Insurance Assurance Ltd – Mark Robinson

“Whatever it is, I’m not interested, sorry.” Narrow face of the ever-green cold caller just visible through the slight gap as the homeowner hinged the front door back into place.

“Not interested in free money?” That spark of undying persistence filtering through between the door post.

For Rob, it was never a good idea to challenge him; ripping back the door to reveal a hint of surprised euphoria on the clip-board-holding man, resting his right hand against the door, he accepted; “You’ve got one minute.”

With that, the record bag at his side was opened with a Velcro-scratch and glossy-cardboard brochure aimed at his mid-section. “Insurance Assurance Ltd are the only insurance company that pay you, the customer, money; you want to know how it works?” Eyebrows scaling the wrinkled lines stretched across his brow.

Wrist hovering below his eye line; “Fifty-seconds.”

“In today’s uncertain economic climate, you want to know that should the worst happen to you, that you’re covered. Buildings and contents insurance, car insurance; by law, we’ve all got to have them should anything unfortunate happen. Then there’s pet insurance, private health insurance, mobile phone insurance, mortgage protection; everything worth anything costs more; peace of mind, they call it.” A pause to check if the maggot had hooked him.

Eyes fixed on his digital wrist watch; “Thirty-two seconds.”

“And, what do all these things have in common? Money; every month you keep paying out, but what do you get in return? The peace of mind of knowing that, should anything happen, you’re covered. But, let me ask you this: how many times, in the last three years, have you made a claim?”

Rob was about to tell him how long he had left. Knowing how this sale was going, he pressed on; “If you’re anything like me, then none; am I right, of course I am. And, that is where we come in; you want free money? If you switch to us for your insurance, any insurance, for every year you don’t make a claim, we’ll pay you money; that’s our assurance to you.”

Rob’s hand dropped away, those last few dying seconds gone and forgotten about. “What’s the catch?”

That ever-green smile returned like a warmed through microwave meal, arms shrugging at his shoulders through the tight suit jacket; “No catch; we’re an assurance company rather than insurance, you know the difference? I don’t want to insult your intelligence.”

He wasn’t insulted; he was leaning into the precipice that promised to take him somewhere he wanted to go.

“Strictly speaking, insurance is if something happens, whereas assurance is when something happens; car insurance that pays out if you have an accident, while life assurance pays out when you die.” Over-emphasising as his supervisor had taught him and his, in turn, had taught him.

There was a slight downturn to the homeowners face; a look that reasoned he was thinking it over in his head.

Not wanting to lose his traction; “If you take out your insurance with us, we’ll pay out should something happen but, we’ll also pay out should absolutely nothing happen. Hence, free money.” Hands out, one still clutching the untaken brochure, like a gymnast following a safe dismount.

Trying to grasp a clear question from in amongst a staggered line of points, Rob-the-homeowner spat out three at once, all of them regarding money.

“One at a time, I’ve got all the answers here.” Again, reaching out with the brochure. And, he knew he had a fish when the homeowner asked if he wanted to come in.

Sat across from one another in the living room, television muted so as not to disturb the flow of information, Rob studied the back page of the brochure where an easy-to-read colour-coded chart listed the savings available and money the average individual would hope to gain when switching their policies to Insurance Assurance Ltd.

“What about this one?” Rob angling the page back around to the salesman, index finger underlining the column that listed home repairs.

“Ah, well this policy is our equivalent to those services provided by various utility companies; should an outside pipe freeze or boiler breakdown, we’ll send out an engineer to fix it at no additional charge.”

The homeowner nodded, working his way down the list; “You do breakdown cover as well?”

“Breakdown cover, windscreen repairs, travel insurance; whatever exists out there, insurance-wise, we will cover with our assurance futures-guarantee.”

“And, how does that work, again?” That tiny part of Rob that always urged to wriggle free of commitment; that little voice that watched out for a bad offer, hopping up and down in the background holding up the small print like an unexpected gate-crasher barging into the church to break-up a wedding ceremony.

“Once you complete the application paperwork, I go away with it and come back with your future projection; it’s, basically, assessing your risk as a potential customer. It’s what all insurance companies work off, like those comparison websites that ask all those questions; we have ours and, with your answers, we assess your likelihood of a claim, based on your past circumstances, present situation and futures projection.”

He was slowly sinking beneath the weight of terminology; it wasn’t a pressure sale, like those touting replacement windows or kitchens, this company swamped the individual with pseudo-sounding service speak that was systematic but, also relatable; he’d been perched on the end of the phone answering stock questions from a woman in a headset, there was really no difference. Except, the promise of money.

“So, for arguments sake, say I don’t make a claim after one year; how much can I expect back?” Straight to the point, now; time was losing wait.

With that defrosted smile back on his face, the salesman regurgitated his patter; “That all depends on how many policies you take out with us; you see, we don’t just offer our customers superb service at incredible rates, we also offer our futures assurance return: after one year, the average return following no claims is ten percent, like you would expect on the next year’s policy with a no claims discount. After two, fifteen percent return; three years, claim free, twenty percent, and so on and so forth. Instead of discounting your next twelve months, we give it back in advance because we’re convinced you’ll come back to us, again and again.”

Glancing back down the brochure and flicking through the pages; “And, if I take out more than one policy, I can expect to get that ten percent back on all of them?”

Eureka, the little fishy had it; “Exactly, provided you do not make a claim on any policy; stay claim free, and you’re laughing.”

Brochure down on the coffee table; “Where do I sign?”

It had been a week since Rob had had a visit from the Insurance Assurance Ltd Salesman. Seven days with which to stew over his decision and calculate the payback he could receive in twelve months time. In his greed, he had taken out every policy going (all except pet insurance, but he was seriously considering looking into getting a dog).

Seven policies ranging from five to twenty-five pounds a month would garnish him with a least one-hundred pounds back in twelve months time. Each morning, on his way out of the house for work, he checked for the post and, on his subsequent return home from work every evening, he checked again, waiting for the copy of his futures projection and whether he had been accepted as an Insurance Assurance Ltd customer.

The salesman had insisted that it was just a formality; hardly anyone was rejected these days, he had said retrieving his bag and heading for the front door. Eyes bleary from filling out the application form, Rob bid the salesman a good evening and waved him off down the street, where he had mentioned his next caller awaited.

A package arrived on the eighth day, a bulky bulbous manila envelope crammed with paperwork and print-outs; Rob wrenched it open, grasping the covering letter to ensure he had been accepted before flapping through the documents to check that everything was correct.

As a valued new customer of Insurance Assurance Ltd, Rob only had to sit back and enjoy life, safe in the knowledge that he was protected against any eventuality. The new serenity it delivered marked his life with a whole renewed zest for living; every month he checked his bank statements and watched the direct debits pickpocket his current account with their fees that reflected his inner peace and tranquillity.

All except the reoccurring dream he had, alone some nights, everything was golden: he was old, maybe ten years older than he was now, and he was in serious strife, trapping looking out of his upstairs bedroom window as the flames licked at the building below while torrents of water cascaded from the burst pipe buried beneath the kitchen.

All around him the brick work of his nineteenth-century terrace house was crumbling, hairline cracks zigzagging throughout the structure, while gushes of scalding water surged from the split pipes that encompassed his central heating system.

In the distant panic, he could hear his dog, Lad, barking downstairs and children screaming in the front bedroom across the flame-strewn landing, blocking off his, and their, only means of escape.

And, although he could not see it, he knew inside that dream, that he had lost his job and a forfeiture sign stood from a post jolted deep in his front lawn; an oil-patch stain, square centre on his driveway, all that remained of his car.

Just as he was about to wake up from a nightmare that threatened to finish him and his family, he would look down at a document that he was suddenly holding in his hands and read the top line: Future Projection.

And, it was one such night, waking up in a spin of cobweb and sweat-mottled stasis that he heard a sound issuing from the ground floor.

Sweeping the damp blankets aside, Rob leaned out of bed and tiptoed across to the bedroom window that overlooked the rear garden and kitchen. Nestled within the darkness of the spiky privet hedge that border-lined his property with his immediate neighbours, he’s eyes fixed in on a slight glimmer of metallic sheen. Adjusting his stance, Rob leaned forward swiping the gritty sleep from his eyelashes to stare down at what he thought he saw. As he heard another clank.

Rushing for the nearest heavyweight weapon to hand and leaping the narrow staircase in the direction of the kitchen, he braced himself for a scuffle; a dizzying surge of adrenalin swelling his skin, slick on the surface texture of his body. Bare feet itching across the carpet, hand outstretched a thump against the kitchen window; huge white eyeballs staring back up through the glass: the Insurance Assurance Ltd Salesman, wrench in hand fixed to the spot.

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Mark Robinson has had previous short fiction appear in Birmingham’s Raw Edge Magazine; Manchester’s Transmission; online at Hackwriters.com and txtlit.co.uk; and forthcoming in Portsmouth University’s Borderlines Anthology, Volume 3.

1 Comment
  1. Reply
    Roberta SchulbergGoro
    September 12, 2009 at 11:24 am

    Well written horror.

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