Audio: “The Insurance Agent” now at Escape Pod

Glad to say my latest story to be up at Escape Pod is The Insurance Agent, first published in Interzone. It is read by Christian Brady.

The bar was packed and everyone was watching the Nixon-Reagan match. The fighters were reflected off the bar’s grainy wood countertop and the tables’ gleaming surfaces and seemed to melt as they flickered down the legs of the scattered chairs. The bar was called the Godhead, which had a lot to do with why I was there. It was a bit of an unfair fight as Reagan was young, pre-presidency, circa-World War Two, while Nixon was heavy-set, older: people were exchanging odds and betting with the bar’s internal gaming system and the general opinion seemed to be that though Reagan was in better shape Nixon was meaner.

I wasn’t there for the match.

The Godhead was on Pulau Sepanggar, one of the satellite islands off Borneo, hence nominally under Malaysian federal authority but in practice in a free zone that had stronger ties to the Brunei Sultanate. It was a convenient place to meet, providing easy access to the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and, of course, Singapore, which resented the island’s role as a growing business centre yet found it useful at the same time.

She wore a smart business suit and a smart communication system that looked like what it was, which was a custom-made gold bracelet on her left arm. She wore smart shades and I was taking a bet that she wasn’t watching the fight. She was drinking a generic Cola but there was nothing generic about her. I slid into a chair beside her and waited for her shades to turn transparent and notice me.

‘Drink, Mr. Turner?’

I liked the name Turner. It was Anglo-Saxon generic, a mid-level executive’s name, white as beige. ‘Call me James,’ I said. I liked James too. You could tell what a James Turner did just by hearing his name. The rest of me was tailor-made for the name, had been for some time: I had the kind of tan that suggested I had been East for just long enough to have acquired it, black hair that was short but not too short and had a decent but not overly-expensive cut, pale blue eyes behind shades that cost a lot of money to look like a knock-off.

There was a suggestion of a smile in the corners of her mouth and she said, ‘I don’t think I will.’

‘Mr. Turner, then,’ I said. ‘One name’s good as another.’ – continue reading, or listen in audio!