The Death of Richard Smith
Edward Thomas died how he
lived: simple and unhappy.
"Why do you read the obits if you already know how they died?"
Theda tipped the newspaper down slightly to look at Rhee's teasing eyes. "Madness, I suppose. Or it's for my ego," she answered.
"Not surprised. You've got a lot of those. So who's next? Please no hospitals."
Theda smiled as she folded up her newspaper and tossed it aside. "CEO Richard Smith."
"That guy who owns The Liberty Bank of America? He's a millionaire, isn't he?"
"Multi-billionaire, actually. He's been a smoker for years and beat his lung cancer a few months ago. I'm guessing it's metastasized or he'll have a heart attack. Something to that extent." Theda signaled to the cab driver to pull over, paid him, and stepped out. She paused a moment, swearing she had forgotten something, but closed the door and dismissed the thought.
"Theda? Something wrong?"
There was a screech of tires and failed brakes, then a sound like a bang, with snapping metal and shattering glass in between. Rhee turned back to the spot where the cab once idled and found a twisted heap of yellow metal. "Yeesh."
"Come on. We're late."
With only a slight glance back toward the wreckage, Rhee caught up with her as she entered the massive glass and brick building.
"Mr. Smith is in a meeting right now," the secretary said without looking up from her desk. "Do you have an appointment?"
"I'm the nine-thirty-seven. I won't be long," Theda assured as she sauntered to the elevator.
"But Mr. Smith doesn't get out until ten!"
But Theda and Rhee were already gone.
The elevator musak was eerily calm, but oddly relaxing. Theda leaned against the back wall while Rhee tapped her toes impatiently. "Do you have a C.O.D. yet?" she prodded.
"Not quite. This one's confusing. I know his lung cancer is a factor, but – "
"But people don't just keel over with lung cancer, especially since he's been going to a doctor for so long."
The elevator finally stopped and opened its jaws. "We'll just have to find out, then," Theda answered as she plucked a coffee from a passing intern. "Where do you think his meeting room is?"
"Over there," Rhee pointed.
"Well, it does say, 'Conference Room' on it in bright gold letters, so I'm fairly confident. I can track down some blue prints or torture an employee for information if you want, but no one's in there."
Theda stared at Rhee for the longest time. "Didn't I tell you that sarcasm throws me for a loop? I hate it."
"Just go find his office." They split up – Rhee went in the direction of the intern while Theda went straight ahead and 'happened' to find the break room where she snagged a bagel and sugar. She continued down the hall, stopping at each door to listen for voices and noises. Most of the time, she found silence or the rhythmic tapping on keyboards, but nothing as interesting as an illicit workplace affair – although whoever was in 1409 should get some counseling.
Theda eventually stopped at a numberless room when she heard something akin to the snick of a cocked gun. When she opened the door and peeked inside, a man standing behind a wide mahogany desk jumped in surprise and hastily hid something under a stack of papers. "What – who are you?" he demanded.
She slowly examined to room looking for the source of the odd sound before answering with her own question. "You wouldn't happen to be Richard Smith, would you?"
"I would. What are you doing here?" He reached for his phone, ready to call for security.
"Nice office. Is that a Picasso?" Theda wandered over to the desk and shuffled through the papers. Holding one up, she remarked, "Nice salary. Compared to mine anyway." She dug through a few more and uncovered a strange object – a small pistol.
He snatched it before she could touch it and pointed it at her. "Tell me who you are before I call security."
Mr. Smith's hand was shaking – probably from fear, she concluded. He would be easy to play. She carefully waited for his impatience to overcome him and have him dial for protection. When she saw that for some odd reason, he couldn't get through, she spoke. "My name's Theda. I'm the Reaper."
The phone clattered to the desk and the gun fell to Mr. Smith's side. "Great. So now what? I have a heart attack and fall down dead?"
"If you want. What did you think should kill you?" He raised the gun with hardly any strength in his arm, and she understood immediately. "Shooting yourself. That would work."
"The cancer's back," he snarled as he collapsed into his armchair. "I can't do this again. I barely survived it before."
"So you'll kill yourself before it kills you. That's just pathetic. You're married, aren't you? Have you though about your wife?"
"Divorced two years ago."
He laughed. "Only acquaintances that want money. I have no one. I went through hell, and I'm not going through it again."
"Like I said – pathetic. But let me tell you this; killing yourself won't help anyone – least of all yourself – and I don't generally encourage not dying."
"So what, I'm supposed to feel lucky?" he chuckled. "You'll probably be carting me off to the devil in a minute."
"No, that's not my job. I show up when someone is right on the edge of dying, but isn't exactly falling off the cliff. I usually push them off. You know, in those iffy sort of situations."
Richard Smith pointed the revolver at his temple. "So that's it. I'm supposed to go through with it."
"That's not what – look I don't care if you pull the trigger or not. That's completely up to you. Frankly, if you could just make this decision quickly, I would love to get back to work."
Just then, the door burst open and a tall man in a sharp business suit entered the room, followed by a much shorter, younger girl with a mischievous sparkle in her eye and something apparently valuable in her hands. Theda spotted a gun hidden in a shoulder holster and a mic in his sleeve. "Sir," he barked, "this intruder was found in the Conference Room."
Theda looked at Rhee with her infamous, "You keep disappointing me," look, except this time it was more like a, "You have got to get your kleptomania under control if I'm going to keep taking to these sorts of places," look. All Rhee could do was smile and bow her head in mirth-filled remorse.
"Escort these two out," Richard Smith ordered. "Make sure they don't come back."
"Yes sir." He turned and led both women out the door. However, Rhee practically had to be dragged out by both the guard and Theda once she had seen the Picasso.
Three steps outside the office, Theda asked, "What did you have to steal this time?"
"Somebody left their Rolex behind. Somebody important I guess. . . Are those wire cutters? Dang, you cut the phone line again."
Theda chuckled, realizing that she had no guilt for her crime either.
They stopped as the guard ran back to the office to investigate the gunshot. With a sunken expression, Theda turned to her friend. "Just once, I'd like it if someone would step away from the cliff. Just once, I want a day where everyone lives. Is that too much to ask?"
By the time the pair reached the sidewalks outside, the wreckage of the taxi had been cleared away. Traffic could flow freely through the streets just in time for rush hour. An ambulance stood at the edge of the street waiting for the package it was to deliver to the hospital. A paramedic mechanically zipped up a black body bag, loaded it into the waiting ambulance, and let it drive away.
"Poor man," Rhee sighed.
"Indeed," Theda agreed, "but I feel even sorrier for his wife. She has three children to feed and only one leg."
"I know this, Rhee. No one lives a simple life. No one dies a simple death. No one has a choice whether they will die or not. But no one has to give up either."
Rhee continued to stare at the passing scenes as the train flew through the city. "Wait, I'm confused."
"How did you even get on this topic? Is this about that obit you read yesterday? Geez, Theda, you're weird."
"Look at this." She passed Rhee a newspaper open to the obituaries.
Dear Husband, Father, and Friend
He died how he lived:
Simple and Happy
"Yet more proof that the living know nothing about the dead," Theda concluded.
"No. More proof that you should write your own obituary so no one with a cheap budget writes it for you." Rhee returned the paper, turned over in her seat, and fell asleep.