Monday, September 5, 2016

30 Day Challenge: Day 5

Okay so Day 4 is missing. I knew weekends would be a challenge and a HOLIDAY weekend more so. I waffled this morning about whether I ought to do Day 4 anyway and post two today, but since this is my challenge, I'm taking the hit point. After not blogging for years, I'm pretty pleased about three posts in a row. I'll keep a little counter though.

Missing Days: 1

The other thing is, if you mosey over to the 30 Day Challenge website, you'll see that I'm doing Day 4's challenge anyway. I was sorry to have missed it because it sounds like fun. I guess we'll see.

Simon had been in the travel business for many years. He'd retire in a couple of years, and looked forward to taking some of the trips he'd helped people set up. Most of the trips were repetitive; the newlyweds headed to the Caribbean, the single woman looking for adventure in Paris, the young men going to Las Vegas for a forgotten weekend. He barely needed to think about those. Everyone wanted the same two or three experiences. He always offered travel insurance as well. Protection against missed flights or canceled trips, but also plans for more serious things like injury or illness while traveling, even death. No one took the insurance. Not even the older people who always wanted to see the Grand Canyon. He didn't want to alarm them but always wanted to stress how at their advanced ages they most of all should be thinking of the end days. In all his days though, he'd only had a couple of tense phone calls with people whose trips had been canceled-- weddings called off, illnesses requiring hospital stays-- he always felt guilty saying they couldn't have their money back, but he did always offer.

The Internet had slowed down his business some. He had a mostly older clientele, a lot of regulars. The Johnsons were trying to visit every national park in the United States. Janeane Smith had come to him to plan her honeymoon, followed by family trips to Hawaii and Florida, and then her first solo trip to Spain to celebrate her divorce. He didn't mind the slowdown, since he was slowing down himself. He felt bad knowing that when he retired his receptionist would be out of a job. He glanced over at her, young, blonde and perky. She was on that website, something about faces. As long as she answered the phone when it rang, he didn't mind paying her to play on the computer.

That particular day, a woman came in alone, just walked in off the street which hadn't happened in years. In fact, almost all of Simon's business was done by phone. The office was fairly bare. He had posters in the front windows of palm trees and white sand beaches, and a jumbo jet flying off into a sunset, but they were faded from years in the sun. The fake rubber tree plant in the front was gray was dust, and he'd stopped magazine subscriptions to the office so the issues on the table in the waiting area were all two years out of date. The receptionist greeted the woman enthusiastically, offering her some of the water from the cooler behind her desk. The woman declined and said with some urgency she wanted to book a trip.

Simon came to greet her and gestured toward his desk. He led the way, pulling out the chair for her. She was quite striking. Very tall, with a figure that clearly had once been lithe, but had settled over the years. Her hair was black as coal, and her eyes were the palest blue he had ever seen, the irises ringed in black. She took off her black coat to reveal a riotous sweater of every color known to man, it seemed to Simon. He saw there were also tiny bells affixed to it here and there. She sat perfectly still.

"It's so nice to meet you...." Simon had learned years ago not to make any presumptions of a woman's marital status. He often wished for an all-purpose greeting like "mister" that could be used for women.

"Mona Peale," she said, reaching out her hand. He expected her handshake to be limp, but she gripped his hand firmly it hurt a little, and gave one forceful shake. Decisive.

"You can tell by the sign right there that I'm Simon Powell. What can I do for you?"

"I want to take a trip."

"Well you're in the right place!" He liked to take guesses at where people wanted to go. Mona seemed like an eastern European woman. "Where were you thinking of going?"

"I don't think you can help me get there."

Simon kept his smile on his face, but faltered. "I've been in this business going on forty years, Ms. Peale."

"Miss."

"Miss Peale. There isn't anywhere in the world that I haven't sent someone." He paused. "Except Antarctica of course." He laughed. Mona didn't.

"Mr. Powell. I have been all over the world already, some parts of it twice. I have my trip planned, I just need to get insurance."

The other thing about the insurance was that it was generally lucrative for Simon. People paid but nearly never collected. He always hoped people would take it because his profit margin was better for that than the trip. He had never in his life had someone request the insurance up front, much less without scheduling a trip. "That's a very unusual request, Miss Peale. Are you sure I can't help you with your travel?"

"I am sure. Is this something you can do?"

"It sure is," Simon said. "What kind are you looking for?"

"I need everything."

"Everything?"

"Everything."

"Cancelation, missed flight, illness, death and dismemberment, lost baggage, emergency evacuation?"

"And also repatriation of remains."

She was so matter of fact a chill ran up Simon's spine. "Okay, we have that. To calculate the price, I just need to know where you're going."

Mona rolled her eyes. "Does this make a difference?"

"Well, yeah. Is it domestic, international, to a dangerous region?"

"Yes."

"Right," Simon said. He had a feeling he was being put on. "Did Gene send you down here?"

"I don't know Gene."

"Or Larry? Listen, we're really busy here."

"As am I. Fine. It's a trip to Alaska. Redoubt, Alaska."

Simon was surprised to be so wrong about her destination. "Okay then," he said, pulling up a map on his computer. "What's in Redoubt? I never heard of it."

"It's beautiful this time of year."

"The only thing coming up here is a volcano," he said, laughing.

Mona pursed her lips. "We're leaving in a week, will the insurance be ready for then?"

"We?"

"I have a-- companion."

Out of habit he glanced at her left hand and saw a pink mark on her ring finger. He looked back up at her face and her expression hadn't changed. She sat perfectly straight, her face completely unreadable. "A companion costs extra." He said, his mouth went dry.

"I thought it would."

"Will your companion be able to sign as a potential beneficiary?"

"The trip is a surprise. I'd rather take care of everything myself."

She squirmed just a little in her seat, and held her hands together in her lap. Simon tried to imagine the kind of man who would marry this woman. What their life was like. He had a vision of hiking up a volcano and being inside. Why would she even need repatriation? Anyone that happened to would just disappear.

Simon tapped at his keyboard while he thought over the big payday he would have with that policy, even if she did make a claim. Maybe she'd back out of the trip altogether, he'd still get a nice sum, maybe enough for a little weekend away himself. He tapped. Mona stared.

Finally Simon grimaced as he looked at the screen. "Sorry, we can't insure you for a journey like that."

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