Tree Callister was dying.

Yes, he knew everyone was dying. He understood that.

But he was actually dying. His heart was about to stop. The end was near. He was certain of it. He had known for a long time that he was closer to the finish than he was to the beginning. But now, there was no more edging toward a destination a long way off. He was there—at the end. Following a lifetime of speculation about the eventual outcome, here he was at the edge of the undiscovered country.

Tree Callister was dying.

“You’re not dying,” said his wife, Freddie.

“We are all dying,” Tree said, repeating his latest mantra.

“Of course we are all going to die,” Freddie agreed. “But you’re not going to die today and probably not tomorrow either. Or the next day.”

They were returning to Sanibel Island late in the afternoon following their annual checkup at the Cleveland Clinic, a daylong ritual that each year threw Tree into a panic as he came face to face with the notion haunting all baby boomers—that he might just be mortal.

Blood had been taken, eyes inspected, a treadmill stress test with electrodes attached to his arms and legs and finally, a roll onto his side to allow Dr. Janet Hampshire to stick her finger up his bum.

All of which had led to one inescapable conclusion: Tree Callister was dying.

“It’s not just my heart,” Tree said.

“Your heart is fine,” interrupted Freddie.

“They also don’t like the look of my prostate. Or my kidneys.”

“You’re within the normal range, there’s just been a slight uptick, that’s all.”

“Uptick,” Tree gulped. “I don’t like the sound of that.”

“You’re overreacting,” said Freddie.

“They’ve got me scheduled to see an oncologist. If the heart doesn’t get me, the cancer will. As for the kidneys I have to pee into a plastic container for twenty-four hours straight.”

“Why do you have to do that?”

“So they can check my creatinine levels. They seem to be a little high. I could be on dialysis, that is if I don’t have a heart attack first—or succumb to the prostate cancer that seeps into my bones.”

“You’re overreacting,” Freddie repeated.

“You always say that.”

“I only say you’re overreacting when you overreact.”

“It’s over, I tell you. Everything is beginning to fade to black.”

“I rest my case,” said Freddie. “Listen, it’s a beautiful, sunny day in South Florida. Nothing is fading to black.”

“We’re in God’s waiting room down here,” Tree said insistently. “They keep the lights on to reassure us old farts, just before everything goes black.”

“The doctor wants you to see a couple of specialists, that’s all. You feel fine don’t you?”

“That’s beside the point. Inside, everything is closing down.”

“All of this is going to amount to nothing.”

Or maybe everything, Tree thought.

“These further tests are just a precaution,” Dr. Janet had said.  In her white smock with her pale, smooth, unblemished skin, she was the personification of professional cool. Dr. Janet was young, there was nothing wrong with her, no disease would dare go near that perfection; she would live forever.

Tree Callister, on the other hand, was dying. All the cool, calm reassurances in the world from immortal, youthful doctors were not going to change that terrible reality. Dr. Grace Bovary, one of the clinic’s psychotherapists, had tried to reassure him. “I’m a life coach,” she said.

“A life coach? You help people get through life?”

She rewarded him with a fleeting smile. “Do you need help getting through life?”

“It’s probably too late for me,” Tree said. “I’m almost through life.”

A pleasantly plump fortyish woman, Dr. Grace, too, had flawless skin. She too would live forever. She adjusted her designer glasses. “What bothers you most?” she asked.

“The fact that I have to pee into a plastic container,” Tree said.

She blinked a couple of times and adjusted her glasses again. “You have to do what?”

“Pee into a plastic container,” Tree said. “It’s for my kidneys.”

“Your kidneys?”

“There may be something wrong with them. Also my prostate and my heart.”

“You have to pee into a container because of your heart?”

“No, just my kidneys,” Tree advised.

“I see,” Dr. Grace said in a way that suggested she didn’t see at all. She peered at the computer screen.

“You’re a private detective.” There was a note of surprise in her voice.

“Retired,” Tree said. “However, I’m considering going back to work.”

Dr. Grace pulled herself away from the computer screen to give Tree a closer look. Once again she adjusted her glasses and said, “Where are you located, Tree? Where do you do business?”

“My office was on Sanibel Island. Like I said, I’m thinking of reopening it.”

“You’re a private detective on Sanibel Island.” She tried to keep the surprise out of her voice—and failed.

“That’s correct,” Tree said.

“I wouldn’t think there’s a lot of work for a detective on Sanibel,” she said slowly, choosing her words carefully.

“You would be surprised,” Tree said.

“Yes, I suppose I would,” Dr. Grace replied, rallying. “So, yes, I imagine detective work can produce high stress levels.”

“People keep trying to kill me,” Tree said.

She paused for a time before she said, “Why do you suppose people are trying to kill you, Tree?”

“There are various reasons,” Tree said. “Mostly to do with the cases I’ve been involved in.”

“And these stressful experiences…”

“I’ve been shot twice,” Tree interjected.

Dr. Grace again tried not to look surprised—and failed. “Yes, well, as I started to say, these experiences might have something to do with producing feelings of mortality, don’t you think?”

“They might,” Tree said. “On the other hand I felt great when I walked in here today.”

“How do you feel now?” Dr. Grace asked.

“Well, I have to pee into a plastic container, and I feel like I’m going to die,” Tree said.

“I can’t do much about the peeing,” Dr. Grace said.

“No, I understand that may not be in the wheelhouse of a life coach,” Tree said.

“But if you’re feeling uneasy about death, maybe being a private detective isn’t the best occupation to pursue.”

“That’s been pointed out a number of times,” Tree said.

“Yet here you are, thinking about going back into the work that causes you so much stress and creates these feelings of anxiety.”

“Yes,” Tree answered.

“Do you mind if I ask why?”

“I’ve discovered I get into just as much trouble when I’m not a detective as I do when I am. So I might as well be a detective.”

“That doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Dr. Grace said.

“That seems to be the story of my life,” Tree said.

“Continually doing things that don’t make a lot of sense?”

Tree nodded. Dr. Grace pushed at her glasses and jotted something into the notebook open in front of her on her desk. Reading upside down, Tree could see that she wrote in small neat letters: “Afraid of peeing into a plastic container.”

The life coach at work.


Heart of the Sunset Detective

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