Posts from Pumpjack Press authors and contributors about culture, books, economic and social justice topics, history and more, with the occasional poem and short story.

Matters of duration: A short story


An email popped in from HQ. Huron already knew what it was, but opened it anyway. 

Code 9sb4j. Terminate claim.

by Clark hays 

Edward Ruckley seemed to be having a pretty good day. 

He was drinking an iced coffee in the park, a woman beside him on the bench. It was sunny, but not hot, and they were laughing about something. Or least smiling while they talked. Basically laughing.

Huron was watching them through a tiny pair of powerful binoculars from the safety of his car. He reached for his tablet and flipped through the files.

That was Ruckley’s wife Kate beside him. 42. A dental hygienist. Addicted to Etsy and craft materials she never used. He blew the image up a little to confirm. She was pretty in person, but didn’t photograph well.

A homeless person pushing a shopping cart teetering with cans and plastic bags stopped to beg them, temporarily blocking his view. The solicitation took a turn, the man grew agitated and began gesturing dramatically. The Ruckleys got up and walked away. 

As they hurried off, Edward walked with a noticeable limp.

Or he was an exceptional actor. 

Huron swiped to the claim. No one disputed the car crash. And no one really disputed the soft tissue injuries. But at a year out, there was little evidence for continuing payments. His doctors certainly thought he was still suffering. But the company doctors had their doubts. And that’s why Huron had been trailing him for two months.

So far, there was nothing. 

He limped to the restaurant. He limped to the movies. He limped to the park to drink iced coffee. He limped everywhere except to his job, which required him to stand for extended periods. And he’d been working there a long time, which meant the long-term disability checks were starting to add up.

Today was a crucial decision point. The Special Circumstances committee was meeting. They would be awaiting his report.

Huron pulled up the portal and entered code 61-1aB—Outlook unchanged. And code 115-CC23a— claim of unlimited duration. He hit submit, then checked his phone for emails. This was one of only three cases he was tracking. Then he read the news. Another self-driving car fatality. This one seemed intentional. 

An email popped in from HQ. There was already a response from the committee. He already knew what it was, but opened it anyway.

Code 9sb4j. Terminate claim.

Sorry Edward, he thought. Time to get to work. 

Later that night, Huron was watching the Ruckley’s again, this time through their front window. It was dark and the street was mostly deserted. A pavebot trundled by, searching for potholes.

Wednesday nights, both kids were gone—the girl at karate and the boy at chess club—and Kate had a standing bunco game. He watched Edward kiss her as she left, then settle in for the first of two beers, too much pizza and an action movie. All of which was paid for thanks to the largesse of the Amalgamated Insurance Company. Huron’s employer.

Earlier, dressed as a meter reader, Huron broke into the back of the house and attached a tiny device to the water heater. Gas had been backing up all day. He opened his iPad and tapped on the app connected to the untraceable explosive in the tiny filter. 

“Sorry Edward, you should have read the fine print,” he said.

The company obviously couldn’t allow claims to go on forever. Hence the duration clause and the special circumstances rider and the activation of the Expedited Closure Team.

He touched the button. 

Nothing happened. 

The house was supposed to erupt in a ball of flames.  

“What the…?” He pressed it again. 

Still nothing. 

Goddammit, he thought. This will cost me my bonus. 

That was his last thought. A high caliber bullet from a silenced rifle crashed through the side window of the car, pierced his skull, cored through his brain and cracked through the other window, zipping off into the night before finally lodging in the frame of a treehouse a block away. 

From the shadows under an old and twisted rhododendron bush across the street, a man slowly disassembled his rifle without ejecting the empty casing, then dropped the pieces into a nondescript gym bag.

He walked up to the car and opened the door. Huron was slumped sideways, blood spattering his tablet. The man dropped his card in Huron’s lap. Acme Supplemental Insurance. Safer. Longer.

“They always forget about the supplementals,” he said, then walked off into the night, whistling an old tune.