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Unemployed, divorced, and living in a new state, Hunt Jackson would be considered a risk by most insurance companies. Lucky for him, he's found one that will give him a policy. All he has to do is sign on the dotted line-and note a minor provision: they require a pound of flesh for their investment. No backing out. No joke. No running away.
|Publisher:||Cemetery Dance Publications|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)|
Read an Excerpt
He took off a day earlier than he'd planned, leaving in the middle of the night, halfway through Conan O'Brien, and two hours later Hunt Jackson found himself speeding past Palm Springs with the windows open, heading east. With the divorce finalized, there was nothing holding him back, nothing preventing him from doing whatever he wanted, going wherever he felt like going. He was no longer confined by the daily routines of married life, by the patterns and ruts into which he'd fallen, and he was filled with a delicious sense of freedom as he sped down the windswept highway. It was a moonless night, and the stars were out in force, great swaths of the Milky Way visible even through the darkened windshield of the Saab.
When had he turned into the kind of person who drives a Saab? He didn't know, but it was so far in the past that the question felt forced, something he thought he should ask rather than a query to which he genuinely desired an answer. Through the windshield, briefly, he saw a shooting star, far above and to the right. Though they'd been fixtures of the Tucson night sky when he was growing up, he realized that he hadn't seen a single meteor since moving to Southern California. He'd heard mentions of meteor showers on the news, comical weathermen occasionally announcing the phenomena and explaining why-because of air pollution or light pollution or the marine layer-the showers would not be visible in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas. He hadn't cared, hadn't even given it a thought, but now, out here on the open road, he realized that he missed seeing shooting stars, missed seeing the sky.
A semi flew past on the left, blasting its horn at him for some imagined slight. Feeling reckless, feeling brave, he flipped on his brights and leaned on his own horn, but the speeding truck was already far ahead and his attempted defiance fell flat, his high beams shining impotently on quickly retreating tires, his honk small and ignored.
He hit Blythe by three, and was past Phoenix and heading south toward Tucson well before the sun started lightening the sky above Casa Grande to the east. He stopped for breakfast at a trucker's coffee shop by the side of the highway, ordering an artery-clogging, meat-heavy meal that Eileen never would have let him eat, before continuing on.
Although the split was mutual-both of them had desperately wanted out of the screaming hell their relationship had become-he'd found himself thinking a lot about Eileen lately, his life with her and his life without her, and he'd tried to imagine the future, but he could not. He had decided that he didn't want to live in Southern California anymore, and it had been an easy decision to make. There was nothing tying him there. He'd been laid off at Boeing last month during the most recent round of cutbacks and hadn't yet caught on anywhere else. Eileen had gotten the house in the settlement, so he was temporarily living in an apartment complex on the border of Seal Beach and Westminster. He was freer now than he had ever been before and perhaps might ever be again.
But where did he want to live? San Francisco was a possibility. Hell, he could go anywhere he wanted. His options were open. He could move to New Orleans or New York, Miami or Seattle, Chicago or Honolulu.
But that wasn't what he wanted, was it? No. He wanted to go back to Tucson. It was where he'd been born, where he'd grown up and gone to school, where he'd met Eileen. Part of it was comfort, retreat-and there was an element of failure associated with that, the sense that he was crawling home with his tail between his legs. At the same time, he would be starting anew, jettisoning the generic middle-class existence he had created for himself and beginning again, perhaps taking his life in the direction it should have been going all along.
And now here he was, at a truck stop in the desert, loading up on fat and calories, staring out at a hand-painted sign that said GET U.S. OUT OF THE U.N. But he felt good, he felt happy, and twenty minutes later, he was on the road again, heading south, past the lonely ruggedness of Picacho Peak, toward home. Tucson had changed a lot in the decade he'd been gone, and he drove around the periphery of the city, trying to get his bearings, before diving into it. From the elevated freeway, he saw that gated communities and generic shopping centers now stretched around the side of the Catalinas well past Ina Road to the north; new homes were creeping up the Tucson Mountains toward Gate's Pass to the west; an entirely new city seemed to have sprung up south of the I-10 curve on the way to the mission; and the Rincon district of Saguaro National Park was no longer outside of town but on the eastern edge of it. He turned back when he reached the Colossal Cave exit, then got off on Speedway and headed toward the university. Downtown, stores and restaurants had changed, entire buildings had been torn down and replaced, and a distinctly generic appearance seemed to have been grafted onto the formerly unique character of the city, part of the Californianization of America that guaranteed a Burger King at every other stoplight and a Mediterranean appearance to every new office building.
The old neighborhood was still there but shabbier than he remembered it, everything more run-down than he recalled. Their old house looked like hell. Whoever lived there now had poured concrete over the lawn in order to make room for a trio of 1960s muscle cars in various stages of renovation, and the side patio his dad had built, where his mom had had her hanging plants and potted flowers, was gone, torn out. His parents would be shocked if they could see the place now, and he was tempted to call them up and describe it to them, make them feel even more guilty for moving and selling, but he recognized the pettiness of the impulse and knew he would not act on it. They were happier back in Minnesota, and if he'd really cared so much about the old house, why hadn't he bought it from them when he had the chance?
He didn't care about it. He just wished his parents were here because he wanted a home to which he could return.
But they'd returned to their home, in Minnesota.
Everyone went back home eventually.
He spent the night at a Super 8 Motel, next door to a couple who fought loud and long about an outboard motor purchase before commencing an equally loud bout of lovemaking. In the morning, he bought a newspaper from the rack in front of the lobby and sat in the Waffle House next door, reading the classified ads over breakfast, looking for a house or apartment to rent.
Now that he was here, the romantic notion of pulling up stakes and resettling no longer seemed quite so romantic. He was suddenly aware of the practical minutiae that such a move required. He would have to put in a change-of-address form with the post office, make sure that none of his bills or important mail got lost in the transition, get a new phone number and inform all of his friends and family, cancel his Los Angeles Times subscription...the list went on and on.
Not to mention the fact that he would have to physically transport his furniture and belongings over here, probably via U-Haul.
Maybe it wasn't worth the effort.
He needed to do this.
One plus was that rent was much cheaper in Arizona than it was in California. For the price of his little one-bedroom apartment over there, he could rent not merely a duplex but a full-fledged house-even if it wasn't in the city's best neighborhood. And that's exactly what he found after a short morning's search: a three-bedroom adobe on a sparsely populated street in the southeast part of town. The house was sandwiched between a run-down ranch-style home and what was little more than a plywood shack attached to a recently built and fairly nice two-car garage. The only other building on that side of the block was a Circle K on the corner. On the opposite side of the street was a cotton field-one of those corporate farms with no on-site house, barns, or storage shed.
He discovered the place by accident. He was traveling from one listing to another and stopped off at the Circle K for a cup of coffee, and when he glanced down the side street, he saw the posted FOR RENT sign. As shabby and out of the way as it was, something about the area appealed to him. It might not be the chic section of the city, but it was rural and real and reminded him of the way Tucson used to be when he was growing up. From the small desert-y yard he could see the Rincons to the east, the Catalinas to the north, and all around a gigantic expanse of sky. What more could he ask for? And when he read the stats of the house and the unbelievably reasonable price of the rent, he broke out his cell phone, called the number at the bottom of the sign, and waited in the driveway for the owner to arrive.
Forty-five minutes later, after a quick tour of the home and a security deposit withdrawn from an ATM at the Circle K, the place was his, contingent upon a credit check that he knew he would pass with flying colors.
It was more than he needed, really, but he liked the idea of being in a real house again. It gave him a solid, settled feeling, and even though he was only renting, he experienced a welcome sense of permanence that had not been his since before the separation. He drove back to the motel, spirits high. He'd have to return to California to pack up his stuff. He could find someone to help him load up a U-Haul with no problem-there were a couple of neighbors in his apartment complex with whom he was casually acquainted-but unloading here in Tucson would be difficult. He thought about the plywood shack and the shabby ranch house that bookended his new digs. He could probably ask someone there to help him, but he didn't want his first contact with his neighbors to be an imposition.
So he called up some of his old buddies-or rather, their parents. He could not seem to find any of his friends in the phone book, but their families were still listed and still at the same addresses, and he asked fathers and mothers for current phone numbers. It brought home to him how far out of his life he'd let them slip. It seemed to him that Jordan and his wife had sent Christmas cards within the past few years, letting him know that they'd moved, but he hadn't really cared and hadn't made an effort to keep track or keep in touch. He'd been living almost entirely in the present, letting his past erase itself, and he'd seldom even thought about his friends from childhood and early adulthood.
Now, it seemed, most of them were gone. Mike was a firefighter in New York, both Jordan and Eck had moved to Phoenix, and even Victor's own parents didn't know what had become of him. Joel was still around, though, and for that Hunt was grateful. Joel McCain had been Hunt's best friend in elementary school and junior high, and though they'd drifted apart in high school and after, there was still that connection, and Hunt called him up instantly, thankful for someone familiar in what was a suddenly strange and unfamiliar city.
Joel, oddly enough, was a teacher, a social science instructor at Mountain Valley Junior College. Oddly, because he had been at best an indifferent student-hostile was probably a more accurate description-and the last occupation Hunt expected to find him in was education. In junior high, Joel's goal had been to be a trucker. There was nothing better, he'd said, than cruising around the country, listening to tunes and getting paid for it. Hunt assumed his friend had changed his mind by the time he graduated from high school, but they'd been running in separate crowds by then, and he sure wouldn't have thought Joel would be interested in any occupation that required a college degree.
Joel laughed when Hunt expressed surprise at his choice. "I got used to that school schedule. Couldn't imagine a life where I didn't have summers off. Besides, a summer working with my old man in the hot sun would make anyone a model college student. What about you, though? What do you do? And are you just visiting, or have you come back for good?"
Hunt gave him the whole sob story-separation, divorce, layoff at Boeing, blah, blah, blah-and then explained how he'd decided-on the spur of the moment, while looking out his apartment window-to move back to Tucson.
"You get settled yet? Found a place to live?"
"Well," Hunt said, starting to feel a little embarrassed. "That's actually why I called. I found a place today. I'm going back to California to pack up my clothes and books and records, and what little furniture's left to me after the divorce. There's not enough to justify hiring movers, so I thought I'd do it myself and-"
"And you need someone to help."
"Yeah, I mean, there's not much. A bed. A sofa bed. A big TV. A dining room table. I can probably unpack the rest myself. It'll only take about a half hour or so-"
"Don't worry about it. I'm there. I was going to suggest we get together anyway."
"Thanks. I appreciate it."
"Say, what are you doing tonight?"
"Why don't you come over, then? My wife and daughter'll be at a Brownie meeting. We'll be able to talk about old times without censoring ourselves."
"You have a daughter, huh?"
"Lilly. She's eight."
"Jesus, I remember when we were eight," Hunt said. And to him it did not seem that long ago. He could still recall vividly not only the things they did together but the way he felt-the all-or-nothing stakes that seemed to permeate every aspect of life, how neither of them ever gave a thought to a future that seemed open and endless.
"Yeah. Time flies, doesn't it?"
"Yes," Hunt said. "It does."
Joel gave him his address and directions to the house, and Hunt found a hotel notepad and pen, writing it down. The two of them said good-bye.
He had time to kill before seven, when he told Joel he'd come over, so he decided to drive around and hit some of his old haunts. He had the nagging urge to call Eileen and tell her he was moving, but he didn't know why. They hadn't gotten along at all the past year and a half, and the last thing she'd said to him, before the lawyers got involved and an institutionalized formality was imposed on their disintegrating relationship, was "Fuck you! I hope you die and rot in hell!" Still, it seemed strange that he didn't need to check in with her anymore, had no obligation to inform her of his whereabouts, was free to do whatever he wanted and go wherever he pleased. He wondered if there was some sort of divorce etiquette which dictated that he should give her a courtesy call and let her know what he was doing, just in case something came up. But what could come up? They'd divided the assets, she wasn't getting alimony, and according to the law their obligations to each other were over.
He still wasn't used to being alone.
He spent the afternoon hitting used bookstores and record stores. A couple of his old favorites were gone, but there were still the two Bookman's shops, and he picked up a few Chick Corea albums and a copy of The Killer Mountains, a book on the Lost Dutchman gold mine that he'd read as a teenager but subsequently lost. In addition to the books and records in the living room of his apartment, he had at least five or six large additional boxes in the unused garage of the complex, and he realized that he was going to need more bookshelves for the new house. He checked out a Goodwill, a Salvation Army, and a St. Vincent dePaul thrift store but had no luck, and after a return to the motel and a quick swim in the pool, he ordered pizza, ate it while watching the news, then headed out.
Joel lived in a recently built subdivision only a few miles from Hunt's new house. The homes were big but the yards were almost nonexistent, and though the residences were stand-alone structures, they had the look of town houses. He assumed from the uniform appearance of the trees and bushes, from the perfectly matched mailboxes and identical color schemes, that some sort of homeowners' association held sway, and though these houses were obviously more expensive than his rental, he would not have lived here on a dare.
The generic neighborhood and the white SUV in Joel's driveway-indistinguishable from the vehicles parked in the driveways of adjacent homes-made Hunt wary at first, but Joel turned out to be the same wry, funny, cynical person he remembered, all grown up. The interior of the house belied the conventionality of the outside, as though the exterior were merely a deceptive cover; camouflage for the real home within. The furnishings were funky, eclectic. In the living room, what Joel described as a liquor cabinet he had "liberated" from the bar of an old ghost town past McGuane had been converted into a bookcase, and next to it a desert terrarium existed inside the oversized glass bulb of an antique gas pump. Across the room the skeleton of a saguaro cactus had been made into a standing lamp. In Joel's study, a rawhide couch sat next to an end table made out of a black boulder and a piece of glass. One entire wall was taken up with a neon sign rescued from a demolished hamburger stand that read: BURGERS, FRIES, SHAKES.
"This place is cool," Hunt said admiringly.
"Remember our clubhouse? Roland stole that stop sign from the highway, and we had that old mirror we found in the garbage that we hung up next to that Mötley Crüe poster Mike's brother gave us? This"-he gestured around the room-"is what we were going for."
"You're right. We would've loved this. Especially the sign." Joel laughed. "I have the aesthetic taste of an eight-year-old."
"No, you've made it. And you didn't sell out. You are, after all is said and done-"
"The Man!" they shouted in unison.
Joel clapped a hand on Hunt's shoulder. "I'm glad you're back," he said. "I didn't know it, but I missed you."
They walked back out to the living room.
"So," Hunt asked, "do you stay in contact with...anyone?"
Joel shook his head. "No. I get a Christmas card from Jordan each year, and I send him one back, but that's about the extent of it." He looked embarrassed. "I don't know why. I've never even thought about it before, and there's no excuse for it, but...it happened."
"Say no more, say no more," Hunt said, falling into his best Monty Python rhythm.
"Are you planning to reunite the old gang?"
"Not really. I called around and most of them are gone, scattered to the wind. Victor's parents don't even know where he is."
Joel frowned. "Victor?"
"Oh, that's right, he was a high school friend. High school and college. I don't think you ever met him."
Joel put on some music, brought out some beers, and they sat around for the next hour, laughingly talking about old times.
When Hunt looked at his watch, it was after eight. He made a move to get up.
"You don't have to leave, do you?" Joel asked.
"Come on, stay awhile."
"My motel's on the other side of town, and I wanted to get an early start. It's a long trip back to Seal Beach."
"I didn't realize you were going back tomorrow."
He thought for a second, settled back in his seat. "What the hell. I'm not."
"Good, good. Stacy and Lilly should be back soon. I want you to meet them."
Hunt saw framed photographs of the family on top of a stereo cabinet. "Is that them?"
He got up to investigate and saw a picture of Joel and a pretty young girl standing in front of the Matterhorn at Disneyland, another picture of the girl with her smiling mother at the Grand Canyon, and a photo of all three posing by the giraffe pen at the zoo. Something about the woman looked familiar, and Hunt studied her face for a moment before an identity suggested itself to him.
He turned toward Joel, incredulous. "You married Stacy Williams?"
His friend grinned. "Yeah."
"I tell myself that every day."
Stacy had been both smart and gorgeous, the valedictorian of their junior high and high school, head cheerleader, and-impossibly and simultaneously-editor of the school paper; one of those girls so far out of their league that she didn't even know they existed. And Joel married her?
Hunt asked the only logical question. "How did this happen?"
"We both went to U of A, and we met again in sociology class. Or, rather, she met me for the first time. Of course, I knew exactly who she was. That's why I sat down next to her. And when I casually let slip that I'd attended John Adams, too, it was like old home week. She was feeling alone and overwhelmed, and was grateful for someone familiar to talk to. Well, not exactly familiar, but someone who had the same background. We hit it off, and we even started studying together and had coffee after class a few times. I didn't think anything would come of it. I didn't think I had a chance because...well, because she was Stacy Williams.
"Then, at the last class, she gave me a Christmas card. Inside, she'd written a message thanking me for being someone she could talk to, for helping her through a hard semester, and at the bottom she'd put her phone number. I hadn't gotten her anything-it hadn't even crossed my mind-and on the spur of the moment I asked her out to dinner. Out of guilt. I thought of it as a Christmas present, not a date...but it was a date. And after that we started going out steadily, and"-he grinned-"after graduation I married her." At that moment the front door opened, and Joel's wife and daughter bustled into the foyer, talking, laughing, noisily setting plastic bags atop the seat of the hall tree. Stacy looked, if possible, even more beautiful than she had in the photographs-more beautiful than she had in high school-and there was about her the no-nonsense practicality of a mother, which only added to her charm.
"You must be Hunt," she said, reaching around Lilly to shake his hand. "Nice to meet you. Joel said you'd called and were coming over. You went to John Adams too, huh?"
He nodded. "Yeah. And Bodie Junior High and Peppertree Elementary."
"Me, too!" Pushing her daughter in front of her, Stacy headed toward the stairs. "I'm sorry to rush like this, but the meeting ran late, and it's past Lilly's bedtime. School night," she explained. "Just let me put her to bed and I'll be right down. Say good night, Lilly."
"Good night," the girl said cheerfully.
"Good night," Hunt told her.
The two of them hurried up the steps.
Hunt shook his head. "Stacy Williams."
"Stacy McCain now."
"You are one lucky bastard, you know that?"
"Yes, I do. Hey, stay right there, will you? I'm going upstairs and say good night to Lilly. I'll be right back."
Joel started up the steps.
"Your wife doesn't happen to have any single friends, does she?"
Joel turned around, grinning. "She might," he said. "She just might."
--from The Policy by Bentley Little, copyright © 2003 by Bentley Little, published by Signet, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Working in the IT department of an insurance company gives me an appreciation of this story moreso than others might. I found many parts of it amusing, but that is Little's trademark, mining the dark comedy out of his horror.
The reason why I love Bentley Little as an author is because his books are so creative. They aren't the conventional horror stories that readers are used to reading over and over again. Rather, they are all unique in their own way while conveying a message about everyday things that some people overlook- like INSURENCE for example! In this story, LIttle pulls no punches. It is gory, scary, and fun all wrapped together. For fans of the author I highly recommend this novel! B+
The Policy was the first book I've read of Bently Little's and it was GREAT. I've read many books but none have ever given me the chills the way Bently Little's The Policy did. To imagine the possibilty of an insurance man scaring the heck outta you is unbelievable. I couln't put the book down.
Like other Little titles he keeps you on edge of your seat. Could't put it down. Can't wait for next title.
I've been reading Bentley Little for many years now, his novel The Association being my favorite by him. Little knows how to write good horror fiction and allows his readers to get some good laughs in as well. The same goes for his latest novel, THE POLICY. This book was so much better than his last book, The Return, I finished in a couple of nights. While I enjoyed the characters, especially the Insurance Agent (Spooky!), I appreciated the plot and theme, but had probelms with the ending. Before I explain, let me compliment the novel as a whole because it really was a good story. Little made me look at insurance agents in a whole new (darker) light, with his mad concepts of this ancient evil that has been providing insurance for thousands of years and dates back as far as the stone age. Honestly, though, I was hoping for more HORROR! Instead (but, surprisingly,it worked well), I got a story with a lot of tongue and cheek humor with a twist of the macabe. The part about Jackson's wife getting her teeth pulled and replaced with silver was hilarious, and yet unsettling. I just wish that the ending wasn't so abrupt. Really, I was expecting more of a spookier ending where all the characters battled the Insurance Agent. Plus, I felt that Little wasted about 20 pages before you actually got to the meat of the book's conclusion. Was it really necessary for that witch to send them on a wild goose chase? Anyway, I would read the book again because of two reasons: I enjoy Little's writing style and because it was a very different idea. The book had a lot in common with The Association. So please, check it out. By the way, do you have the time??? Read the book and you'll understand. Hahaha!
This was a great read. You will never look at insurance policies (or agents) the same again.
I found the story interesting and very original. It showed me the horror of insurance. I love Bentliy Little, he's got great stories, yeah I know I spelled his name wrong give me a break! But the story ended the same way as the Return. And that was a let down, mabey this red neck has nothing left and has to have some big giant monster as the evil mastermind, oh come on!Most books I read now a days end like that. I suggest you read it to kill time, it was okay.
As a horror novelist able to conjure serious scares and not afraid of graphic sex and violence, Bentley has no peers. But it is his ability to satirically skewer the institutions of modern American society that makes him such a unique talent. Bentley has proven that horror fiction can be serious instead of just silly. A great book by a great writer.