This is very short story number twelve in a weekly series. When I started this experiment in internet self-publishing I was intending to stop here, but I have been encouraged by your responses and by my own irrepressible desire to write more of these to continue the experiment for a while. Thank you for reading.
Earl, an insurance claims adjuster, was on his way to look into a homeowner’s water damage claim. The homeowner, Hank, lived in a notorious polluted wetlands area and the GPS that Earl’s employer had installed in his car failed to help him precisely locate Hank’s home, so Earl found himself walking on a muddy overgrown trail between two swamps that smelled of gasoline and rotten eggs. Earl’s wife, Latitia, was getting her nursing degree at a private college and his five-year-old son, Smedley, had just been diagnosed with severe autism. The late afternoon sun shone in his eyes. To avoid being blinded, he looked down at the trail, where he saw half of a hundred-dollar bill protruding from under a large rock. He lifted up the rock and saw many one-hundred-dollar bills inside several clear plastic bags. He counted them. There were eight hundred bills, eighty thousand dollars. He put as much of it as he could—thirty thousand—into his briefcase and committed the spot on the trail to memory so that he could come here on the way back and pick up the rest. Hank answered his door and led Earl to his living room. Pointing to the darkened, slightly warped spot on his floor, he said, “Look, I know it’s not much, but I have to get a new floor in here, my future in-laws are coming and I don’t want them to feel like their daughter is making a mistake.” Earl looked around at the swamp-smelling fishing tackle hung from the living room walls on rusty nails, the old worn and stained furniture, the pile of dirt-caked dishes on the upturned crate Hank used as a coffee table. He made notes in his book and told Hank he’d be in touch with him. Seeing Earl out the door, Hank looked at his muddy driveway and said, “Where’s your car?” Earl explained. “I’ll give you a lift.” “That won’t be necessary.” The sun was down now, Earl could not see where the puddles were on the trail, and his shoes quickly filled with polluted water. He spotted his rock though, lifted it again, and crammed hundred-dollar bills into every pocket. The rest he just carried in his arms inside their plastic bags, along with his briefcase. He got about five paces when he found Hank, a tall, wide, bearded man, blocking his way. “Well isn’t that something. I walk this trail every day and I never saw it. Your company is not going to give me any money for my floor so I’ll need what you’ve got there in your arms and your pockets and probably that briefcase.” “I have a son who was just diagnosed with severe autism.” “And I’ve got a very demanding fiancée. Her father is a general in the U.S. Marine Corps.” “Hank, I don’t think you have a fiancée.” “And I don’t think you have a son.” “I do, I’ll show you a picture on my phone.” Earl put down the briefcase and the money and removed his phone from his pocket. Hank took the phone from Earl and the money and the briefcase, and knocked Earl on his ass with a punch to the jaw. Earl walked back to his car and drove home. Latitia greeted him at the door half-asleep in her bathrobe and saw the red welt on his jaw. “Rough day for the claims adjuster?” “How was Smedley today?” “The same.” He removed from his underwear the two thousand dollars he’d managed to hide from Hank, and gave it to Latitia. “Nice work,” she said, and tucked it into the pocket of her bathrobe.