for the right occasion or something?” I rhetorically asked. I then gave her a peanut to reward her for choosing more pleasant expletive words for a change.

I then went into the kitchen to fix myself a cool glass of sweet iced tea with lemon. I set it down on the table next to my wing-back chair in front of Penelope and then stepped out onto my balcony, to snip a sprig of mint for my tea. I came back in, pinched the mint and stirred it into the tea. I then went to the bookcase and retrieved my copy of Walden—I’ve been trying to read it for years, but keep quitting. I’m on my fifth attempt. Penelope squawked and repeated, “Jiminy Cricket!”

I smiled and said softly, “Only one peanut for that trick.” I sat down placing the book on my lap with both of my hands resting on it. I put my head back and closed my eyes for a moment to enjoy the silence. The air conditioner was running quietly, and the lights were off still. There was a dimness in the room that was soothing. After a while, I opened my eyes and turned towards Penelope.

“Who taught you to say that anyway? It’s a little clean for Tara.” Her owner prefers to use true curse words, not polite versions of them.

Penelope lifted her feet one at a time and rocked a little in so doing. She fluffed her feathers all over with a shudder of her wings and a shake of her head. They stayed fluffed and she crouched down. She was cold from the air conditioning, but was adjusting. She closed her eyes carefully to take a nap. I tried to do the same.

After a bit, I opened my eyes and looked ahead for a moment. I looked over at Penelope and then down at my book. I let out a relaxing sigh and then took a sip of tea. The coolness and the subtle balance of the sweetness of the sugar against the acid of the lemon was just right, with the mint adding a sweet spiral to the taste that made me feel good. I set my glass back down and began to read Thoreau.

I opened the book to the page where I left off — the chapter called Solitude. After a short time I realized that I was reading the same line several times: “When I return to my house I find that visitors have been there and left their cards...” Something about that phrase had stopped me.

But since I couldn’t concentrate, I closed the book and closed my eyes again before looking over at my desk — for no particular reason. I noticed the keyboard slightly askew. I starred at it for a moment wondering how it could have been moved. As part of my morning routine, I adjust the positioning of everything in my apartment, setting everything to right angles, except for some things I place a specific angle to give them a relaxed look while still being in order.

I looked at Penelope with a concerned look, my eyebrows furrowed. She was still napping. I quietly got up so as not to disturb her and walked over to my desk and studied the rest of the items on the desk. Nothing else was out of place. I started to shrug it off, thinking that I must not have straightened it in the morning or I might have bumped it when walking by a moment ago. As I turned to walk away, I stopped myself.

There’s one thing that I have learned in my years of computer work, especially in the area of security: if something is not right, it’s not right; don’t ignore it no matter how small it is. When I first started learning about network security, hackers would often attack my servers and I wouldn’t realize they had gotten in until it was far too late. I say realize because although I might detect the evidence of them, the fact that I was seeing hacking activity would not become real to me until the security breach registered in my mind, until it broke through the cloudiness of my brain. Little by little, though, I learned to stop myself when detecting something out of place, and not to dismiss it as insignificant.

It’s natural for the brain to dismiss minor inconsistencies. It does this to keep its sanity. There’s just too much data for the brain to process to try to find an explanation for everything. But a system administrator who can keep control of his mind to know the difference between what is naturally displaced by typical activities and what is not, is a good one. With this in mind, I stopped and turned around and looked at the keyboard again and said aloud in a normal voice, “Someone has been here,” thus making the fact part of my reality.

Penelope stirred awake. Who could have been in my apartment and what they could have been doing? Obviously, it wasn’t a thief or other things would have been moved, as well as missing.

“It had to have been Homeland Security.” Afterall, they have been searching for me. My breathing and heart beat increased, but at the same time I was getting calmer. Just then, I heard a metallic scratching at the door, against the lock. I twisted around to listen better. There was more scratching — at the lock. Penelope stired behind me.

With determination, I marched over to the door and opened it. Crouched before me was a young man wearing dark pants, a white dress shirt with a thin black tie. he had a military haircut. He was either a government agent trying to break into my apartment, or he was an overly aggressive Mormon missionary. He had in his hand a strange looking tool with a pointy end like a very crooked ice pick. He must have thought I was still at work and that it would be safe to return to do some more digging. They made a mistake sending this agent: He was too inexperienced.

“Can I help you?!”

He looked up at me and said, “Jiminy Cricket!”

He then ran to the street and jumped into the passenger side of a dark Ford waiting by the curb side with another agent sitting in the driver’s seat. They sped off as soon as he got in. I stood there with the door open for a moment.

Penelop squawked from behind me and yelled, “Jiminy Cricket!! Jiminy Cricket!!”

“Jiminy Cricket is right, Penelope. Jiminy Cricket is right.”

In the next chapter, the protagonist, Oliver goes on to inspect his computer and discovers that the government agent from Homeland Security had installed a small device which diverts all his internet traffic through a system that will monitor and record his activities. He suspects the agent returned because it wasn't working properly.