Life Settlement, Finally

By Walter Giersbach

Way things were going, the best solution was to get out my Dad's old Webley .38 revolver. There were two bullets left from my target practice a decade ago. They'd go into a lying banker's forehead. I was dead whether I lived or died.

Maybe it was the bourbon doing my thinking, 'cause my thought took off like a startled bird when Carla Bennett walked into the motel bar. She'd been a hot number in the back seat of my Chevy Camaro when we were at the university in Albany. She looked even hotter now, fifteen years later.

But I had married Jeanette, my French-Canadian wife, and we were living in a split level with a little lawn and an overdue mortgage. The economy was sinking lower than whale shit, I had no job, and Jeanette kept asking when we she was going to get a new car. The worst was yet to come.

"Harold," Carla said, "where on earth have you been?" She seemed to float into the room as I hung up on Jeanette ragging me about calls from bill collectors. "Carla?"

"Hey, stranger. Don't make it sound like a question." She slid into the chair next to me. "Am I interrupting?"

"If you were, I'd never let you know." I did my best to ignore the sweat on my face, thinking about the vultures at the bank.

Carla was the definition of a china doll, a Cinderella clone with blue eyes under long lashes. I couldn't tear my eyes off that indentation under her nose. That ridge in the middle of the upper lip is called a philtrum and I happen to think it's the sexiest part of a woman's face. It spells class. Something that Jeanette lacked, for all her love and domestic qualities.

A couple of drinks revealed that Carla was in the insurance racket, had her own agency, was named Agent of the Year, and had gone through two husbands. I guessed she was a one percenter paying lower taxes than me.

The sweat continued to pour off my forehead as I thought of the trouble ahead. "You okay, Harold?" she asked.

I leaned closer. "I was distracted by the way your dress stretches over your bust."

She laughed and slapped my arm. "You lech! Putting the moves on me just because we had a fling a long time ago."

"You're a lovely distraction to some problems I'm sorting out."

"Don't we all have them? Talk to me."

"The bank's coming to take my house away. TV calls it a recession — unless you're the one out of a job. Then it's a depression."

"Come with me," she said, tugging at my arm while tossing down two twenties for the barman.

"Now, I'm going to drill you, Harold. I don't want any bullshit."

Drill she did, sitting in her Cadillac giving me a financial interrogation. "Tally up my net worth and I guess I've flunked out big time," I confessed.

"So, net-net, your house is worth less than your mortgage and you're facing foreclosure, your credit cards are maxed out at thirty-five thousand, your 401(k) has dropped about a third, and you've been out of work six months. On the positive side, you've paid off a new car and have a life insurance policy. Have I forgotten anything?"

"Yeah, my wife's starting to look over our friends to see who's available if — when — I pass on."

"I'm going to save your sorry butt, Harold, cause part of your heart is still in my pocket. Forget all the hooey you've heard about life insurance. I want to talk about life settlements."

I was inhaling her perfume and using my finger to draw imaginary lines down her cleavage as she chattered. She was pitching me that till recently the only way to get rid of life insurance premiums was to let it lapse or surrender it for a bit of accrued value.

"You know how you can get a reverse mortgage on your house?" she explained. "Sell it, continue living there, etcetera? With all the voodoo investments going on, there's a very competitive secondary market called life settlements. It ain't the old death benefit anymore."

"Yeah, I was going to cash in my..."

"Stop," she said, putting a manicured finger to my lips. "You need cash and I can sell your policy to a third party for higher than surrender value. You said you have a whole life policy for one million. It has a cash value of — what? — maybe fifty thousand. I can sell it to investors who'll give you five hundred thousand. And you pay no further premiums. How's that sound?"

"But when I croak...?"

"The benefit goes fifty-fifty to your beneficiary and the third party. Meantime, you and your wife will start enjoying half a million from the life settlement."

I looked at this woman sitting by my side full of pheromones of sex and money. Jeanette was the anchor in my life, but Carla might have been the sail to my boat. "Let me think about it."

"Let's get together tomorrow noonish with Jim Cavendish. He has a law firm downtown. I've worked with him for years."

When she stood and said goodbye, she planted her red lips on mine and whispered, "Whatever happened to that Camaro of yours?"

* * *

Cavendish had a beard that would have made him look like God if I were religious. Soft-spoken and warm with the bedside manner I wish Jeanette had exhibited.

"Life benefits were constructed to meet today's needs," he said. "Markets go up and they go down. No one has a lifetime job anymore. The stock market's a crap shoot no better'n an Indian casino. Fortunately, there are investors who'll gladly pay you today in order to assume a profit tomorrow." He guffawed. "I don't mean tomorrow. I meant at such time — God forbid — when you pass off this mortal plane."

"You might mention," Carla interjected, "it would be smart to put his distribution in a private..."

"What she's saying, Harold, is you maybe don't want to deposit a check for five hundred thousand in your Chase account. The IRS would love that! I can set up an anonymous account in the Cayman Islands right there with Mitt Romney and the other fat cats. And I have the papers here for making Blue Horizon Investments the beneficiary."

"Okay," I declared. "Give me the papers, pal. And, Carla, I'll buy you a drink to celebrate."

* * *

Jeanette was skeptical at the cash I put in her lap the way women show it. By bitching. "You might have asked me what I thought," she said.

"You don't think I did the right thing?"

"Pas de tout, darling. You are always right. But a woman likes to believe she is a partner in our petite famille. No secrets, remember your promise?" She put the hundred dollar bills in her pocketbook and snapped it closed.

"Now you can afford that little vacation back to Montreal to see Mama," I suggested. "Two weeks at home while I straighten things out with the bank and creditors."

I was happy for the first time in months. After Jeanette left for Canada I stayed up late, drank too much, hit a casino once, and — I admit it — had dinner with Carla a couple of times. It was becoming tougher to say goodnight and return home alone.

"You won't come in for a night cap?" she asked at my car door.

"Early day tomorrow. Second interview with an importer of Italian eyeglasses. I think I got this one nailed as sales manager."

She perked up. "Where's their office?"

"In the city, down on Arsenal Street."

"First, get the job." She kissed me before finishing her thought. "Second, see if you can get me a discount. There're some Dolce e Gabana glasses I'd die for."

* * *

No way did I see it coming when the guy slashed me coming out of my interview. He was a skinny greaseball whose knife ripped my coat instead of my heart because at that instant I'd turned to look at a store window.

"Gonna cut you, man. When you dead I'm gonna take your wallet and phone. Maybe I even screw you wife." His knife wove back and forth like a snake's head.

"Watch out behind you," I shouted in his face and stepped in to land my fist on his nose in a cross jab. Another right and then a knee to his groin and he was down on the pavement writhing. I gave a silent thank you to my Army sergeant for his training.

My phone was out by that time and I'd hit 911. "Mugger tried to knife me," I said, still out of breath.

Carla was sympathetic when I called her that night. We talked for a long time, about life, hopes that hadn't panned out and dreams deferred. Then I told her I had to get some sleep because I wanted to go over to the Methodist church next day and see the sky pilot to get my head in order.

I'm such a dummy. I didn't see it coming again when I stepped off the curb to cross Washington Street. The SUV was rolling when I heard the driver gun the engine. The fender hit my hip and shot me back to the curb as the machine accelerated out of sight.

I had time to think while waiting for the meat wagon, while giving details to the cop, and while lying in ER at hospital contemplating a bruise the size of a basketball. Two accidents in two days. What're the odds? The odds dropped when I factored in Carla and the life settlement. Someone stood to collect half a million dollars if I went down.

Should I wait for a third surprise? Should I go to my friendly police station and explain my suspicions? Call Jeanette on her cell and ask her to come back to comfort me? Or take matters into my own hands?

I told Jeanette I was going to John Wayne it instead of calling the cops. "This country is broken when the bankers and money managers can play Wheel of Fortune on a dying guy's life," I said. "I'm going to have it out with my insurance agent, Carla Bennett."

"Harold, mon cher, don't do anything stupid. You're a business man, not a fighter."

* * *

"I feel like celebrating," I said when Carla answered her doorbell. "Care to join me in some cheer?"

"Harold? What's happened?" There was no disguising the surprise in her voice.

"Bunch of things. I got the job," I lied, "and my lottery ticket paid four hundred bucks. That's worth a bottle of ten-year-old Bordeaux." I handed her the bottle.

There was a pause and she said the magic words, "C'mon in."

Gotta admire a woman who wants to have you killed but will drink your wine.

My mind was clear: Have a drink and find out what the hell she was doing. Then slap her around — or call a cop if I felt generous.

Actually, her eyes invited me to take her into the bedroom for other moves as we savored the wine outside on her patio and made small talk.

"You're looking very chipper, Harold. All of your financial problems cleaned up?"

I shrugged. "There'll be good days and bad days. This one is good."

"I think about you, Harold. When you're not here. I remember the good times before life took us in different directions."

"And now, look. Life brought us back together, in a manner of speaking."

Her eyebrows went up. "Manner of speaking?"

"You had me sign over my insurance two weeks ago. I told you someone tried to knife me. Then, yesterday, I was almost run over. What do you think of those coincidences?"

"Harold! What the hell are you accusing me of?"

"Um, murder? That way you collect five hundred thousand immediately and it's all neat and legal. Kind of."

"Get out of my house."

She said those words quietly, but there was no mistaking fear — not anger — in her voice.

We both turned when someone said, "What a bitch." Jeanette stepped onto the patio with a gun in her hand. It looked like my old Webley .38 revolver.

"Jeanette," Carla and I said simultaneously.

"Sorry, mon amour, I didn't go to Montreal. I was here. Forgive me, but I wanted to know what you did when I was gone. Did you eat lunch or sit watching some merde on TV? Did you go out to bars alone looking for hope? Or hook up with your old girlfriend?"

"You're kidding. You spied on me?"

"I insisted there would be no secrets between us. And you had a secret. Your new money? Your sudden happiness...from something? Another woman? Peut être. Instead, it was this ugly woman. Trying to kill you."

"I thought she was trying to help me," I insisted.

"I figured out her scheme. It takes a woman to sense these things. So, pas de problem, my darling. We will kill her. It will be our secret and save the state beaucoup money trying to put her in jail."

She pulled the trigger and blood spurted from Carla's ear. "Goddamn, you shot my ear!" she shrieked.

"Oops, sorry." She pulled the trigger again and a ragged hole appeared in Carla's chest. Carla's crystal glass shattered on the patio as she pitched forward in the lawn chair.

"Jeanette! What the hell did you do!" That wasn't a question.

"Simply what you were planning to do, mon cher. Kill the bitch. Now come and kiss me."

Something kept me from walking over to meet my wife, something as simple as her spying, digging out my old revolver and orchestrating a murder.

She smiled. "Worry pas ta head, bebé. Good news. You have saved our ugly little house from the bank. And bad news. I'm moving to Miami afterwards."


"After you commit suicide." She stepped forward and leveled the gun at my head. "I want it to look like suicide."

The scene suddenly came clear. My drink on Carla's table, my bullets in her chest, my life settlement in the Cayman Islands, and Jeanette the only other person who knew my account and password.

Her finger tightened on the trigger and there was an ominous click as the hammer dropped onto an empty cylinder.

"Jeanette, that gun is a forty-year-old revolver and it had only two shells. The bullets that fit a Webley are goddamned expensive, and I was broke." I took out my cell phone and called 911. "Please come quick," I said. "My wife just killed our friend."

I sat down and reached for my glass, thinking about how the Caribbean looked this time of year and the funny twists and turns life deals you.

Walter Giersbach's crime and mystery stories have appeared in Bewildering Stories, Big Pulp, Gumshoe Review, Mouth Full of Bullets, OG Short Fiction, and Over My Dead Body! — "Chain of Events" appeared in July, 2010 and "Babel Tower" appeared in August, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 Walter Giersbach. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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