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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic
A wily insurance investigator is stumped when an unusual claimant throws him a humorous mixture of words and facts.

Submitted: January 27, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: January 27, 2016




A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran


Harvey carried the court-issued pass for the jail. It was a blue and white standard form necessary to present to the jailers, a gloomy lot, confined in the hundred year-old block of blackened limestone and shiny greasy-green metal.The entrance to perdition was up five limestone steps to a stoop, a right,turn,four more stone steps, and one last step.

Once inside, the rancid choked area squashed sheriff’s deputies in quarters almost as crushing and depressing, as the rotting cages confining the two hundred prisoners.This hell-house was state-of-the-art in the age of Black Bart; the fates of both turned out badly.

Sweat and urine tangled with slamming steel doors, howls of misery, and careful cries for recognition. Harvey inhaled a square yard of the funky atmosphere before understanding he could easily contribute a personal bouquet of vomit any second now. 

Lt. Masterson was six feet six and two hundred and forty pounds, a genial giant who never tried to control any discussion—or confrontation—with his size. Harvey placed the Jail Visitor form on the chipped and cigarette-burned counter as the Lt. approached.

“Yes sir,” looking over the correct form, “and you would like to visit,” bending to read the inmate’s name, "Harry Sharp” ,looking at Harvey from a five inch height advantage.

“Yes, Lieutenant, that’s right; that’s correct, Sharp.”

Harvey Anderson was a lean, long fellow with receding reddish hair and a cleft chin. His dull brown eyes never managed to focus on anything in particular---like they went our for a walk every time you tried to find them to look into; or only to look at. Then they—the dull browners—came sauntering around to your face, only to depart again on another adventure somewhere back behind your left ear. Harvey's eyes did this for most of his forty-four years.

As an insurance investigator, he wore blue cotton shirts, regimental ties, a black blazer, and loafers. Most of Harvey’s wardrobe was clean—and neat—but you’d never think he was: "Johnny Dollar; Private Insurance Investigator; the man with the million dollar expense account". Despite the opinions of others, Harvey talked himself into believing that he was the modern version of JD. He flung out his chin to give the appearance of cold command, like Il Duce on a Florentine balcony. Occasionally, he would strut.

The insurance company kept Harvey around—and paid him extremely well—not simply because he amused them but because he achieved superior results in record times. Stories about Harvey and his investigatees---cheaters, crooks, the occasional falling woman---made thoroughly engrossing reading. An entrepreneurial file clerk arranged his cases as stories and sold them to several willing buyers.

Ah yes, but you know these were not the only reasons Harvey worked for the Attitude Insurance Company, no; it was because—and no one ever figured out how—Harvey sniffed out the fraud cases in lighting-fast time and paid the righteous ones paltry settlements. He didn’t need a million dollar expense account; only a five year-old Dodge and a Tracfone.

Del motioned for Harvey to precede him up the single flight of steel steps to the six by six visiting room mashed into a dank corner of the all-metal flooring supporting the first of three tiers of squalid misery. Harvey paused in the doorway of the repugnant room. The three walls were laced with grunge and some peculiar genus of filth.

A tiny table barely managed to stand upright. Two scummy metal folding chairs looked lost in their revolting setting. Reluctantly, Harvey touched one with the least amount of metal touching his skin, and flipped it to a resting place on the opposite side of the table, allowing him to face the plywood door. Loud bawling and yelps mixed with continual clanging and scraping. Harvey winced and grimaced, and wished he’d brought some mint LifeSavers.

He was sinking into a rose-garden reverie when, abruptly, the plywood door sagged opened to admit a huge good-looking young black man, who limped as he flashed two rows of perfect—and dazzling—dentitican.

“Hi, I’m Harry Sharp.” They shook hands. After several difficult attempts to bend his bigness and sit, Harry awkwardly slumped across his chair, all the time wincing in pain while he dragged his right leg into a manageable resting place.

“Thanks for coming so quick, man; I’d been here a while and looks like I’m here a hell of a lot longer than I’d hoped; maybe coupla months or so; less I can get bailed. So, man, that’s why I need the money on the insurance policy; the twenty-five grand, so I can get money to my woman and my child.” Big grin.

“Well,” Harvey wasn’t sure how long he could stand the stench and the racket of Hell piercing their tiny room like shards of aural glass. He was rapidly deciding to get this business done ASAP and book. “I understand, Mr. Sharp ___"

“Call me Harry”

“Harry . . . your attorney, Jack Koak, said you wanted to see me. He heard something about you getting cut by the corner of a metal shelf in our insured’s 7-11 store, correct?” Before, during and after Harry replied, the metallic nightmare of unbearable noise surged in volume and vituperation. Harvey winced, “can I see the wound Mr. Sharp?”

With grimace and grit, Harry stood and thrust his right thigh within a few stinking inches of Harvey’s greening gills and overwhelmed nose. Harry dropped the right pant leg of his orange jumpsuit.  Harvey coughed, held his breath, and blanched simultaneously while he leaned in to scope out the site of his client’s malfeasance.

“Oh; well,” Harvey rapidly recoiled. He tore his face away from Harry’s monumental right thigh, as he stumbled to stand. Once up, he pointed with a look of alarm---mostly confusion—on his face, “that’s . . .that’s where you shot yourself while you were robbing my insured.” A ruthless shade of malevolence jumped across Harvey’s face as he straightened up and looked somewhere past Jerry’s left ear. He slid back his chair, then slipped it under the tiny table. He hurriedly replaced the police report as well as the Attitude papers and forms and prepared for his departure.

“Mr. Sharp,” formally, with finality, “we certainly can’t pay you for this . . . for this injury. You were trying to rob my insured.”

Harry’s smile broadened. “I don’t know who gave ya’ll that shit about a shelf or whatever, man. That’s bogus, man. That wouldn’t be worth nothin’, right, you guys wouldn’t have to pay me a dime, man. But my insurance policy is, whatdya call it; you know, when somethin’ happens to you but it aint your fault; shit just happens, like; you know.”

“Accident,” Harvey’s voice was lowered to his Johnny Dollar range of lovable gruffness, “you have a Death and Accident policy,” now Harvey had his hand on the wobbly door knob and was pulling, “goodbye Mr. Sharp,” after a moment, “not so, this time, I’m afraid.” And with a choking chuckle, Harvey took a step into the suppurating cauldron of Beelzebub.

Harry made only enough of a giant limp-step to catch Harvey’s arm as he was about to make his final exit stride. “But Harvey; man, this was an accident; I didn’t mean to shoot myself in the thigh for Christ’s sake; it was an accident.”

A divine—or devilish—lull in the Boschian clamor allowed Harvey to pause . . . and to think. He smiled weakly to himself; decided to close the door and listen. This had to be yet another incredible story to add to his list being compiled by the in-house entrepreneur. And he knew Harry Sharp could deliver.

“Sorry abut all this goddamned noise, man; here let me get your chair,” Harry was big. With one extra-long arm, he reached the cuff of Harvey’s blazer and gently pulled the Johhny Dollar wannabe toward his previous roost, “and it don’t get any better even at night. Man, I wish they’d ship me to The Hilton.” The Hilton was the name tattooed on the new County Reception Center (jail)  continuing under construction, where they moved a few from the wretched hordes of weeping sores in the old hole during the past week, “Yeah, Mr. Anderson, I need to get out of this pit.”A dog-whistle level scream morphed into an exclamation point for Harry’s plea.

Harvey rearranged his frame to an almost-comfortable incline across his chair. H smiled a smile of great anticipation. He inhaled, left his briefcase sitting unopened on the grimy floor beside his chair, and waited. Harvey had not previously noticed the book and rumpled papers Harry laid on the table. The papers appeared to have writing on them; the book was a dictionary.

Harry gave Harvey another flashing smile and ceremoniously picked up the dictionary, opened it to a page marked by his used breakfast napkin and paused before starting to read.

“Now, Mr.Anderson ___"

“Please, Harry—call me Harvey,” with a patronizing smile.

“Okay—Harvey; now, we’re talking here about an accident insurance policy, right?”

“That’s absolutely right, Harry. You and your, ah; partner; you and she have a Death and Accident Insurance Policy with the Attitude Company.”

“Great; ‘cause this was a pure, righteous accident, man; I mean, like, I never seen it comin,’ and all that language; here,” and Harry placed the dictionary under his nose and began to read. “Accident: .an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury, like "he had an accident at the factory,"looking over at Harvey and putting on his serious face, “and then there is some whatched you call; I don’t know how to say this word: s-y-n-o-n-y-m-s; like that, man.” and he looked over at Harvey once more.

“Synonyms, Harry; that’s how the word is pron—said; and that means there are other words that are like accident; words that describe what an accident is like the ones you just read, okay?”

“Yeah, man; cool; thanks; well here’s some more,” and Harry read the following: "synonyms: mishap, misadventure, unfortunate incident, mischance, misfortune,disaster, tragedy, catastrophe, calamity; technical casualty." Harry’s face was becoming more animated with each new word that spilled from his mouth, “and hey, Harvey, there’s even some more; here listen to this: an event that happens by chance or that is without apparent or deliberate cause. The pregnancy was an accident. More synonyms: (mere) chance, coincidence, twist of fate."

Harry Sharp could call upon, arrived on his face. 

Harvey’s return look did not wander. His line of vision did not settle on a spot behind Jerry’s left ear. Harvey knew that he was in unfamiliar territory, but he felt comfortable there; almost at home; at the very least, he felt emotions of admiration, friendship, communion. He held Harry’s gaze for several moments because Harvey Anderson hadn’t the foggiest notion about what he might say; when—and if, it seemed—or what he would say to this fellow man.

Time passed.

Shrieks and yips bounced off the tiny interview room and its occupants. Harry’s lips parted as though he believed his winning smile could coax an affirmative out of Harvey Anderson.

More time passed.

Clattering; a loud bell; cries of confusion.

“Well,” very deep breath, “Harry; you have quoted book, chapter and verse; and what that dictionary says, is absolutely the definition—or definitions—that are in our Death and Accident Insurance Policy, but, ” pausing, Harry leaning in to hear the magic word, “you were in the act of robbing my client; you were committing a criminal act,” looking squarely at Harry with resolution, “I can’t pay you for doing something criminal, Harry,” sighing and lowering his eyes “as much as I’d like to . . . but I just can’t . . . even though the definition of an accident does seem to cover what happened . ,” and he looked back up into Harry’s disappointed eyes, “I have to decline your request.”

Harvey was surprised about the depth of disappointment he was experiencing because of his rejecting Harry’s absurd claim. Somewhere within his soul, Harvey was feeling that granting Harry’s claim was the right thing to do. But how would he explain his reasoning to his supervisor; maybe even all the way up to having to explain his decision to the president of the Attitude Insurance Company; Home Office; Philadelphia, PA.

“Ah shit, man; what’s with all this, not saying it was an accident, man; eh?” and Harry took up the dictionary and with pursed lips, surveyed the definitions of the word ‘accident’ again.

Only the hellish racket ruled the sound waves.

Harvey, in the meantime, had not taken up his briefcase in preparation for leaving. He was mulling. 'It would be a hard sell; but what a story for the kid; maybe I can do it . .'

Abruptly, Harry stood, still holding the dictionary, and with his biggest grin yet, read: "an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury, like: he had an accident at the factory,"now laughing, “or “an accident at work."There, my man; there; I was at work!”

Harvey broke a broad smile of his own, while he contemplated the looks on the face of the president of the company when he reviewed Harvey’s report. Harry was already turning pages while Harvey was mentally filling out that report. Harvey knew Harry had him, because everyone knew criminals have to pay taxes. 'Thanks Al Capone; and thank you again, because I can hardly wait to pay Harry and submit a dead-bang winner to the story-publishing kid in the office. And what a story for the guys today after work at Paul’s.

Harry opened the back cover of the book and riffled a few pages to find the definition of the word.


“You don’t need to read it to me Harry; the policy will be paid,” and over Harry’s whoops of released joy, “and I am really happy to pay it. Believe me, Harry, I really am.”

Harry hobbled around the tiny table and hugged Harvey fiercely.

“Thanks, man; thanks; I know this is a screwy deal and all, but  . . hey,’ and he hugged Harvey even tighter.

Squeaking from within Jerry’s tightening grizzly bear-like grasp,

“But you’ll have to pay taxes on it.”








© Copyright 2020 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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