Fiction JEREMY ENGDAHL-JOHNSON
The Elephant Hotel Claim
JAKE MITCHELL DECIDED IT WAS TIME to take the claim upstairs to management. He’d only been on
the Ample Hills Insurance executive floor a handful of times in his long career, so he was surprised when he
was granted immediate entrance, and even more surprised when he saw the CEO, chairman, and corporate
counsel huddled like wary cats in an alley. He decided to cut to the chase.
“I’m not sure how or why, but it appears we have a claim on
the Coney Island Elephant Hotel, which burned down in 1896.”
They stared at him like he was crazy—and then the CEO
opened his mouth and Jake realized he was the only sane one
“We believe that Blue Marble has mounted some kind of …
attack against us. This claimant … this … Ms. Page … is their
“She seemed perfectly lovely and sincere.”
The corporate counsel stepped forward.
“We need your help, Mr. Mitchell. But we need you to sign
Jake leafed through five pages of nondisclosure, noting the
prominence of “The Elephant Hotel Claim” throughout the
“I signed a confidentiality agreement when I joined the
company 25 years ago,” he said. “My discretion has never been
in question before.”
“This is exclusive to this claim,” said the corporate counsel.
Jake had long believed in the adage agree to everything, sign
nothing. But he was too curious not to move forward. So he
“What’s so secret about this claim?”
The three executives shared knowing glances.
“We believe that Blue Marble has developed a time machine,” said the CEO.
The actuary-turned-claims-ninja didn’t know what to say.
“This is the third—and certainly most audacious—such
“Excuse me, sir. Backing up. Did you say ‘time machine’?”
“It boggles the mind, but yes. They are bringing back claim-
ants from the past to file against us in the present.”
“It’s kind of like in Terminator,” said the chairman.
Jake chewed on this for a minute and eventually had to say
“In Terminator, the agents are from the future,” Jake said.
“It’s the opposite of Terminator,” said the CEO. “But it’s no
Jake was very good at keeping a straight face, even when
thinking of Arnold Schwarzenegger traveling from the future to
file fire insurance claims.
“I didn’t realize time travel was possible,” Jake said.
“We didn’t either. You can be sure that, going forward, we’ll
have exclusions for time travel in all of our policies.”
“Too bad we didn’t invent time travel,” Jake said. “We could
go back and add the exclusions retrospectively.”
“This is not a time for jokes, Mr. Mitchell,” said the corpo-
rate counsel. “This Page woman is potentially dangerous.”
“With all due respect, sir. Molly Page didn’t seem dangerous.
Quite nice, actually.”
“She may be without menace, but her claim is a big problem
for this company. And that’s why we need your help. We want
the present value of this one to be small.”
And here it was. The rub.
“I’ll need to make any number actuarially sound, sir.”
“Make it as sound as you can, but be realistic about the
“Certain things I can moderate,” Jake said. “I don’t see why
she should get an inflationary adjustment if she’s from the
1880s. But the market value—”
“That’s the kind of thinking we can’t have,” said the chair-
man. “You don’t negotiate with the T-1000.”
Jake saw it was time to go.
“Rest assured I will do my best work, sir.”
Jake was 17 days from retirement when Molly Page first
walked into his office. He knew he was in trouble from the moment he first saw her. It wasn’t that she portended anything for
him in particular—beautiful women seldom had anything to do
with him—but she was the kind of girl who wouldn’t be seen in
a place like this unless it was important. And Jake was on the
glide path away from important things.
“May I help you, ma’am?” He’d always been courteous. He
had the kind of pseudo-private office, deep inside an insurance
company, that was seldom visited, and gave him more time to
himself than one could want. Courtesy came easy when presented with the rare guest.
“I understand you deal in the long tail.” She said it quickly,
as if used to saying such a thing, when in fact Jake was sure
it had been rehearsed/planted. Regardless, he liked her. She
seemed unusually polite, but somehow out of place. He had the
impression everything she wore had been bought off the racks
of Target within the past hour.