Part 1: You need insurance
“Money for nothing and the chicks are free.”
Dale Hunter was stuck in the continuous congestion driving toward Montreal’s centre-ville listening to the radio. That line stuck in his head.
He was a fan of the Dire Straits and his favorite song was “Sultans of Swing” with Mark Knopfler’s long guitar solo at the end, though the damn DJ’s always faded it out before the solo was over.
Dale cursed himself for getting caught in the rush hour traffic. He would rather have been cruising his BMW-M4 convertible along a winding road in the Laurentian Mountains with the top down, especially on this hot, humid day in July. Instead, he was jammed into an impatient crowd of Montreal drivers with the top up and the windows closed, the air conditioning straining to shut out the heat, noise and pollution of the six-lane concrete trench known as the Decarie Expressway that passed below street level and connected the Metropolitan Expressway on the north side of Montreal to the Autoroute 20 that crossed to the South Shore via the Champlain Bridge. The Decarie was always a stressful route, so the radio was a useful distraction and the old songs were added relief.
Yeah, he thought, the chicks might be free, but the money is never for nothing.
Never has been for me anyway. His mind wandered back thirty years to 1986, when Dire Straits first played those hits and he was a young entrepreneur, making money and having fun, riding high on the wave of personal computers that were flooding across North America. Dale owned a distribution company in that fast-paced business and he was loving his life. He smiled at the memories.
Then he remembered the first time that Jacques Talbot walked into his office and suddenly life got harder. And a lot less fun.
Talk about money for nothing.
It was a cold winter day, early in the New Year of 1986.
Dale remembered it was a day after the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded in flight immediately on take-off from Cape Canaveral and all seven astronauts were killed. Everyone was still talking about it and remembering TV images of the shocked spectators looking up at curling brown plumes of smoke against the blue sky. Those memories would last a lifetime.
Dale was sitting in his spacious corner office working on his own launch for a new line of computer monitors and writing up some marketing language for his sale reps. 3D Computers specialized in display products and had an office-warehouse unit in an industrial development west of downtown.
He was lost in thought gazing out across the street at a row of similar units when he was interrupted by Marie, his receptionist, from the doorway.
“Dale, there’s somebody here to see you about insurance”
“I don’t need to see anybody about insurance.”
He heard a man’s voice say, “But Mr. Hunter, this is a very special kind of insurance. I’m sure it will be good for your business.”
The deep French-Canadian accented voice was coming from the doorway behind his startled receptionist. Dale looked up to see a heavy-set man in a grey suit, no tie. An unfriendly face with an insincere smile. Oily hair slicked straight back and down to his collar. Black shiny biker boots with rubber soles that had allowed him to silently follow Marie down the hall.
“Thank you, Miss,” he said, as he squeezed by and reached out to Dale with a firm handshake. He took a chair and pulled it up close to Dale’s desk. Marie disappeared back down the hallway. He said, “My name is Jacques.”
Dale took another look at him. No last name, no business card? Not your typical insurance salesman. Jacque’s suit fit tightly around his bulky arms and shoulders. A burgundy silk shirt stretched tight over his round belly and exposed gold chains hanging from the folds of his thick neck. La grosse bedaine as they say in Quebec, thought Dale, if I ever have a belly like that, please just shoot me.
“I really don’t need any more insurance,” he said. “We’re well covered and I don’t have time right now to hear your pitch. Just leave me your card and I’ll call if I’m interested. Thanks anyway, but I don’t want to waste your time. Or mine.”
“Mr. Hunter,” Jacques paused and leaned forward holding the thin smile, “You don’t seem to realize, this is insurance you absolutely have to have. It is not really negotiable.”
“Well, if you do business with us, we guarantee that certain types of accidents will just never happen.” Jacques’s smile disappeared and his eyes turned to a dark, menacing stare, “However, if you do not pay for our insurance, we can actually promise you will have an accident. Either here or at home.” He sat back and let it sink in.
“Jesus! You’re looking for protection money?”
“We prefer to call it insurance.”
Dale’s mind raced and his stomach clenched as a cold chill ran down his back. He jumped up and pointed at the door, “Get the fuck out of here or I’m calling the cops, right now.”
Jacques looked up, not moving from the chair. The smile returned and it was genuine this time. He continued in a quiet firm voice, “That’s never a good idea. If I hear anything about cops, two things will happen. First, we’ll show you the kind of accident that we’re protecting you from, and second, your monthly insurance will double from two thousand a month to four.”
“No bloody way!”
“Look, I know you weren’t expecting me today, so I’ll give you some time. I’ll come back tomorrow afternoon. Just be sure to have an envelope ready for me. Mark it “Guaranteed Insurance” and put two thousand cash in it. Very simple.” He got up and left Dale’s office.
Dale sat back stunned, then he slammed his hand on the desk and exploded. “Sonofabitch! Where the hell did he come from?”
Marie had come back down the hall from her reception desk after Jacques went out the front door and looked in on Dale, “Everything all right? Who was that guy?”
“Uh, yeah, no problem. Just another high pressure salesman.”
She said, “Oh, OK,” and went back to her desk.
Dale was thinking he should arrange to have the cops waiting for the sonofabitch when he came back tomorrow. He needed to stop this before it went any further.
He heard a loud crunch coming from the parking lot and looked out to see a black Dodge RAM pickup backing away from the rear of his BMW coupe. The truck pulled forward to the curb beside the building and Jacques got out and headed back in the front door.
He walked straight on to Dale’s office with a quick glance at Marie that froze her in place. She watched him go down the aisle between the desks against the windows and the closed offices along the wall toward Dale’s office. The sales rep, Sylvie, turned from the paperwork that she was looking at with Guy Tremblay, the technical services manager, and frowned at the rough-looking man striding by.
Jacques went straight though Dale’s doorway, walked over and leaned across his desk into Dale’s face and said, “I had the feeling you might still be thinking about the cops.” He stood back with his hands on his hips beside his bulging belly and the grey suit jacket swung open like a gunslinger ready for a shoot-out. “I decided to give you a small demonstration of how we work. Just a broken tail-light this time, but if you ever go to the cops, we will have to do more damage and we know where you live and where your kids go to school.”
Dale stared at him and sat without moving.
Jacques said, “See you tomorrow.” He turned and left again.