“I work on complicated
claims. How might I help
“Well, I was the
owner of the Coney
and my hotel burned
down. Fortunately I have
a policy.” She handed
him an anachronism of
a document. It looked to
be from long ago, but the
paper was crisp and felt new
to the touch.
“That fire was more than a
hundred years ago.”
“I don’t believe the policy
has an expiry as long as I’m the
claimant. I paid quite a bit for the best
insurance I could get.”
“You said you were the owner? You’ve
… actually been inside the hotel?”
“I lived there until the night it burned down.”
Jake took his glasses off and looked at her for a
while. Despite her new attire, her face had an antiquity to
it. But clearly this woman wasn’t born in the 1800s.
“Can you prove you’re the Molly Page? I don’t doubt it, but
the company will need proof.”
She presented Jake with a yellowed birth certificate.
“There’s my identification.”
Jake read it, read it again. Molly Page. Born in 1867.
“Is Bonaventure Page your father?”
“Correct. He built the Elephantine Colossus and willed it to
me in 1886.”
“That’s … incredible.”
Jake wasn’t really sure what else to say at this point.
“How long have you been a claims adjuster?” she said.
Jake took off his glasses.
“I’m an actuary.”
“What are you doing down here, then?”
“How do you even know what an actuary is?”
“Because I was married to one. Until I almost died of
“That’s better than most actuary jokes. If you must know,
I’m here for two reasons. One, they no longer knew what to
do with me and I wasn’t ready to retire. And two, I’m the best
at figuring out what things are worth long after they stopped
being worth anything.”
“Does that mean you do the math to show my claim on the
Elephant Hotel is worthless?” She slumped down in the extra
chair he had on hand for the rare visitor.
“If you actually have a claim to the Elephant Hotel, then it’s
probably worth a pretty penny. But that’s a tricky ‘if.’ Wasn’t it
“The policy included a provision for arson. Fear of arson
was the whole reason I bought insurance. Once it became
a brothel it was a target of all kinds of anger. I’m glad my
father never had to see the end of it. He was so thrilled by its
“When did he die?”
“Not long after it became a wonder of the world. Long
enough to see his elephant looming over the skyline as you
entered New York Harbor. It was a beacon to all.”
“Why would someone want to burn such a thing down?”
“Why does anyone destroy something beautiful?”