“I’m sorry, but some people have been saying that it isn’t,” she opens her eyes wide, “My grandson, before he left with his wife and the boys, he said he was headed south to a … community. He said that *they* say it’s the dawning of a new era.”
I nod, put on the sympathy, “I know, it’s a shame. So much confusion right now. Some, uh, new age types have been trying to convince themselves that it’s not the end, that there is no ‘The End.’ All I can say to them is good luck. Godspeed, I suppose. Me, I’d much rather have some insurance. Did you hear the news broadcast this morning? These cracks in the earth, the glow out there, they believe they’re burrowing towards the core of the earth. When will they reach? A week, maybe? Couple days? Tomorrow? This afternoon, perhaps?”
“Oh that’s horrible,” she swallows, “I just want to make sure I’m with my husband. How can you guarantee that? It says right here on line … twenty-five that this document is drafted for ‘General coverage of discretionary placement post-mortem.’ Now, how do I know that this will put me anywhere near my husband?”
“There’s nothing to worry about. Honestly, the way they’ve set this up? It’s, well, they know what they’re doing.”
“I’m,” she bites her lip, “I’m just not sure.”
I reach out and place a hand over her nervous fidgeting “Look … what’s your name?” She says it’s Julia Coulter. I look Julia straight in the eye. “Look, Julia. I know what it’s like. I’ve been in love. Still in love, in fact. We’re separated. She’s still out there somewhere. Every day I sort through cold calls, meetings and favors trying to locate her. I’ve processed your husband’s claim myself, you know that. I know exactly where he is and how to get you to him. You have nothing to worry about. Like I said, there’s a higher authority at work.”
That’s enough to bring her down. She signs on the line. I thank Julia for choosing my services, make copies of her contract and see her out to a beat up sedan. The wind blows fierce, snatching her scarf off of her neck and sending it spinning into the ether. I help her in and get her seat belt buckled.
“You’re protected now,” I shout, “Take your time. Enjoy life. Whatever happens, just remember: you’re all set.”
She nods, slams the door and is off. I waste no time getting back inside out of the bitter cold and into my auxiliary office, the one sealed behind eight locks next to the wheelchair-accessible restroom. I stand alone, in pitch dark, with a copy of her agreement in my hand and the other in my pocket where I keep two coins. I jingle them once, twice, thrice. Enter the presence of a higher authority, felt and not seen. It stands in the far corner.
“Do you still know where my wife is?”
“How many is that, now?” I whisper, binding the contract up with a rubber band and tossing it, blind, into the dark.
“Remind me again the total we agreed on?”
Back in my office I set a fresh pot of coffee on the boiler, kick my feet up on my desk and cross “COULTER, JULIA” off of the C column on my list. It’s time for my afternoon fifteen so I click to Channel 7. On the little screen I see myself standing before a sea of stars and nebulae dressed in a pressed suit and mahogany tie. My hands are extended and the stars, a cheap overlay, clip through the edges of my clothing. Gritty scan lines warp the image as I announce through the distortion, “The end is nigh, so call the number at the bottom of the screen for a free consultation at no charge. I’m fully qualified by a higher authority to provide you and your family with the best in post-mortem protections and assurances. Don’t let your fate be decided for you: call today.”