The Risk Profession
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by Donald E. Westlake
Category: Science Fiction/Mystery/Crime
Description: There are a thousand ways to die in the Asteroid Belt, but roving claims investigator Ged Stanton wants to be sure--was the death of Jafe McCann planned or accidental? He knows he has to move carefully on this, or he might end up being the next victim!
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks, 1961 Amazing Stories
eBookwise Release Date: September 2009
14 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [49 KB]
Reading time: 29-41 min.
Mr. Henderson called me into his office my third day back on Earth. That was a day and a half later than I'd expected. Roving claims investigators for Tangier Mutual Insurance Corporation don't usually get to spend more than thirty-six consecutive hours at home base.
Henderson was jovial but stern. That meant he was happy with the job I'd just completed, and that he was pretty sure I'd find some crooked shenanigans on this next assignment. That didn't please me. I'm basically a plain-living type, and I hate complications. I almost wished for a second that I was back on Fire and Theft in Greater New York. But I knew better than that. As a roving claims investigator, I avoided the more stultifying paperwork inherent in this line of work and had the additional luxury of an expense account nobody ever questioned.
It made working for a living almost worthwhile.
When I was settled in the chair beside his desk, Henderson said, "That was good work you did on Luna, Ged. Saved the company a pretty pence."
I smiled modestly and said, "Thank you, sir." And reflected to myself for the thousandth time that the company could do worse than split that saving with the guy who'd made it possible. Me, in other words.
"Got a tricky one this time, Ged," said my boss. He had done his back-patting, now we got down to business. He peered keenly at me, or at least as keenly as a round-faced, tiny-eyed fat man can peer. "What do you know about the Risk Profession Retirement Plan?" he asked me.
"I've heard of it," I said truthfully. "That's about all."
He nodded. "Most of the policies are sold off-planet of course. It's a form of insurance for non-insurables. Spaceship crews, asteroid prospectors, people like that."
"I see," I said unhappily. I knew right away this meant I was going to have to go off-Earth again. I'm a one-gee boy all the way. Gravity changes get me in the solar plexus. I get g-sick at the drop of an elevator.
"Here's the way it works," he went on, either not noticing my sad face or choosing to ignore it. "The client pays a monthly premium. He can be as far ahead or as far behind in his payments as he wants--the policy has no lapse clause--just so he's all paid up by the Target Date. The Target Date is a retirement age, forty-five or above, chosen by the client himself. After the Target Date he stops paying premiums, and we begin to pay him a monthly retirement check, the amount determined by the amount paid into the policy, his age at retiring, and so on. Clear?"
I nodded, looking for the gimmick that made this a paying proposition for good old Tangier Mutual.
"The Double R-P--that's what we call it around the office here--assures the client that he won't be reduced to panhandling in his old age, should his other retirement plans fall through. For Belt prospectors, of course, this means the big strike, which may be one in a hundred find. For the man who never does make that big strike, this is something to fall back on. He can come home to Earth and retire, with a guaranteed income for the rest of his life."
I nodded again, like a good company man.
"Of course," said Henderson, emphasizing this point with an upraised chubby finger, "these men are still uninsurables. This is a retirement plan only, not an insurance policy. There is no beneficiary other than the client himself."
And there was the gimmick. I knew a little something of the actuarial statistics concerning uninsurables, particularly Belt prospectors. Not many of them lived to be forty-five, and the few who would survive the Belt and come home to collect the retirement wouldn't last more than a year or two. A man who's spent the last twenty or thirty years on low-gee asteroids just shrivels up after a while when he tries to live on Earth.
It needed a company like Tangier Mutual to dream up a racket like that. The term "uninsurables" to most insurance companies means those people whose jobs or habitats make them too likely as prospects for obituaries. To Tangier Mutual, uninsurables are people who have money the company can't get at.
"Now," said Henderson importantly, "we come to the problem at hand." He ruffled his up-to-now-neat In basket and finally found the folder he wanted. He studied the blank exterior of this folder for a few seconds, pursing his lips at it, and said, "One of our clients under the Double R-P was a man named Jafe McCann."
"Was?" I echoed.
He squinted at me, then nodded at my sharpness. "That's right, he's dead." He sighed heavily and tapped the folder with all those pudgy fingers. "Normally," he said, "that would be the end of it. File closed. However, this time there are complications."
Naturally. Otherwise, he wouldn't be telling me about it. But Henderson couldn't be rushed, and I knew it. I kept the alert look on my face and thought of other things, while waiting for him to get to the point.
"Two weeks after Jafe McCann's death," Henderson said, "we received a cash-return form on his policy."
"A cash-return form?" I'd never heard of such a thing. It didn't sound like anything Tangier Mutual would have anything to do with. We never return cash.
"It's something special in this case," he explained. "You see, this isn't an insurance policy, it's a retirement plan, and the client can withdraw from the retirement plan at any time, and have seventy-five per cent of his paid-up premiums returned to him. It's, uh, the law in plans such as this."
"Oh," I said. That explained it. A law that had snuck through the World Finance Code Commission while the insurance lobby wasn't looking.
"But you see the point," said Henderson. "This cash-return form arrived two weeks after the client's death."
"You said there weren't any beneficiaries," I pointed out.
"Of course. But the form was sent in by the man's partner. One Ab Karpin. McCann left a handwritten will bequeathing all his possessions to Karpin. Since, according to Karpin, this was done before McCann's death, the premium money cannot be considered part of the policy, but as part of McCann's cash-on-hand. And Karpin wants it."
"It can't be that much, can it?" Not enough, I was hoping, to make it worth the company's while to send me to the asteroids.
"McCann died," Henderson said ponderously, "at the age of fifty-six. He took out the policy at the age of thirty-four, with retirement at age sixty and monthly payments of fifty credits. Figure it out for yourself."
I did, and came up with a figure of thirteen thousand two hundred credits. Seventy-five per cent of that would be nine thousand nine hundred credits. Call it ten thousand.
I had to admit it; it was worth the trip.
"I see," I said sadly.
"Now," said Henderson, "the conditions--the circumstances--of McCann's death are somewhat suspicious. And so is the cash-return form itself."