Accidents Waiting to Happen (7 page)

Josh felt sick to his stomach.
 
He’d hidden that part of his life so deep within him, he had forgotten all about his mistakes, until now.
 
Bell had brought them all back like drowned corpses rising to the surface.
 
All his fears returned as if it had just happened.
 
Josh emptied the remainder of the beer and brought the empty bottle down onto the table with a resounding crack.

“You bastard,” Bob said and meant it.
 
“Why did you have to tell me?
 
I was in a good mood when I came in here.”

“Because you’re my friend and the only person I thought I could turn to.”

“You’re a bad advertisement for friendship.”

“You won’t tell anyone?”

“You know I won’t because I’m your
friend
.”
 
Bob said the word friend like a dirty word.
  

“Thanks.”

“I knew you were in the shit when you wanted that insurance policy cashed in.
 
I thought you were over-stretched or something, but this.”
 
Bob shook his head.
 
“If you hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

“Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe.”

“So, what’s this got to do with your accident?”

“Bell called me today asking me for another five thousand and told me if I didn’t pay, something bad would happen.
 
I think she forced me off the bridge.”

“But you said it was a male driver.”

“It was, but maybe she paid someone.”

“No, I don’t buy that.
 
It wouldn’t be in her interests to kill you.
 
She’d be killing the goose that lays the golden egg and all that crap.”

“Maybe she wasn’t trying to kill me—just scare me into paying.”

“This is unreal,” Bob said.
 
“So what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’ve only got two choices.
 
Pay her and refuel that gravy train or blow her off, tell Kate what you did and take your chances.
 
What appeals to you most?”

“Neither.”

“Can you afford to pay this time around?”

“Yeah, I have some savings that isn’t in a joint account.”

“Then buy yourself some time and pay her, but find out what the hell she’s up to.
 
I find it hard to believe she’s going to all this trouble for the small sums of money involved.
 
It’s not as if she’s tapping the Rockefeller fountain.
 
Personally, I think she’s using the accident as a lever to screw with you—and it’s working.”

“So you think the timing is coincidental?”

“Yes, I do.
 
You’ve dug yourself in deep and you’re panicking.
 
You need to start thinking straight.”

“Okay, I’ll pay her.
 
How do I diffuse the situation?”

“I don’t know.
 
We’ll have to deal with that when we have more information.”

“We?”

“Yes, we.
 
As much as I dislike what you’ve done, I’m here to help you, man.
 
You and Kate have too much going for you.”

“Don’t tell me what I already know.”

“Well, why didn’t you know it at the time?”

Josh didn’t have an answer.
 

***

Bob Deuce sat in his office at Family Stop Insurance Services moving paperwork around.
 
Josh’s revelations in the bar last night preoccupied him.
 
The impact had left him concussed.
 
He’d never dreamt his closest friend could have gotten himself into so much shit.
 
He’d stayed to watch the game but found his mind wandering back to Josh.
 
He left twenty minutes after Josh did.
 
His wife, Nancy, detected his mood, but he deflected her questions.

He slept little.
 
Rather than sharing Josh’s burden, he’d taken it all on his shoulders.
 
He realized the pressure Josh must be under keeping it a secret for all this time.
 
It was bad enough experiencing the situation by proxy.
 
He would find it difficult not to blurt it out the next time he saw Kate.
 
Sharing was a bitch.
 
But friendship was friendship and Josh needed his help now more than ever.
 
Maria, Bob’s receptionist, made a welcome distraction when she popped her head through the door.

“Bob, I have a James Mitchell from Pinnacle Investments outside.
 
He says he’s got an appointment with you, but I don’t have a record of it.
 
Is that right?”

“Yes, he does.
 
He called after you’d gone.
 
Sorry, I didn’t write it down.
 
Send him in.”
 
Bob managed a thin smile.
 
He didn’t really want to see this guy, but duty called.

Maria disappeared.
 

Bob looked at his desk.
 
It was a sty.
 
He thought about taking a stab at cleaning it up, but blew the idea off.
 
He just didn’t have the heart.
 
Let him see that I’m a slob
.
 

Maria returned with his ten o’clock appointment.
 
“James Mitchell, Bob.”

Maria saw herself out and the men introduced themselves and shook hands.
 
The strength of the man’s grip surprised Bob.
 
He looked so ordinary.
 
Everything about James Mitchell was average—medium build, average height, slightly receding hairline and an unremarkable face.
 
If he had been the basis for “Where’s Waldo,” no one would have ever found him.
 
He was about forty-five and dressed conservatively in a generic single-breasted suit.
 

“What can I do for you, Mr. Mitchell?” Bob said.

“James, please.
 
I’m speaking to various insurance brokers in California to promote Pinnacle Investments and to remind them of our services, especially our unique ones.
 
In the past you’ve been instrumental in providing us business, but things have dropped off and I would like to see what we can do for you and your clients,” Mitchell said.

Bob saw no point in prolonging this meeting for nicety’s sake.
 
He wanted the salesman out of his office as soon as possible.
 
“Okay, James.
 
The main reason for the decline is most of your services are geared to investments and I’m an insurance agent.
 
I’ve sold some of your life policies but I do find some of your competitors offer much better rates.”
 

 
Mitchell asked Bob to outline where the differences were between Pinnacle Investments and their competitors.
 
Mitchell wrote Bob’s comments in a notebook on top of his briefcase that he balanced on his knees.
 

Bob thought the exercise was a waste of his time, but it took his mind off his other worries.

“I see you’ve sold several of our viatical policies over the last few years—to a John S. Densmore who is now deceased, a Margaret F. Macey and a Joshua K. Michaels.”

Bob nodded in agreement.

“I wanted to update our records on Margaret Macey and Josh Michaels.”
 

“Let me get their files.”
 
Bob left his desk for the archives in the rear of the building and returned with the files.
 
Sitting down, he said, “What do you need to know?”

“Josh Michaels, does he still fly and rock climb?”

“Yes, he flies regularly but I don’t think he rock climbs much nowadays.”

“And how’s his health?”

“Good as far as I know.”

“Good.
 
And how about Margaret Macey’s health?”

“Not so good.
 
I saw her some months ago to renew her homeowner’s insurance and she didn’t look well.
 
She’s a very nervous woman.
 
I think she’s very drug dependent these days.”

“So the treatment is not going well, eh?”

“No, I don’t think the doctors have much chance of curing her heart problems.”
 

“Is she terminal?”

“No, I think it’s just that she’s old and everything is worn out.”
 
Bob added.
 
“She went for the viatical settlement because she needed cash, not because she was terminal.”

“That’s a shame.”
 
Mitchell looked suitably moved but suddenly brightened.
 
“Thanks for the update, Bob.
 
Do you have any other candidates for these unique insurance opportunities?
 
It’s a thriving division for us.
 
I know it was originally intended to be a program for the terminally ill but since then we’ve opened up the qualifications.
 
It’s fast becoming an alternative way to refinance.”

“I don’t have many terminal patients.
 
It’s something I have recommended to clients as and when the need has arisen.
 
With regard to refinancing, that’s something I don’t really get involved in unless my clients ask me.”

“I understand, as long as we’re not losing out to our competitors on that one.
 
We like to think that we offer the best
viatical
service on the market.”

Bob didn’t need to hear the pitch and wrapped up business with Mitchell.
 
They bullshitted a while about the insurance industry, life, family and sports.
 
He felt sorry for Mitchell.
 
It wasn’t much of a life flitting from motel to motel.
 
He knew.
 
He’d done it himself for six years.
 
He’d given it up to start his own business and never looked back.
 

“How long are you in the area, James?” Bob asked.

“Until the weekend then I move to San Francisco then LA.”

“Well, if you feel up to it, I’m going to a barbecue on Saturday.
 
Would you like to come?
 
It’s nothing fancy.
 
Just a friend’s birthday and he’s one of your clients, Josh Michaels.”

“One of our viatical clients,” Mitchell said.

“Yeah, but please don’t mention it.
 
His wife doesn’t know.”

“Oh, I understand,” Mitchell said, stumbling over himself.
 
“Yeah, sounds good.
 
I would love to come.”

Mitchell thanked Bob for his time and hospitality.
 
He gave Bob his motel address at the River City Inn, on the south side of the city and they agreed on a time to meet on Saturday.
 
The meeting had briefly perked Bob’s spirits but he fell back into his funk once the salesman was gone.

 

Chapter Six

 

 

“Are you two going to play that game all day?
 
It’s beautiful outside and you should be out there,” Kate complained.

“We’re playing until I beat daddy,” Abby replied.

“Oh, yeah?”
 
Mock disbelief colored his words.
 
“You’re a long way from winning my girl.
 
I’ll be victorious.”

Josh and his daughter were playing the Sacramento version of Monopoly in the living room.
 
The game had started after breakfast and was still in progress at three in the afternoon.
 
Properties had been bought and skylines built.
 
The pair fought for domination.
 
Abby held her property cards fanned close to her face like a seasoned poker player but her face told Josh she was pleased with herself.
 
Occasionally she confided conspiratorially with her adviser, Wiener.
 
He was meant to be representing the bank but Josh was sure the dog knew something he didn’t.
 
He was losing to his daughter.

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