by Nancy Brewka-Clark
The Best Policy has never before been published.
“Barry, you okay?”
“Trisha, hi!” He spun his chair away from the screen to grin at his new boss.
“Any problems?” she asked.
“Just double-checking the figures on William Sanderson. That’s why I’m in the Department of Final Accounting, right?”
For a moment she hung there, black wings of hair sprayed perfectly into place, makeup apparently based on shades of drying blood. Then she propelled herself backward. “Before you finish off Sanderson, come to my office, okay?”
Barry gave it five minutes before heading down the corridor. This afternoon he’d demand a bigger office. All the others down here were empty, their doors standing half open like company ghosts were still parading in and out with paperwork from the 1940s. “What’s up?”
She gestured for him to sit. “Providential Insurance is unique in many ways, Barry. This new department is an example. Human Resources flagged your résumé because it was unique, too. It’s so rare to find someone with hands-on termination experience in the private sector as well as the military. And it’s beyond fantastic that you’ve had experience with viaticals.”
“Thanks.” He wondered what a viatical was. It sounded religious. What if the guy he’d paid online to create his résumé for five hundred bucks claimed he was a priest, too, on top of accountant and veteran?
“So, relax. Remember, the clients you’re handling are only getting what they deserve. And it’s long overdue.” As he stood to leave, she said, “One more thing. Are you still unattached? No mom, dad, kids, wife?”
“Free as a bird.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, and went back to his desk grinning at her blunt come-on.
To put off facing the gobbledygook of the Sanderson spreadsheet, Barry called up the Providential website and typed ‘viatical’ into the policy query box. A video came up, prefaced by a written definition that glowed in stark black and white on his screen.
The term was derived from viaticum, Latin for last rites. The policy itself was created in the 1980s when the AIDS virus was first running rampant. “But what does this have to do with you?” a voiceover asked.
“You tell me,” Barry said as the face of a handsome middle-aged man filled the screen.
“Say you’ve bought a million-dollar life insurance policy from another company. But before it’s paid up, you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness.” The salesman looked compassionately into Barry’s eyes. “Why go on paying those expensive premiums? Take the $500,000 Providential will pay you up front. All you have to do is to name Providential your beneficiary. We take on the premiums, you take our cash. Buy yourself the best round-the-clock care possible.” The looming faced smiled beneficently. “Spend it on your loved ones and see their joy.”
Barry chuckled. “Yeah, right. You won’t see them go bananas after you’re dead and they get zero. And meanwhile Providential collects the full million. The only fly in the ointment is if you live.”
A glimmer of suspicion hit him then, as sickening as the tilt of an ocean liner after ramming into an iceberg.
“When you’ve disposed of Sanderson…”
“Still here, Barry?” Trisha edged past him. “A hard copy of the e-mail confirming activation of the PTS goes in here.” A black ledger thudded onto his desk. “But you can just cc: TEO for the final accounting.”
“The thing is,” he blurted, “I can’t find TEO’s e-mail address.”
“It’s the same as mine. There isn’t any TEO, Barry. It’s short for telos ethiko omega.” She slashed a finger across her throat. “You know, ancient Greek for pffft?”
Barry gaped at her. “You’re kidding.”
She grabbed the ledger. “You should’ve read the manual.”
“Obviously I wasn’t issued one,” Barry said.
“I sent it to you myself. Registered mail. You signed for it. I have the slip.”
So that’s what had been in the padded manila envelope stamped all over with red ink. He’d tossed it into the back seat and never given it another thought.
“PTS—Permanent Termination Squad. That’s you, Barry. And you know what TEO stands for, besides ‘death is the rightful ending’? Take ’em out. It’s a joke, Barry.” The blackberry lips curved downward. “Although, not in your case. Not now.”
Barry made a move to stand up, but he couldn’t unless she backed off.
“No, don’t get up. I’ve got to open the bottom drawer.” The corner of the ledger scratched his neck as she bent down. “Sorry.”
A shiver ran down his spine, and then another. He looked at the drawer, a typical filing cabinet except for the tiny dial more appropriate for a safe. “What’s in there?”
“You should know.”
His hand plummeted into his lap. He looked down through a swirl of snow at his frozen fingers curling up like a dead bird’s claw. She was standing right over him now, a full syringe in her hand. Through stiff lips he managed to whisper, “Wha’?”
“Tools of the trade.” Her arm swooped down. “So, Barry, do you know what I call catching a cheater red-handed?”
He pitched forward, smashing his face into hard black ice.
Over the roaring of the arctic wind, he heard his last word. “Providential.”
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