Shortlisted for a Golden Horseshoe Short Story Award from the Crime Writers of Canada
by Terry Carroll
Taunya McNulty entered my life well before the day of the accident. It was May 30. The date stands out in my mind and will forever because of the hail claim and because of Taunya’s black leather outfit. Late May is not exactly prime season for leather or hail. But as I sometimes say to mother, “Well, Ruth, just when is hail season anyway?”
Modern weather is playing havoc with the insurance industry. Record temperatures in June. Hail in November. Thunder storms in February. Freak weather, they called it 35 or 40 years ago, when I was a child. Not freakish any longer. I blame the thinning of the ozone layer.
The hailstorm cut a swath from Freeman through the village of Barter before bending down to strike part of Port Allen. About half a kilometer wide, it took out six tobacco fields, nine cars, two trucks, ten roofs, the aluminum siding on eight houses and this one motorcycle.
I followed the path of destruction, assessing claims as fast as I could. Along the way, people left messages on my cell phone. My reply was always the same: “I’ll be there as soon as humanly possible.” Taunya McNulty had called three times.
It was Wednesday evening when I nosed my tan Malibu up Hilltop Crescent in Port Allen and spied Taunya that first, unforgettable time. Wearing black leather shorts, a fringed vest and a black bra, she was bent over some weeds along the front sidewalk. Leather straps snaked up her calves from brown sandals with heels. She looked wild and exotic. As I exited the car, she straightened and leveled me a look that implied violence if I so much as glanced at her the wrong way. A little odd, I thought, given a costume which seemed to be all about attracting attention.
I looked away, at the Prestige Adjusters folder in my hand, at the sun just below the tree line on my right, at the motorcycle parked in the laneway beside a 10-year-old black Chevy pick-up. You could not see the lake from the road side of the house but you could hear the beach crowd starting the season early. All at once, I wished I had somebody like George Smythe with me. He’s past president of the Kiwanis club where I’m a member. George happens to also be in insurance but on the life side. He was the sort of man would know what to do with a woman like her, I thought, foolishly as things turned out.
“Hello. Mrs. McNulty? Beautiful evening.”
Just to be sure, I double-checked the number on the front of her house. Everything seemed in order. “Um, you had called about a motorcycle. Something about hail damage.”
“The mysterious insurance man decides to show up. You finally got my message.” This was pronounced with such a broad smile, I felt compelled to study her more closely. Her hair, parted slightly off centre, was ash brown frosted with blonde. Her nose and jaw were too prominent to be classically pretty. Her eyes were as blue as the lake on a perfect summer day. She was a slim woman. Nothing a few good meals couldn’t fix, my mother would have said if she had seen her. A skinny pin-up in a bondage outfit, I thought and for a minute, I couldn’t think of much else.