Bet Your Lifeby Richard Dooling
A terminally ill man sells his life insurance policy for cheap to an investor who will collect the full amount when the sick man dies.But is the sick man really sick? Does he even exist? In the age of AIDS and no-holds-barred capitalism, the business of betting on how much longer sick people will live is thriving. Is this new market in which life insurance policies… See more details below
A terminally ill man sells his life insurance policy for cheap to an investor who will collect the full amount when the sick man dies.But is the sick man really sick? Does he even exist? In the age of AIDS and no-holds-barred capitalism, the business of betting on how much longer sick people will live is thriving. Is this new market in which life insurance policies are bought and sold a legitimate enterprise, or is it an open invitation to fraud and murder?
Carver Hartnett, Miranda Pryor, and Leonard Stillmach all work for Reliable Allied Trust, in Omaha, where they investigate insurance fraud. Carver -- the narrator of this edgy and surprising novel -- is frustrated. His company would rather raise premiums than prosecute insurance criminals. Miranda, his seductive coworker, leads him on and then puts him off -- she seems to have something monstrous to hide. When their friend, crazy Lenny, a computer gamer and an expert with drug-and-alcohol cocktails, dies in the middle of playing Delta-Strike online, a strange and disturbing narrative unfolds around a possible murder and massive insurance fraud. Carver is drawn deeper into various hearts of darkness, and in his efforts to discover the truth behind his friend's death, he ends up betting his own life.
Filled with memorable characterizations -- Carver's boss, the shrewd Old Man Norton; Dagmar Helveg, Norton's fascist assistant; regional investigator Charlie Becker, a plain-talking, commonsense cop -- Bet Your Life conducts a stealthy philosophical investigation of its own, in which our hero ends up investigating the mysteries of his soul.
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Bet Your Life
In my line of work, we call it the f-word. Not the too familiar obscenity but a close cousin and mercenary variant called fraud. I work in the Special Investigations Unit of Reliable Allied Trust, where I investigate insurance fraud. Truth be told, we don't do all that much investigating; it's more about odor management. Fraud runs through the insurance business like waste through a treatment plant, and the vice presidents in marketing and sales and product development don't care. If they pay out on too many rotten claims, they charge it back to their honest customers by raising premiums. Our marching orders in Special Investigations are to "process" the fraud just enough to keep the stench away from the corner offices and off the front page. Meanwhile, out in the cube village where I work, the aroma seeps into our clothes.
Every day the network routes me three or four claims that failed the smell test over in General Processing. The subject line says, "Attn: Carver Hartnett, Special Investigations Unit," and when I click on the folder icon, the virtual file opens containing all of the supporting medical records, accident reports, claim forms, and death certificates that were scanned in and uploaded by the document-management and knowledge-index jockeys downstairs.
I like computers as much as the next gaming geek, and I appreciate the efficiencies of scanning in the documents instead of carting them around in manila folders. But the veteran investigators all say that the computers and the scanning are just more proof that management is barely interested in actually doing anything about insurance fraud. Those of us trained by real investigators, like Old Man Norton, know that if you really want to smell out a fake claim, you need a file with real papers in it the accident reports, medical records, claim forms, obituaries, and newspaper clippings the ones that the fraudster actually held and doctored with Wite-Out or computer imaging or by cutting and pasting photocopies. If you can get your hands on those, you can almost detect fraud by divination, same way a dowser finds water with his rod some say it's a real smell. Something's not right, so we study the handwriting, the layout, stray marks, margin alignments, the obituary date, the slightly different fonts in one blank on a form that otherwise appears to be an original all become runes with elusive meanings, and soon the papers give off the unmistakable scent of human deception.
The old-school investigators also yearn for the days when it mattered if you busted a scammer and saved a bogus claim getting paid. Nowadays, the computers don't even flag the tricky ones. Instead they send me three or four laughable virtual "special claim" files, and within five minutes I determine that they don't just smell special, they stink so high in heaven they make the angels weep. No investigation necessary.
I don't really smoke, except during certain periods of my life. These certain periods tend to pop up at work, where, if I need a cigarette, I can find one and avoid buying a whole pack. The company provides a smoking break room with separate ventilation, and also a canopied veranda out front with huge sand pit ashtrays, but all the smokers in the building prefer the fire escape. It overlooks a satellite pediatric clinic operated by one of the big hospitals in town. All day long, nervous mothers drive up in minivans, unpack toddlers from their car seats, and haul them in to see pediatricians. We look on, charmed by the cherubic faces blooming with ruddy innocence, while we squint and suck death into our lungs.
The day my friend Lenny got fired, I'd been out on the fire escape enjoying one of those periods of my life by smoking a Marlboro I'd bummed off a woman from Procurement. When I got back to my workstation, I found a "While You Were Out" electronic sticky blinking on my monitor from my fellow investigator, and daily obsession, Miranda Pryor, advising me that Old Man Norton's assistant had come by in my absence:
Dagmar was here looking for you and Lenny Mr. Norton has some questions about the life insurance claims on the twenty dead Nigerians.
She said she'd call you later.
Lenny, who works out of the cube to my right, wasn't at his desk. The latest issue of PC Gamer was still open on his keyboard, which meant that he'd left in a hurry maybe he was already in Old Man Norton's office discussing dead Nigerians. I stalled, skimmed an article in the John Cooke Fraud Report about infant life insurance policies and "baby farming" in the Soviet Union, and hoped I'd be able to check stories with Lenny before Norton called me in.
Miranda probably knew more about what was up with the dead Nigerians, but she was on the phone denying a bogus auto claim. I leaned closer to the cellulose prefab wall between us, closed my eyes, and felt her voice resonate within, as if a tuning fork or a frequency transponder were embedded in my limbic system, stimulating my pleasure circuits, secreting dopamine, serotonin, and erotic neurotransmitters until my entire scalp tingled in sync with the inflections of her voice.
When Miranda denies an insurance claim by phone, she first consoles the would-be claimant with a free vocal massage (for male callers it's closer to a vocal frottage) because her voice is a delicate inveigling rasp textured by fifty-dollar bottles of wine, designer chocolates, and, I imagined, other mysterious and intriguing bad habits. The party on the other end gets an earful of gregarious patter sparkling with authentic concern, and soon Miranda sounds as if she's ready to propose a dinner-date. Until she gets the information she needs to deny the claim, whereupon the telephone romance ends ...Bet Your Life. Copyright © by Richard Dooling. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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