Authors: Simon Wood
Dexter was the toast of Pinnacle Investments for four years.
People died as projected, usually within a twelve to eighteen month period and the company collected on the insurance policies.
All was plain sailing, except for some problems with dependants.
The surviving family members were often upset by the loss of their inheritance at the profit of corporate America.
Dexter liked to think of it as sour grapes.
It was their unsatisfied greed that was upset.
He provided a public service, a good deed and like all good deeds, someone received a reward.
In this case, cash.
Publicly, he was the Good Samaritan but honestly, he believed he’d exploited a business opportunity to good effect.
The industry snowballed.
The demand for
settlements quadrupled over the year before and kept growing.
At the rate at which their clients died, the company was able to take as many new clients as it wanted.
But disaster hit when the medical community discovered fantastic breakthroughs in the fields of treating terminal illnesses.
The major advance had been in the treatment of HIV with the introduction of reverse transcriptase inhibitors and protease inhibitor drugs.
The new protease inhibitors seemed to purge the blood of virus.
Drugs with names like Nofinivir, Thyrimmune, Thydex, and Xered cropped up from all quarters with others following close behind.
Dexter Tyrell’s viatical clients had the cash to pay for the new treatments with the payouts from their settlements.
As a result, clients stopped dying as scheduled.
The majority of Dexter Tyrell’s clients were HIV+ patients.
How he wished for the new drugs to fail.
The new discoveries meant that life expectancy could be extended as much as ten to fifteen years with a quality of life previously unseen.
Patients with an extended lifeline faced the prospect that in ten to fifteen years a cure could be found.
The unwelcome possibility of financial ruin now greeted Pinnacle Investments and its fellow competitors.
Pinnacle Investments’ Viatical Division saw its income dry up and its costs increase over the next eighteen months.
Many viatical policies’ monthly dues needed paying.
Dexter Tyrell was blamed for his shortsightedness.
He was seen as the man who would sink the company.
To Tyrell’s credit, he’d been inventive when his back was against the wall.
He’d diversified, changed his investment mix, all but stopping the intake of HIV+ victims and replacing them with patients that were unlikely to survive from other illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis.
Also, individuals with dangerous jobs or hereditary conditions were welcome.
Those actions and some other extreme measures he kept from the board had averted the collapse of the viatical division.
He was a hero.
The board should be thanking him.
But they wouldn’t.
The desk clock told Tyrell that his ten minutes was up.
He picked up the copies of the quarterly report and his presentation materials and made his way to the boardroom.
Josh paced about the house on eggshells for hours.
Bell had said she’d call at noon.
It was twenty after.
What made matters worse was Kate and Abby were still in the house.
He’d hoped they would be out by now but even after some prompting, they’d decided to stay home.
Finally, the phone rang.
Dropping the newspaper he wasn’t really reading, Josh leapt from the couch in the living room to grab the phone.
He couldn’t help but hear the overwrought tone to his voice.
“Josh, how are you?” Bell said, smoothly.
He shifted to the open doorway between the living room and the foyer, giving him full view of all the downstairs rooms.
He’d have to put on a good show for his wife and daughter.
He knew he had to make it sound natural, like he was talking to a good friend, not his blackmailer.
He did a good job.
“Fine, fine, and you?” he said pleasantly.
Coming downstairs with her arms full of laundry, Kate asked, “Who’s that?”
“Hold on a second,” Josh covered the mouthpiece with one hand.
Kate nodded and went into the kitchen with the dirty clothes.
Josh was forced to listen to Bell’s laughter while he spoke to Kate.
He wanted to bawl her out, but bit back the desire.
He took his hand off the mouthpiece.
“Hello,” he said.
You make me laugh.
You lie so well.
You have a real flare for it.”
Ignoring her derision, he kept a wary eye on Kate in the kitchen.
“I think I know what I want to do.”
“So you’ve made a decision?”
“What is it?”
“Will you say yes once more?
Just for me.”
Josh’s grip on the phone tightened until his knuckles turned white.
He ground out the word.
Josh hated Bell for getting a thrill out of making him squirm under these conditions.
But he could do little else than pander to her.
Bell switched to a business-like tone.
“I’ll give you three hours to bring me the money.”
The location surprised him.
He almost repeated it, but caught himself.
“In front of the white tiger and lion enclosures.”
Smiling, Kate came towards him.
Briefly, she held his hand and mouthed, “I love you,” before returning upstairs.
Josh smiled for appearances.
“Okay, sounds good.”
I’m glad you’ve come around to my way of thinking.
I’m quite enjoying this phone call.
I feel I’m in one of those cheesy spy movies.
Quite the giggle, don’t you think?”
“Yeah,” Josh said.
“Quite the giggle.”
“The clock’s ticking, Josh.”
Bell hung up.
Josh called up stairs, “I’m going out for awhile.
I’m gonna borrow the car, okay?”
He didn’t wait for a response.
Josh waited on a park bench in front of the white tiger and lion enclosures as promised with the five thousand dollars in a padded envelope he had bought from a Rite-Aid on the way to the bank.
There’d been no problem removing the cash from the savings account.
The teller showed no surprise or interest.
Kate wouldn’t notice the missing money.
The residual cash came from the remainder of the sale of his life insurance policy less the initial blackmail money.
He sat in front of a bank of five habitats in the middle of the zoo that contained the more impressive animals—white tigers, lions, the polar bear, hyenas and snow leopards.
Josh ignored the people in front of the caged animals, the burbling from the kids’ chatter and the sound of the animals themselves.
Instead, he contemplated what he was going to say to Bell, how he would finish it with her once and for all.
He wasn’t doing very well; he hadn’t come up with anything good.
Josh felt the balance of power was with the blackmailer.
He was the one who was willing to pay to hide his secrets.
He was holding the weaker hand and a pair of threes never beat a full house.
The best he could do was bluff.
Was he a good enough card player?
Josh checked his watch, ten after three.
Bell was ten minutes late and he had arrived five minutes early.
She’s doing this to get to me
, he thought and mumbled a curse under his breath.
He looked at the lion in its cage in front of him.
It was a beautiful animal born to roam the plains of Africa but this lion had never sampled that life.
It had been born in captivity and transferred from the San Diego Zoo.
It was just as unsatisfied with its situation as Josh was with his.
The creature paced its inadequately sized habitat while its mate slept.
Josh wasn’t sure how lions lived in their natural surroundings, but he was sure they didn’t live within twenty feet from where they shit.
The lion dropped to the ground by its mate.
“There’s no place like home, eh, Toto,” he murmured.
The crowd to Josh’s right parted right on cue and Bell came through the gap they created for her.
She caught Josh’s eye, smiled seductively, walked over and stopped in front of him.
She was the same sexy Asian woman he’d had an affair with nearly two years ago.
She was a small woman, no more than five feet, with a delicate frame that looked as if she’d break if he held her too tightly.
Her skin, the color of coffee with too much cream, was all too abundantly on show.
Dressed for a warm spring day, she wore a khaki skirt that stopped three inches above the knee, more provocative than if she wore no skirt at all.
The white tank top with spaghetti straps covered a minimal bra for her small breasts.
She had the most provocative features he’d ever seen.
Her almond shaped face had full lips, dark, knowing eyes and unusually curved eyebrows that always seemed to hint that she knew something he didn’t.
Although he detested her, he still couldn’t help but drink her in.
“You look like a lost little boy, sitting there all on your own.
Cheer up, things could be worse.”
He stared up at her.
Bell sat down next to him on a bench donated by a local resident.
She flicked her long hair with the back of her hand and the raven strands tumbled over her shoulder obediently.
She stretched out an arm along the bench behind Josh.
Without looking at him, she said, “You could be at home explaining what you did all those years ago to your wife.
Couldn’t you, hmmm?”
Josh felt Bell’s arm snake around his shoulders.
Her touch repelled him, although it would have made him instantly hard, once.
He uncurled her arm, placing it on her lap.
“Don’t you like that?”
Josh shot her a disapproving look.
“I thought you were here to conduct some business.”
It doesn’t have to be all business.
I know you’ve got my money but I thought we could socialize for awhile.”
“I don’t feel like socializing.”
“But I haven’t seen you in such a long time.
You look good.
I see you’re still in shape.
You’re one of the few men I know who has the butt to pull off a pair of jeans,” she said.
Josh steered the discussion back on track.
“Bell, why have you come back?”
“I’m a Sacramento girl born and bred.
I don’t see why I should be away from my home, my friends…my lover.”
She flashed Josh a coy smile.
Did she honestly think they would pick up where they left off after what she had done?
“We’re not getting back together.
Are you crazy?”