This is the story of how Jackson Crumb remembered how to live.
It all began on a Tuesday. Every previous Tuesday during Jack’s ten years at Hartford Life Insurance had been the same—up at 6:00, showered and fed (one cup exactly of oatmeal with a side of seasonal fruit) by 7:00. Out the door by 7:10.
Jack Crumb firmly believed in routine. At the office, the first order of business each Tuesday was the attorney’s review of claims pending lawsuits. As head of claims, Jack chaired the meeting and considered the duty to be one of the shining points in his usually unshiny life. Here, he ruled.
This Tuesday, things took an unusual turn when, in the middle of what had been a very uneventful, normal risk management meeting, a new advocacy attorney stood to argue a case. She represented the client though, technically, she worked for Hartford Life.
Usually, Jack paid scant attention to whatever the lawyers had to say, having already decided before entering the conference room which cases he would settle and which ones he would fight. Nothing any attorney had to say would change his mind.
This case, and this attorney, was different.
Her voice was what first caught his attention. She waited for silence, which in itself was unusual. Most of them just barged in, said what they had to say and fled, as if knowing it would make no difference anyway and just wanting to get the whole thing over with.
She was from the south. Her name was Jolene Fisher. Jack thought that perhaps she had taken elocution lessons, for her drawl was subtle, drawing out her vowels and adding flavor to her husky voice. Jack sat up straighter in his chair, taking in her fresh, earnest face as he listened to her plea for the client, one Spinner Shydler.
“As you know, the estate of Mr. Shydler is suing Hartford Life for non-payment of the claim.”
“The man killed himself. What didn’t they understand about the policy’s suicide clause, Ms. Fisher?” This from Betty Harrington, the only woman on the risk committee.
“They are prepared to argue that Mr. Shydler’s death was accidental and, after reviewing their attorney’s brief, I’ve come to the conclusion that they have a case. It is my recommendation we pay out the million rather than risk an almost certain loss in court, ending up having to pay damages plus fees.”
Jack flipped through Jolene’s report, the coroner’s, and the adjuster’s who’d rejected the claim. Seemed clear enough. Shydler—a rock musician of apparently some note—had strung himself up from a beam over the whirlpool tub in his Hotel Metro suite and met his maker. End of story. The only witness was a doped up groupie who had managed to tell the cops that he’d done it himself and had died while she watched, helpless to save him.
“What’s the gist of their argument, Ms. Fisher?”
“They claim the death was accidental and are prepared to prove it, showing the deceased had no intention of killing himself.”
“How, exactly, do they intend to convince a jury that he hanged himself accidentally?” As cute as she was, Jackson wasn’t going to cut her any slack.
“They are going to claim Mr. Shydler was into erotic asphyxiation. You know, where someone intentionally cuts off oxygen to their brain during sexual stimulation? Remember when kids were dying all over playing that choking game? Same thing, only a grown-up version. It is the major cause of accidental hangings worldwide and the reason why his attorneys might well kick our asses in court. Unless we can prove the man intended to kill himself, we’re going to lose.” She was all riled up, her eyes flashing, and her fingers gripping her pink leather portfolio. For the first time in a very long time, Jackson felt two things—the desire to change his mind during a risk management meeting and a yearning to ask a woman out on a date.