The Decision Button
by Rune Froseth
Maurice Guepardot was living a normal life. You could say he was living a happy life. Yes, you could perhaps even say that he lived an accomplished life. He was in good health both physically and mentally, was surrounded by a loving family and many friends, and had a good, solid, interesting, well-paid and secure job.
However, he sometimes wondered about the whole meaning of his existence. Of course, he knew perfectly well that he was contributing to something at work and in society, and that his existence was well appreciated by his loved ones and that they would be devastated if he were to suddenly drop dead, but from time to time he wondered about the meaning of it all.
Maurice was not a religious person. He did not believe in a divine being, with a grand plan for the universe. At the same time, he was not a nihilist; he did believe in humanity and did have a number of values. At times, especially when he met some difficulties in life, he failed to see the purpose in his life, and wondered whether it was really worthwhile to go on living.
He had several times contemplated taking his own life. But he could not even see the purpose in that. He was fond of living. And he was also quite discouraged by the practical side of taking one’s life; he considered the effort needed quite overwhelming, and it always quickly turned his thoughts away from it.
For example, he could shoot himself. But then he would need a gun. And he didn’t have one. He knew several people who had guns: hunters, competitive shooters, or simply paranoids who thought they needed a gun to defend themselves and their families. But you don’t just call a friend or a cousin and ask to borrow his gun; that would certainly raise suspicions. To get one legally, he would either have to take up — or pretend to take up — hunting or target shooting. And he was a bad actor and a lousy liar.
To get a gun illegally was of course possible, but then he would need to be in contact with criminals, and he was certainly not tempted by that prospect. And then, what a mess it would leave: blood and brains all over the place! He got shivers down his spine and felt nausea merely at the thought of it.
Or he could take sleeping pills. But then he would need to acquire some. Lots of them. And in order to do that he would either have to pretend to have problems with sleeplessness or steal from somebody else. Also to administer them was quite an off-putting prospect.
There were certainly other ways. He could throw himself in front of a bus or, probably more reliably, a train; he could jump from a high place — say one of the bridges over the Seine — or even from the Eiffel Tower; he could hang himself, and so on. But all conceivable ways put him off for one reason or another. Apart from the disgusting mess it would entail, he was most put off by the effort it would involve. Many of the methods mentioned would also involve — albeit briefly — some and most probably quite violent pain.
Now, he was not really determined to take his own life, but he was quite puzzled that more people didn’t do it. Especially people — and there were quite a few, all over the world, and even in his own Paris — with real problems or with bad prospects of a prosperous life or no such prospects at all. He thought quite frequently: What if it were very easy; quick and effortless? As if it simply required thinking it, saying it out loud, or sitting down in his favourite armchair and pressing a button?
A button. He really — more and more frequently — thought seriously about this option. Of course he had never heard about anything like that, but was it really completely unimaginable? It finally became an obsession for him, and he decided to turn his fantasy into reality.
* * *
To begin with, he had to do some research. He soon found out that indeed, no such button yet existed. But that didn’t put him off or even discourage him; it was what he had expected, and only fuelled his excitement about his project. He would need a device like that to be created.
But how could he do that? Of course he couldn’t advertise and ask for bids; that would only raise eyebrows and anguish, both from his family and the authorities. He thought about it for a while, and concluded that he would need to find somebody to build one. An inventor. A clever inventor. And a trustworthy, discreet one. Probably a greedy one — since the inventor would have to do it for the money and then keep quiet.
Maurice started looking, and it didn’t take too long before he found the ideal candidate: Igor Putschnik, an eastern European émigré who apparently was quite a genius; he had won several prestigious awards and had a brilliant career, but had run into a few scandals, including booze and women. He had subsequently been all but banned from society and was eking out a living doing odd jobs.
He called Igor from a public phone in order to avoid leaving any trace and asked if they could meet to discuss a possible business proposal. Igor was a bit hesitant, even grumpy, at first, but when Maurice managed to convince him that this was serious, and that he would pay well, Igor agreed to a meeting.
They met at a small café in the 16th arrondissement, which was rather far from Maurice’s usual parts of town, but he was happy to be in a place where he was pretty sure that nobody would know him. It was also within walking distance from Igor’s humble abode.
Igor was not a small-talker, and Maurice was also eager to get to the point. As soon as the waiter walked away with their two orders of café au lait with un petit Pernod, he leaned over the small table and, suffering Igor’s incredibly bad breath, asked: “Have you ever heard of — or would you be able to make — a suicide button?”
Igor just looked at him. A smile was emerging in the corner of his mouth, and he was just about to explode with mirth at such a funny joke, but then he looked into Maurice’s unwavering eyes and realized that this man was perfectly earnest — albeit perhaps mad, and his smile disappeared. He looked around, confirming that nobody was within hearing range, swallowed a couple of times, and shook his head. “No, Monsieur, I have not heard about — or seen — such a thing, but — given ample time and sufficient money — it might not be cheap — perhaps I could make one.”
Maurice relaxed a bit, the coffee and Pernod arrived, and while simultaneously nipping at both — he usually didn’t drink strong alcohol at such an early hour, but now he was quite happy that he had followed Igor’s example and had this Pernod to fortify himself — started to explain exactly what he had in mind. And Igor, equally sipping — or rather gulping down — his Pernod, which turned into three before they had finished their conversation, mostly nodded, and only put in a question for clarification now and then.
“Yes, it can be done,” Igor concluded as he drained his last Pernod. “But I need time — say a month. And it will not be cheap.” Now it was Maurice’s turn to nod. He agreed on the terms — the price was actually not as exorbitant as he had feared — and they shook hands and departed, walking away in opposite directions.
The deal was that in a month, Maurice would leave his apartment for a week, leaving his key with the concierge, authorizing Igor to enter his apartment for some light renovations, including the installation of some new furniture.
* * *
Maurice could barely hide his excitement when he called upon the concierge after he returned from his week in Martinique. “Voilà, monsieur !” she said with a smile — and was it a wink? — when she handed him the keys together with an envelope. Maurice frowned for a fraction of a second when he saw the envelope, but didn’t reveal any further surprise to the concierge. He collected himself and pocketed the keys and the envelope, and with a “Merci, Madame — bonsoir !” turned around and headed for the stairs up to his apartment.
“Bonsoir, Monsieur !”
When he took the keys out of his pocket to unlock the door to his apartment, only then did he notice that there was a key on the key chain that hadn’t been there before. It was a small, strange-looking key. Again he frowned, more because of the peculiar type of key than of its mere presence on the key chain. He was pretty sure he knew what it was intended for.
Inside the apartment, he hastily put down his suitcase on the floor in the corridor, threw the mail on the little phone table, and rushed into the living room. Everything looked as it had when he’d left a week ago. Except for in the far corner, where his favourite armchair stood or, rather, used to stand. Because now there was a new one, almost identical. Actually he could not spot any particular difference but he knew it wasn’t the same; it was definitely newer. The black leather seemed shinier. Was it also slightly bigger? He wasn’t sure.
Suddenly he remembered the envelope in his pocket. He recovered it, tore it open, and started reading the single typewritten sheet inside:
The button has been successfully installed and is ready to use. I hope the chair is also to your taste and sufficiently comfortable. You will find a small key on your key chain.
When you sit down in the chair, press the two round grey patches on each inside of the chair simultaneously with your thumbs and hold for three seconds. A small panel will be revealed on the right armrest. You will find a slot for the key — when you insert it, turn it a quarter of a turn to the right.
Now a small yellow light diode will be turned on, and the button will be activated. Be careful — it is quite sensitive, so do not play around with it if you are not in earnest about really using it! Once pressed, there will be no sound, and the desired result will immediately take effect. As per your instructions, it will be a swift, painless and clean death. You will actually feel nothing before you expire.
Nobody will know exactly how it works — that will remain my secret — and the cause of death will be the doctor’s and mortuary’s challenge to determine. Should you have any further inquiries about the installation, please feel free to contact me. Should you come to the conclusion that you do not want to keep it, I can retrieve it at no further cost for you. However, as I made clear when we agreed on the transaction, there will be no reimbursement whatsoever of the payment, for which I acknowledge receipt and am most grateful.
Yours sincerely, I. P.
Copyright © 2020 by Rune Froseth