The room fell silent as everyone stared at Orville Ramone. No one could believe what he’d just said—-not in the church basement decorated with Sunday school art projects, old ‘Seventies paneling, and yellowed nicotine stains. Not in this circle of metal folding chairs, inhaling cigarette smoke from ten years ago and freshly brewed coffee. Not with the taste of stale doughnuts on their tongues, powder on the fronts of their shirts and smeared on their pants where they’d wiped their fingers.
But Orville’s words had power, and they sparked interest in everyone’s hearts. No one wanted to be the first to speak, but excitement thrummed in the air, the ghost resonance of a guitar chord. They all wanted to make his words a reality, especially Nelson Ramsey.
He thought back a month to when the doctor had first diagnosed him as terminal. At first he didn’t believe it. In fact, he still didn’t believe it after he got a matching second opinion. Yet when he started feeling the debilitating effects of his cancer, he came to know the truth. Despite a life of living healthy, eating healthy, and leading a responsible existence, he would be dead in three months, no matter what treatments the whitecoats put him through.
It pissed him off to think about everything he’d missed out on out of some insane idea that if he avoided vices and ate healthy and got enough exercise, he’d outlive everyone. Out of anger, he got drunk that night for the first time in his life. The altered perception felt good at the time, but when he woke up the next day, shame and guilt convinced him to never try it again. He poured out the remainder of the booze and hid the bottle deep in the garbage so the trash man wouldn’t find it.
He glutted on fast food, which he found more to his liking. He no longer cared about getting fat; the cancer would never let him, not even if he ate like a Roman emperor crossed with a sumo wrestler. As he stuffed himself with Big Macs and mozzarella sticks, he wallowed in all of the things he’d never get to do. His life meant nothing. His sole purpose on earth consisted of waiting to die.
Now he would never get to leave his mark on the world. His job always prevented him from starting a family, so he couldn’t even pass on his DNA. Maybe that was for the best, though. As far as he could tell, this cancer came from genetics. His own father had gotten it at a young age, but everyone figured it was because he smoked two packs a day.
Nelson didn’t have many friends, just some co-workers he sometimes hung out with. As a result he didn’t have anyone to talk to, not until he started attending this group therapy.
Orville had cancer in his lungs, just like Nelson. Jeff Feldman had AIDS. Tonya Slattery had breast cancer. Al Garton had a tumor eating away at his brain. And Barton Malek, despite being only twenty, had MS and needed to get around with a walker.
Every Tuesday and Thursday at seven in the evening, Nelson saw these people. He shared their misery and complaints. He knew them intimately, but to hear such a surprising suggestion from Orville? That knocked everyone for a loop.
“Think about it,” Orville continued. “We’re all toast anyway. Why not go out in a blaze of glory?”
“What about God?” Barton asked. “I’ve been doing a good job of being good. I don’t want to mess it all up in the eleventh hour and wind up in Hell.”
Orville snorted. “You really believe that? That God’s watching over us? Come on, kid. Look at yourself. You barely had time to live. If He’s out there, He did this to you. I say fuck Him.”
“But the devil—-“
“I don’t want to get into a discussion on the problem of evil,” Tonya said. No surprise, as she was a philosophy professor before she retired. “I’m more interested in the problem of us.”
“Right now, our lives are meaningless,” Orville said. “Nothing we do from now till the moment we die will make a jot of difference in the big picture. Don’t you guys want to change the world? Don’t you want to leave a mark for all to see, proving that at one time, we did indeed exist?”
Those were the words that convinced Nelson. He cleared his throat and spoke: “I agree. I’m sick of this terrible hand I’ve been dealt. I don’t want to go quietly into the night. I want to strike back. When I go, I wouldn’t mind taking a few of the bastards with me.”
Al looked at him, his eyes freshly cracked eggs. “Hold on. I’m all about making some symbolic gesture, like that monk who torched himself to protest ‘Nam, but killing people? Actually murdering them? That sounds . . . you know.”
Orville shrugged. “Why not? Why do they get to stay here and we get to die? What’s fair about that?”
“Besides,” Nelson said, thinking of Al’s jaundiced, watery eyes, “you know what they say about omelets.”
Orville nodded, and Tonya asked, “You didn’t just bring this out of the blue. You’ve clearly been thinking a lot about this. Do you have a target in mind?”
“Target?” Al pshawed. “What are we, terrorists?”
“No,” Orville said. “We’re artists. Our subject is humanity, and if we can somehow expose people to their own hypocrisy before we go out, maybe our lives will have been worth it.”
“So we’re rebels?” Barton asked.
“Suicide bombers, more like,” Al said. He shook his head. “I can’t get into that.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” Tonya said. “What’s our target?”
Orville cast his gaze over each face before him, as if gauging everyone’s trustworthiness. Finally, after considerable judgment, he said, “I was thinking about the city post office.”
For a moment, the room remained silent as everyone tried processing this. Their brains came to the same conclusion at the same time, and everyone broke out into laughter . . . all except for Jeff. He’d kept quiet throughout this conversation, but now his lesion-pocked face leaned forward with excitement. “No. Dude. This is actually brilliant.”
“Nobody uses snail mail anymore,” Al said. “It’s all email now.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Orville said. “The USPS still ships packages, but they’re good for one other, very important thing.”
“And that is?” Al asked.
“Christmas cards. No matter how new technology gets, people still insist on being old fashioned when it comes to sending Christmas cards.”
“And ‘tis the season,” Jeff said.
“Think of how many millions of Christmas cards and gift packages run through the city post office during the week of Christmas. It’s one of the central offices, so practically all correspondence in the country passes through it.”
“So what?” Tonya asked. “So we blow up a post office. All we do is make sure a lot of families are disappointed this season. Is my life worth that?”
“Yes,” Orville said. “Americans don’t give two shits if they lose their rights, but take away convenience? It’s the end of the world. Think about how annoyed you get when you’re stuck at a train. Or if Sears doesn’t have that Bluray player you want. Only when people see how angry they’re getting at nothing will they realize what kind of people they really are. Things have to change after an epiphany like that.”
Al snorted. “You know what? I hate the USPS. They’re insanely incompetent. They lose stuff all the time and won’t even take the blame for it. And then! Then! They have the gall to regularly raise their rates! Can you believe that?”
“Genius,” Jeff said.
Barton nodded. “I don’t have a problem with blowing up the post office. I just don’t want to kill anyone, that’s all.”
Orville fidgeted in his seat, his mouth open but producing no sound.
Nelson stepped up. “There are no guarantees in life, Barton. We can try to make this bloodless. That’s the best we can do.”
Everyone looked up to him, even Orville. Rather than letting all parties have a vote, Nelson made the decision for the group. They accepted this without question.
“Well, if we’re to do this, we shouldn’t plan it here,” Tonya said. “Anyone have a place we can gather? Somewhere private?”
“My workshop,” Orville said.
It was late, so they agreed to meet at Orville’s place at six tomorrow. Jeff joked to BYOB, but Orville said he had plenty of booze, if it came to that.
Nelson stuffed his face at White Castle with Sliders and went home, where he dreamt of blowing up the city post office. He marveled at the flying hunks of brick and shards of glass, cutting down all who were unfortunate enough to get too close. He took glee in watching the pirouetting flames lick the sky as they consumed the lumpen mass of the building. He laughed as others wept and screamed and begged. He felt his own body disintegrate in the fire.
When he woke up, his underwear stuck uncomfortably to his crotch.
Orville lived in a neighborhood where there were more boarded up windows than glass ones, where every face peered suspiciously from porches or grungy living rooms. A dog barked constantly from a block over, and streetlights flickered overhead, on the verge of death.
They arrived more or less at the same time. Orville greeted them all at the door and offered each a drink. He poured various alcohols into several glasses. One thing Nelson noticed about the terminally ill: very few stayed away from alcohol. What was the point?
Orville led his guests to the basement, to his workshop. “I already got the blueprints to the post office, and I looked around online for some bomb recipes. I managed to find some good stuff—-cheap, too—-in the Anarchist’s Cookbook. Take a look.” He waved his hand over the bench like a game show host would to prizes you could win.
“Wow, blueprints?” Barton said. “How’d you get those?”
“The county clerk,” Orville said. “It’s not like I bribed some official or anything like that. Who do I look like, James Bond?”
Al shuffled through the bomb making instructions, eyes narrow. “I can’t believe this. These are all household items. Is this for real?”
Orville nodded. “There’s nothing in there I have to sign for. Nothing I need to show my ID for.”
“When do we do this?” Tonya asked. She’d picked a cigarette out of her purse, but she only fiddled with it. When she stopped, she held it between her index and middle fingers, as if she were smoking it.
“People want their cards to arrive just before Christmas. The post office is closed for both the day itself and Christmas Eve. So we’ll want to hit them when they’re at critical mass, on the twenty-second.”
“Makes sense. Do we hit them before or after hours?”
“Why not during?” Nelson asked. “We need to make sure people get the message. Otherwise, why do it at all?”
“No killing people,” Barton said.
“What, blowing up a federal building on Christmas week won’t get the attention we need?” Al asked.
“Nobody pays attention if no one gets hurt,” Nelson said.
“Then you can be the sacrificial lamb,” Al said. “You alone. What do you think of that? Not so interested now, are you?”
“I’d rather die in an explosion than alone in some hospital, shitting into a stainless steel pan and having strangers give me baths. And you should know that, Al.”
Al stared at him, his eyes suddenly hollow. He wanted to say more, his mouth even moved to say more, but he couldn’t find the moral strength.
“It doesn’t matter,” Barton said. “I don’t want anyone’s blood on my hands, not even Nelson’s.”
Jeff offered a sickly smile, showing dingy teeth too big for his receding gums. “How about mine?”
Barton grunted. “That won’t kill me any quicker, friend.”
“Maybe we should just forget the whole thing. It sounded like a fun thing to think about back at Group, but things are starting to feel weird. I don’t like it.”
“No guts, no glory,” Jeff said. “I kind of like the idea of giving the world one big fuck-you before I die. This place has never treated me and my kind well, so I don’t give a damn. Let’s torch the post office.”
“This isn’t about revenge,” Al said. “It’s supposed to be about sending a message.”
“Let’s all take a step back,” Orville said. “We’re getting a little heated. We’re thinking with emotions. Let’s call it a night and resume our talk tomorrow at our Thursday meeting. What do you say?”
They murmured their assent and finished their drinks before leaving, all except Nelson. He couldn’t stop looking at the blueprints.
“How can you reduce something as complex as a building to a two-dimensional drawing on paper?” he asked.
“The same way the world reduces a human being to a dying hunk of meat,” Orville said. “No artistry.”
“It’s not right.”
“That’s what separates you from the others,” Orville said. “You’re outraged by this fact, and you want to do something about it.”
“They might chicken out, but I won’t. This is all I have left. I won’t even leave someone behind to mourn me.”
“Don’t worry.” Orville touched Nelson’s shoulder and gave a tight squeeze. “We will change the world.”
On Thursday, two of them did not show up. Orville arrived first with a bag of doughnuts, and he turned on the coffee machine and moved all the chairs into a circle. Nelson came next and sat to the right of Orville. Both greeted one another amiably, but they were too nervous to say much more than small talk. Jeff was third, and he stuffed his mouth with doughnuts before sitting at Orville’s left.
When Tonya arrived, she looked around the room, surprised, as if everyone there wore no clothes. She recovered quickly and took her seat, reaching into her purse for the cigarette she would never smoke. Her hands trembled as she stuck the butt in her mouth and closed her eyes.
“What’s wrong?” Orville asked.
“I didn’t know if you guys’d be here or not,” she said. “Not after what happened.”
“You mean, last night at Orville’s?” Jeff asked.
She blinked, her eyelashes long enough to flutter in the breeze. “You haven’t heard? About Al and Barton?”
Orville and Nelson looked at each other, confused. Jeff shrugged.
“I got to know them pretty well,” she continued. “They don’t really have anyone else, you know. I mean, Al had his wife, but they’d been separated so long he didn’t even know where she was.”
“What happened?” Orville asked.
“I didn’t know they’d both made me their next of kin.”
“Oh. Damn. Damn and hell.” Orville leaned back, hands against his face, fingers pushing up his glasses to rub his eyes.
“They’re . . . ?” Jeff said no more.
Tonya nodded. As she pretended to smoke, she told them about Barton first. Since he lived alone with no one to look out for him, he had to go up three flights of stairs to get to his apartment. He kept meaning to switch to a first floor room, but he thought that would be an admission of defeat. Besides, he liked the exercise. He believed it kept him strong.
The walker made things difficult. This time, he ran into too much difficulty, and he fell backwards. He went down two of the three flights and broke his skull open.
“That’s horrible,” Orville said.
“That’s nothing compared to Al,” Tonya said. They all knew odd ideas had been occurring to him for the last month as his tumor ate away at his common sense. He thought going to the bathroom on a dinner buffet was normal, and saying “fuck you” was just the same as saying hi. The incidents were few and far between, but they were starting to add up. This time, it got into his head to walk in front of a train. No one saw it, but investigators determined that he’d been dragged five miles before anyone noticed a thing.
“I can’t believe it,” Jeff said. “We saw them just yesterday.”
Nelson said nothing. He thought fate had smiled upon them by removing the only two people who wanted nothing to do with their plans for the city post office. How convenient. Now they could move ahead with no interruptions. Now they were free to make sure the world remembered them when they were gone.
Finally, Tonya yanked the cigarette from her mouth and stuffed it back into her purse, among the coins and tissues and old receipts. “I just can’t do this anymore. When I hang out with dying people, should I be surprised when they die?” Frustrated, she backhanded a tear from her cheek, leaving a smudged trail of eyeliner on her porcelain skin.
“We know how you feel,” Orville said. “I—-“
She stood, violently pushing her chair back into the wall. “That’s the problem. I have a family who loves me, and I keep pushing them away because they don’t understand. Meanwhile, you guys—-who do understand—-keep dying off. Why am I wallowing in this? I’m running out of time. I should be spending it with those who will stay. Those who will remember.”
“It must be nice,” Nelson said. “Having someone love you, I mean. Someone who will tell people about you when you’re gone.”
Tonya stifled a sob. Eyes shining with regret and loss, she said, “I’m sorry, Nelson. That’s all I can be.”
And she left. None of them saw her again.
Orville looked at the remainder of his group. “Do you guys want to continue?”
“With this meeting?” Jeff asked. “Nope. We have more important things to do.”
“Let’s go to my place, then.”
After talking for a while over a few beers, brainstorming, Nelson went home and made himself a sandwich. As he ate and watched a TV show he didn’t like, he thought about notoriety. People remembered killers. Osama bin Laden would still be talked about a century from now. So would Hitler, Stalin, Attila the Hun, Jack the Ripper, Timothy McVeigh, John Wayne Gacy, and a host of others. Why not join their ranks? A hundred years from now, he wanted people to remember Nelson Ramey, the cancer patient who changed it all.
He went to bed and once again had his dreams of destruction. Of death. Of self-immolation.
The next day Nelson blew off a doctor’s appointment to visit with Orville and Jeff, to plan more of what they were going to do. When Orville greeted him at the door, Nelson smelled something funny on him, but he couldn’t quite place it. It made him think of devils and fire, though.
“Jeff’s already here,” Orville said. “Follow me.”
They went into the basement, where the smell nearly batted the nose off Nelson’s face. This time he recognized it: sulfur and gasoline.
“It’s lucky there are three of us,” Orville said. “I made some bombs, three of them. After some careful thought, I came to the conclusion that two wouldn’t be enough to completely destroy the building.”
“We were looking at the blueprints before you arrived,” Jeff said. “In order to total the place, we need three bombs put in strategic places. Check it out.” He unrolled the blueprints and pointed.
“I don’t know what this means,” Nelson said. He felt stupid for this confession. A man with murderous, destructive intentions should know how to read a blueprint. He regretted showing up and wanted to go home. He wanted to forget all of this.
“It’s cool,” Jeff said. “This is the front. We need to have two bombs here.”
“Isn’t that overkill? Why not spread them out?”
“We need the most explosive power there,” Orville said. “The most people will be present, waiting in line or behind the counter. Plus, it’s the store front, meaning it will take out a few bystanders outside. Best of all, there’s a police camera out there, pointed at the building. It’s close enough to get the details, but not close enough to be a danger.”
“Oh.” Nelson thought that was sensible. They wanted to make sure this was remembered forever, right? What was the Kennedy assassination without the Zapruder film?
“It will also help the third bomb, which must come through the back. Here.” Orville pointed.
“And the bombs are all set to go?” Nelson asked.
“Put the finishing touches on last night.”
This was it. This was for real. They were really going to do this.
“We just need surveillance,” Jeff said. “Gotta’ know the busiest time to strike, right?”
“Then we just walk the bombs in and boom?”
“I’ll put them in packages, so it’ll look like we’re customers,” Orville said. “I’ll take the third bomb, the one in the back. You guys get the front. We’ll synchronize our watches and everything.”
Nelson stared at the blueprint and tried to match it with the building in real life. He tried to imagine what it would look like after the explosion. He tried to construct what the news anchors would say. What history would say about him and his compatriots.
Then, he realized that he knew he would die on December 22. How many men knew what their ultimate fate would be and when? It made him feel different. Special. No longer a part of the herd.
“Let’s do some research then,” Orville said. “And let’s try not to be obvious. Remember where the camera is and remember how paranoid people have been about federal buildings since 9/11.”
Orville sat in the coffee shop with Jeff, drinking hot java and nibbling at muffins. Both looked out the front window at the post office across the street, trying to look engaged in newspapers instead. They sat at different tables, since they thought it would be prudent to not be associated with each other in public. Somewhere behind the post office, Orville presumably did the same thing in his own fashion.
It was the third day they’d been doing this. Every time the numbers turned out the same. They could do their best damage at ten minutes past noon.
Five o’clock rolled by, and as the government employees locked up, Nelson and Jeff abandoned their posts at the coffee shop. They walked three blocks down and turned a corner, where Jeff’s Camaro waited. He was the only one with a car, so transportation duties fell to him. Well, Orville had an old Caddy in his garage, but he told them it didn’t run. “I kept meaning to restore it to its former glory,” he’d said. “Now? What’s the point?”
He hadn’t arrived yet, so Jeff got in behind the wheel and Nelson called shotgun. They waited, peering out at the city life around them. Most people rushed home from work while others—-the early birds—-took to the streets, eager for the surprises the night would bring.
It took a moment for Nelson to notice the car was shifting back and forth, as if they were on a boat. When he looked over, he saw Jeff nervously fidgeting. “What’s up?”
Jeff favored him with a pained glance, almost like he had to go to the bathroom really bad. Finally, he said, “I killed them.”
Odd. “Um, who?”
“Barton and Al. They weren’t accidents. Orville told me to do it, or we’d all be screwed. But you’re not supposed to know.”
“Oh. I see.”
“Please don’t tell Orville. It’s just . . . I couldn’t keep it in anymore. It hurt too much.”
“That’s all right. I understand.”
“Really? Orville said you might not like it. You’re not mad?”
“No.” He was furious. Why the need for secrets? Did Orville not think he was worthy? “They had to go. They were too dangerous to our cause. I just wonder why he didn’t include me in this plan.”
“Well, he said he didn’t know how strong you were. He knew I was a mad bastard, so he came to me. Except, I’m not that much of a bastard, not like I thought. Jesus, I’m crying.”
Nelson looked over in time to see Jeff rub tears out of his eyes. He was about to say more, but the back door opened, and Orville slid into the car.
“Let’s go back to my place.”
Jeff turned the car on and drove, steady and tearless. Nelson started to wonder if their conversation had actually happened or not.
Back at Orville’s place, they decided over drinks that they’d take out the post office at 12:10 pm on December 22nd, which meant they only had three days to live. No long and drawn out conclusion in antiseptic beds, surrounded by strangers for this crew. No, the grim reaper acted on their terms. It felt good to have power for once.
“But we can’t just walk in and blow the place up,” Orville said. “We have to leave a record of our intent behind, so they know why we did it.”
“A tape,” Jeff said. “Terrorists always send out a tape.”
“Right. I have a camcorder. It’s old. I haven’t used it since my kids were little. I have an old VHS of Perfect Strangers I wouldn’t mind taping over. How about it?”
He gave them each a script while he searched for his camcorder. Nelson read over his lines and liked them. They had the right apocalyptic tone to them.
They shot it in one go and settled down to watch the results. Jeff spoke first, but Nelson didn’t care too much about the performance. He was more interested in himself. The camera zoomed in on his hollow face, sunken eyes and all. He looked so awkward and empty. There was no glamour in this.
“My name is Nelson Ramey, and I am thirty-three years old. I have been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. They say the wisest of men are those who know they’re dying. Maybe that’s the case. I do know that we can speak the truth without fear of reprisal. Why not? By the time you see this, I’ll be dead.”
Nelson watched the image of himself staring down at the script. He hated reading aloud because he always sounded like he was reading. Not this time. He could feel his words burning off the screen and into his soul.
“I died on December 22nd at 12:10, and I probably took someone you love with me. Why did I do this? Because you didn’t care enough. You were too wrapped up in your trivialities. Your indulgences. Your conveniences. People died on Black Friday this year from shopping. Only in America can something like this happen. A good deal on an HDTV flat screen is worth more than human life. This has got to change.”
Tacky though it may seem, Nelson felt a chill at his own words. Did Orville know him so well? How else could he have written this perfect script?
“We cannot protest the human heart,” his image continued, “no more than we can protest breathing or eating or fucking. Terror, however, works better than anything else. Only when you fear for your own lives will you change your ways. Those we sacrificed at the post office, including ourselves, are a wake-up call, America. Become better people. Abandon your avarice. Be decent to each other. My life is my present to you. Merry Christmas.”
That last part should have seemed silly, but Nelson knew he’d hit the right tone.
“Perfect,” Orville said.
“Aren’t you going to record something for yourself?” Jeff asked.
“No. There’s nothing I can add to your performances. Any more would spoil the whole thing.”
All three nodded, silent for a moment. Then, Nelson said, “So, do we just mail the tape to the authorities?”
Jeff let out a guffaw, but Orville merely smiled. “I think we should trust this one to FedEx.”
Nelson Ramey began his last day on earth hacking out a sizeable hunk of lung. He woke himself up coughing, and it wasn’t the first time he’d spit out blood in such a fashion. However, it was the first time a piece of his insides had come out. It rested on the cold floorboards of his bedroom, glistening in the morning sun coming through the sparsely latticed window. He stared at the meat and wondered how this errant piece fit into the puzzle of his body and what his lungs looked like now. Ragged and dog-eared? Did this make him less of a person?
He picked up the lung loogey and carted it to the bathroom. Holding the slimy former piece of himself, he wondered if he should throw it in the trash or flush it down the toilet, like a dead goldfish. What did one do with something that used to be a living part of themselves?
He coughed again and spat blood into the sink. Then, in the mirror, he saw a streak of blood running from the corner of his mouth to his jaw line. Coupled with his pale demeanor and hollow, angular cheeks, he looked like a Hollywood vampire.
Nelson wiped the crimson from his face with the back of his hand. Then, he opened the medicine cabinet and placed the piece of lung on a plastic tray next to the half-dozen prescription bottles of pills that would never help him. He closed the mirror like a coffin lid and thought that by 12:11, the lung hunk would be the only piece of him left in the world. The rest of him would be incinerated beyond dust.
He got a big, sloppy breakfast from Denny’s before taking the bus to Orville’s neighborhood. Jeff’s car stood parked at the curb like a waiting hearse. Nelson realized his last car ride would be in a beat up, rusty Camaro.
Inside, Orville offered drinks. “But don’t get drunk. We don’t want to mess this up at the eleventh hour.”
Eleventh hour? Nelson had heard those words recently. Why did they chill him now?
Jeff mixed a White Russian for himself. Nelson declined. He wanted a fresh, sober mind when he left this world.
As Orville ate a Pop Tart, he explained how things would go down. “The explosives are on a timer, which is synchronized with my watch. It’s important for you guys to be in the building at 12:10 sharp. Got your watches?” As they all looked at their wrists, Orville said, “It’s 10:33 . . . now.”
They looked up from their watches and glanced at one another, knowing that their remaining life could be counted in minutes.
“Take the packages with you,” Orville said. “Spend the rest of the morning any way you want to. Just remember to be in post office at 12:10.”
“What are you going to do?” Jeff asked.
“Sit around. Drink some Scotch. Look at pictures of better times.” He had an odd smile on his face when he said this. “I want to see my kids again, but pictures are as close as I can get.”
“You want us to pick you up, then?”
“No.” He waved a dismissive hand. “I’ll catch up on my own.”
Nelson did want a ride, so Jeff dropped him off in the city. “I’m going to a strip club,” Jeff said. “My last moments should be spent with young, nubile bodies.”
Nelson thought that was a good idea. He’d never gone to a strip club in his life, but he knew that Jeff meant a male strip club, which wasn’t Nelson’s thing. Instead, he went to a museum. Probably not the most inspiring way to waste his last hour on earth, but it was better than nothing. The paintings and sculptures didn’t do anything for him, though. What did art amount to, anyway? Everyone dies. Things of beauty could never change that.
He grabbed an unremarkable hot dog from a street vendor and washed it down with a tasteless diet cola. Just another meaningless exchange in his life. It would be, however, the last time he would give anyone money.
Nelson arrived at the post office at noon sharp. There was a long line, as predicted, and Jeff was already in it. They made brief eye contact before looking away. Just two strangers in line.
The last line.
Nelson saw the clock in the post office and chuckled when he saw it was three minutes fast. It already said 12:10. A glance at his watch showed the truth. These people would all die without knowing the proper time.
He moved further up in line. An elderly man coughed wetly into a handkerchief. A young woman chattered ceaselessly into her cell phone. Two biddies gossiped about the neighborhood slut. They all moved one minute closer to death, completely unaware of how trivial their final moments were.
Nelson hoped everything would go in slow motion. He wanted to see the package in his hands bloom with flames—-a death flower—-sending his fingers off in all directions like giant horseflies. He wanted to feel every inch of his self-immolation. He wanted his vision to fill with fire until his eyes evaporated in their sockets. He wanted to see split-second desperation in all these victims’ faces as they realized they were about to die and could do nothing about it.
He grinned, thinking this was what making a difference in the world felt like.
His eyes locked with Jeff’s, and he was surprised to see fear in his compatriot’s face. How could he not feel angry, exultant, and defiant all at once?
“Hey everyone!” Nelson shouted. His heart raced as he felt the seconds tick away to zero. “Nelson Charles Ramey says FUCK YOU!”
Nelson felt nothing.
“Holy Jesus. They did it. They actually did it.”
Tonya stared at the footage of the city post office exploding. She watched as TV anchors tried to keep their composure while relating the news. She watched officials making statements about how they were going to get the scumbags responsible. Fox News already blamed Al Qaeda.
Things calmed down later, when they started showing footage of Jeff and Nelson giving their speeches, their reasons for such a wanton act of murder and destruction.
No mention of Orville, though. Weird.
Weird until she saw his photo on the news from an unrelated story. The caption said his name was David Fischer, though, and he was wanted in connection to a high profile bank robbery that had taken place across the city from the post office, exactly at the same time as the explosion. He’d gotten away with 10.8 million dollars.
At first, this confused Tonya, but when she figured it out, she wanted to cry. Instead, she stuck the cigarette she always fiddled with into her mouth and lit it. She inhaled deeply and blew a plume of smoke up to the ceiling.
Then, it dissipated and was gone.