Olin Bahr sat on the end of the exam table, his feet on the footrest and waited for the doctor. The exam room in which he sat, typical of all exam rooms in any medical facility, he thought, felt impersonal, devoid of anything suggesting human warmth, compassion or comfort. The only decoration in the room, an articulated human skeleton with a hook protruding from the top of its skull, hung on a metal pole in one corner and stared at Olin with empty eye sockets.
It’s ironic, Olin thought, that his only companion in this soulless room was a skeleton much like his own, only the skeleton in the corner was immune to the savage cancer ravaging his bones and body, gifting him with pain.
A sharp rap on the door announced the doctor’s arrival.
“Good to see you again, Mr. Bahr,” the doctor said, giving Olin a brief nod before sitting down at the computer terminal and starting to use the keyboard.
“Good to see you, too,” Olin replied and waited for the doctor to finish whatever he was doing on the computer.
“I wish I could say I have good news for you, Mr. Bahr, but I don’t,” the doctor said, turning away from the computer and facing Olin.
“Sure,” Olin said. He focused on his hands resting on his knees, thinking how pale and fragile his fingers looked, like shriveled sticks that had been in river water too long. “How much time?”
“A month, perhaps two, certainly three would be a stretch.”
Olin grunted. “This day comes for everyone, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, Mr. Bahr, I’m afraid it does. Is your medication managing the pain or do you need something additional?”
“I’m starting to get sudden bursts of intense pain.”
“That’s called breakthrough pain. I’ll prescribe something extra that will help with these episodes.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that.” Olin listened as the doctor continued talking but the words didn’t register with him as anything but the sound of a human voice. Olin focused on the skeleton’s empty eye sockets. I’ll trade bones with you. The skull’s lower jaw hung down, its mouth open in a silent rejection of Olin’s proposal.
“Mr. Bahr, it might be time to consider hospice.” Again, Olin heard only words. Their meaning didn’t register with him, but the word hospice did. He knew what it meant. The doctor continued talking until Olin heard, “I’m sorry, Mr. Bahr, there is nothing more we can do,” and stood up.
“Sure, I understand,” Olin replied.
That night, after a bowl of chicken noodle soup for dinner, Olin yearned for a glass of scotch. He wanted to feel the fiery liquid with its hint of aged oak and smoky peat roll over his tongue and slide down his throat, but he knew alcohol and the fentanyl patch on his upper arm made a dangerous combination, perhaps a fatal combination, and he wasn’t ready to check out just yet under those conditions.
He sat in the dark living room, lit a joint and thought about the doctor’s suggestion; hospice. The word disturbed Olin. He saw himself collapsing physically then mentally, and finally, bed-ridden in a drug-induced stupor, unable to do anything at all, cathetered, his piss draining into a plastic bag someone had to empty several times a day as he waited for death to arrive. “No, that’s not for me,” he whispered.
He finished the joint, lit another one, inhaled and closed his eyes. Soothing warmth descended on him and for a few moments he forgot about the cancer ripping his body, the pain that came to him in the night. He sucked on the joint again, got up and went to his desk, found the black journal and opened it.
Several tasks on his list remained undone. Olin ran his finger down the pages of the journal, noted completion dates he had so carefully recorded in the left-hand margins, and marveled at the insignificance of them now that the end of his life was weeks away. These accomplishments were of no use to him now and when he was dead nobody would ever care about the things he had done.
Olin turned to the last page. The single entry on the bottom line was the one that mattered now, the one he would expend all his remaining energies to accomplish before the cancer took him. It had to be completed before the sand in his glass ran out. Olin sighed. He knew why he had put this entry on the bottom of the last page. It was the last thing he would ever do in his life. Olin laughed at the poetics of it; the last entry on the last page, the last act in his life, and then it would be over. And nobody would give a rat’s ass about the checked-off items in the journal or the ones left undone.
Olin entered a date in the left-hand margin next to Walter Selway’s name.
He closed the journal and put it in a desk drawer then began sketching out a timeline for accomplishing that last entry. “Walter, Walter, Walter,” he said as he worked into the night.
The flight from Tucson to Seattle was uneventful, even pleasant. The first-class seat Olin occupied separated him from the other passengers and that pleased him. The additional cost didn’t bother him; it was, after all, a one-way ticket and the few extra dollars spent on comfort were well worth it. Engaging in unwanted conversation with a stranger in the next seat, bumping elbows, jockeying for domination of the armrests, did not appeal to him, nor did explaining why he was sucking on an odd-looking lollipop, rubbing it against the inside of his cheek. Olin did not want to discuss the lollipop, which was the medication his doctor had prescribed when the arm patch failed to control the pain flair-ups.
Two hours fifty-five minutes after lifting off from Tucson Olin’s plane landed at Sea-Tac Airport. He waited patiently at the baggage carousel for his checked bag. It was a small bag that could easily have gone in the overhead bin as a carry-on had it not contained a hip flask of 15-year old single malt and, in the locked security box, a 9mm Glock and a full 17-round magazine.
Olin retrieved his bag and left the terminal.
The bus ride from the main terminal to the rental car area was quick as was his check-in. When the clerk asked if he wanted to buy the tank or return the car with the tank full, Olin thought what difference would it make if the tank were empty or full? What could the rental car company do after this was over? He laughed and said, “I’ll buy the tank,” knowing he would not be the one to return the car.
Before leaving the car rental and swinging onto I-5 Southbound, Olin entered Walter Selway’s business address in Lakewood, a town forty miles south of Seattle, into his phone’s GPS. He knew a lot about Walter Selway, had followed him, tracked him was more like it, for the last twenty-five years. Olin was unable to forget, even for a day, what Walter had done to him that Saturday afternoon in June forty-two years ago when his parents were not at home and Walter came into the house uninvited. He was twelve and Walter was seventeen that long-ago summer. Afterward, Walter laughed and pulled up his pants. “If you tell anybody I’m going to come back and give it to you again really good,” he said before he walked out of Olin’s bedroom.
Three days later the Selway family moved and Olin never saw Walter again.
Olin never forgot those words. Today he would repeat them for the first time in forty-two years when he met Walter in the afternoon.
The GPS instructed Olin to take the North 72nd Street exit, drive four miles then turn right onto Steilacoom Boulevard and drive another mile. He unwrapped another lollipop as he drove and placed it against his cheek as the pain began to blossom.
Walter’s business, Financial Security Advisors, bracketed by a florist on one side and an art supply on the other, was in a small up-scale strip mall. Olin pulled into a vacant slot off to the side. He looked at the fuel gauge; he hadn’t even used a quarter-tank of gas.
Olin took the lock-box out of the small suitcase, opened it, inserted the magazine in the Glock’s magazine well, chambered a round and put the pistol in his waistband and covered it with his suit jacket. He slipped the small hip flask in a jacket pocket, left the suitcase open on the seat, got out and locked the car.
A receptionist behind a desk greeted him when he came in.
“I’m Wayne Sandoval,” Olin said. “I have an appointment with Mr. Selway.”
She glanced at a computer screen. “Yes, you do, Mr. Sandoval, I’ll tell him you are here.” She went into an office behind the reception area then returned in a few moments. “Please, go in.” She waited for Olin to enter before closing the door.
The man behind the desk smiled, got up, came around it and extended his hand. “Mr. Sandoval, how nice to meet you. I’m Walter Selway. Please, have a seat.” He pointed at a chair in front of his desk. “Can I get you anything? Coffee? Water? Soft drink?”
“No, thank you, I’m good.” He sat down.
Selway sat down behind his desk, smiled again and said. “I understand you have a substantial sum of money you wish to put into a long-term, secure investment. Is that correct?”
Olin laughed. “You don’t recognize me.”
The smile disappeared from Selway’s face. “No, I don’t. I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage, Mr. Sandoval.”
“You knew who I was that Saturday afternoon in June forty-two years ago.”
Selway’s face went white. “Olin. Oh, Jesus.”
Olin pointed the Glock at Selway. “He isn’t going to help you today, Walter. Nobody is.”
“Oh, Jesus,” Selway said again. “We were just kids then.”
“I was, you weren’t. Do you remember your words, Walter?” Olin repeated them.
“That was over forty years ago. We didn’t know anything then. We were just fooling around.” Selway started to stand up. Olin shot him in the chest three times. Selway dropped onto his chair. Olin shot him a fourth time, in the center of the forehead, before Selway fell to the floor. The office door opened and the secretary looked in. Olin pointed the pistol at her. “Get out,” he said. She turned and ran out of the building without uttering a sound.
Olin closed the outer door, sat at her desk and called 911. “I just killed a man,” he said to the dispatcher.” I’m inside the building. I’m armed.” He gave the address then ended the call. He opened the small flask and drank from it. He closed his eyes and savored the taste as the scotch rolled over his tongue and slid down his throat. He took another drink, capped the flask and set it aside. Then he removed a folded piece of paper from his shirt pocket and held it in his left hand.
Olin Bahr waited.
The sirens got louder and louder then abruptly stopped as four police cars converged in front of the strip mall. Olin saw the officers get out of their cars, weapons drawn. Olin walked to the front door, opened it and stepped out. He pointed the Glock at a police car and squeezed off two quick rounds, waited a beat, stepped toward the police and fired three more times.
Olin felt the first round impact his chest as he pulled the trigger again. He didn’t feel the other rounds striking his body. The officers remained crouched by their cars and watched Olin fall face down on the concrete in from of Walter Selway’s office. When Olin didn’t move, four of the officers approached him, their weapons pointed at his inert body.
One of the officers knelt and felt for a pulse in Olin’s neck. “I think he’s dead,” the officer said. Two officers, weapons still drawn, entered Selway’s office and came back moments later. “One deceased male inside,” one of them said.
Other emergency vehicles with blaring sirens were approaching.
The officer kneeling next to Olin’s body noticed the paper in his left hand. He picked it up, unfolded it and said, “What the hell?” He handed it to another officer. “Jesus Christ,” the second officer said.
“What does it say?” asked another officer.
“It says Thank You.”