When the doorbell rang, Norman hollered, "I got it, honey," and hurried out of the den, hanging a left into the front hall. Opening the door, he beheld a middle-aged man wearing a navy-blue suit, a crew-cut, and a pleasant smile.
"Mr. Nowitsky?" said the man. "Hi, I'm Glen Grunwald. Glad to meetcha!" He reached out and shook Norman's hand, practically crushing it with his vise-like grip.
"Yes, nice to meet you too," said Norman, massaging his now-throbbing right hand with his good one. "Won't you come in?"
The powerfully-built visitor strode across the threshold and as the two men headed for the living room, Norman called out, "Honey, Mr. Grunwald's here. We'll be in the living room."
"Be there in a sec," yelled Norman's wife from the kitchen. "The banana bread's almost ready."
"You have a beautiful home, Mr. Nowitsky," said Mr. Grunwald, plopping himself down in Norman's favorite chair. "I sure hope it's adequately covered for fire, flood, theft and termites, and most important, that you have a rider to ensure full replacement value."
"Um, yes . . . I'm fairly certain we have all those things. What we're looking for, Mr. Grunwald, is a good life ins --"
"Glen," the man interrupted, "Please, call me Glen."
"Uh . . . of course, Glen it is then," stammered the tall, slightly-hunched homeowner. "And feel free to call me Norman. So as I was saying, my wife and I are gonna have a ba --"
Norman was interrupted once again, this time by the arrival of his obviously-pregnant wife, Polly, who was carrying a large tray laden with coffee, banana bread, dinnerware and napkins, the smell of bananas and cinnamon filling the air.
The insurance salesman leapt to his feet, said, "Here, let me get that for you, Ma'am," and took the tray from Norman's surprised-looking spouse. He quickly set the tray down on the coffee table, and cradling Polly's elbow, escorted her to the chair closest to his.
"I don't mean to cross any lines, Ma'am," he said, smiling kindly, "but like I always told my dear late wife, there is nothing so beautiful as a woman with child."
"Why thank you, Mr. Grunwald," said plain, bespectacled Polly, blushing deeply. Upon regaining her composure, she reached out and squeezed the man's hand. "My name's Polly and I'm sorry for your loss."
"Yeah, well, it's been quite a while now," said the man, staring down at his well-shined shoes. "But luckily, we were covered, her life insurance made it possible for me to put the kids through college, get them each a safe, dependable car, and send them out into the world, debt-free. So when I finally retired from the Corps, I went into life insurance, hoping to help others the same way I was helped, you know, 'pay it forward' as they say."
"Well, I'll bet you've helped a great many people, Mr. Grunwald," said Polly, patting his hand. "May I get you some coffee and banana bread?"
"It's Glen, please call me Glen," he said, sandwiching her dainty little hand between his. "And don't you leave that chair, little lady, I'm sure your husband is perfectly capable of serving us, aren't you, Norman?"
"Sure I am, Mr. Grun -- , er, Glen," said Norman, rising awkwardly to his feet. "How do you take your coffee?"
The man's steely gaze froze Norman where he stood. "Now I don't know where you grew up, son," the salesman said, shaking his gray-bristled head, "but where I come from, we serve the women-folk first."
"Ha ha! Yes, of course. Honey, can I get you some --"
"Speaking of service," the former Marine cut in, "what branch of the armed forces did you serve in, Norman?"
Before her husband could answer, Polly said, "Norman's always had very bad allergies, Glen, he would never pass a physical," and turning to her spouse, "Just half a cup, dear, light and sweet."
"Sweets for the sweet," said Mr. Grunwald, grinning as Polly turned bright red once again. "I'll take mine black, son," he said, "and cut me a nice slice of that delicious-smelling bread. You're one lucky son-of-a gun, Norm, to have a wife this lovely who can cook."
"Oh, Glen, puh-lease!" said Polly, giggling like a schoolgirl.
"You're right," said Norman, nervously pouring the scalding-hot coffee, "Polly's a very spec --"
"That's why you need to get covered, son -- ASAP!" said the salesman, dead serious once again. "So that if anything happens to you, your beautiful wife and your unborn child are safe and secure. Life insurance is not an obligation -- Thanks," he said, taking the coffee and banana bread from Norman -- "It's really an act of love."
Polly sighed as Norman took his seat, nearly spilling his coffee in the process. "Well, yes, Glen," he said, "I do want to protect my family, that's why I called you. But we are, um, on a bit of a tight budget."
"Money problems, eh?" said Mr. Grunwald, evoking the sympathetic tone of a funeral director.
"Um, no, not exactly," Norman hemmed and hawed, "It's just that we don't, uh, have a whole lot left over after the bills are paid."
Mr. Grunwald looked sadly at Polly then pursed his lips.
"How 'bout we just concentrate on what you need, folks," said the broad-shouldered man, taking a pen and a twelve-page form from his briefcase. "And then we can worry about the financing later. Do you have those figures I asked for, Norm?"
"Sure, got 'em right here," said Norman, brushing crumbs off a rumpled piece of loose-leaf and handing it to the salesman.
Grumbling under his breath, Mr. Grunwald transferred the numbers onto his form and said, "Good, that's your total indebtedness. Then we add the inflation-adjusted cost of raising a child, funeral expenses -- um, excuse me, Norm, but were you thinking of cremation or burial? And if you wish to be buried, did you want a wooden casket or a metal casket?"
"Jeez!" said Norman, "I, uh, really haven't . . . um --"
"Just kidding, son," said Mr. Grunwald, sharing a chuckle with Norman's wife. "A little black humor there. We'll just put down the average cost of funeral arrangements today, thirty . . . thousand . . . dollars, and then we have legal fees, moving costs, and of cour --"
"Moving costs?" squawked Norman, a little louder than he'd intended.
Mr. Grunwald glared at Norman and then pointed at Polly without breaking eye contact. "Do you expect this wonderful little lady to stay in a place of such sadness? To raise your child in a house where every little thing reminds her of you? Have you no regard for this poor woman's suffering?"
Now Polly was glaring at her husband.
"Uh, no, I guess I never thought --"
"You don't have to think, son," said Mr. Grunwald, smiling kindly. "That's why God made life insurance professionals." He patted Polly's hand as if to console her and continued.
"So, we add moving costs, grief counseling for the missus and child, food, vacations and entertainment, and then there's college. Were you folks thinking state, private, or Ivy League?"
"Ha ha, Glen, you're a real corker!" said Norman, slapping his thigh. "State, private, or --"
Norman's playful mood evaporated when he saw the homicidal look on his wife's face.
"Ivy League," she said.
"Ivy League it is," said Mr. Grunwald, scribbling furiously on the life-insurance application. "So if we add all this up, folks, that's the death benefit you'll need in the event of Norman's untimely demise, and this . . . would be your annual premium."
The salesman slid the form to where only Norman could see it, and resting his hand on the father-to-be's shoulder -- the ex-Marine's thumb directly over Norman's brachial plexus -- he said, "Of course we have several financing options available."
Norman looked at the figures, blinked a few times in rapid succession and spit a mouthful of banana bread into his napkin. "There's no way we can afford that!" he croaked, taking a sip of coffee to clear his airway.
There was a palpable air of disappointment in the room.
"Tell me, son, do you have any hobbies?" asked Mr. Grunwald, his fingers beginning to dig into Norman's left trapezius. "You know, something you do by yourself?"
"No, not really," said Norman, "we pretty much do everyth --"
"Well, what about the Jets games?" his wife interjected. Polly and the salesman were both staring at Norman.
"Uh . . . yes, I do have season tickets to the Jets. My old high school buddies and I --"
"There we go," said Mr. Grunwald, releasing his grip on Norman's shoulder and picking up his pen. "Let's see now, we got season tickets, taxes and handling, parking, food, beer -- How many beers do you typically consume during a game, Norm?"
"Oh, I'd say two, maybe three tops," Norman answered.
"O.K., so that's six beers at twelve dollars each," said Mr. Grunwald, his gold Cross pen a blur, "times ten games including the preseason, and . . . whoa! That's a nice little number, huh, Polly?"
The man held up his worksheet so only Polly could see it. As Norman's wife read the figures, an angry expression stole across her face.
"And let's not forget gas, tolls, car repair and depreciation," Mr. Grunwald went on. "What kind of automobile do you drive, son?"
"A brand-new BMW Z4," sniffed Polly. "He says he has to project a certain image for his clients."
"I see," said the salesman, frowning. "So, if we put you in a Honda Accord -- let's face it, Norm, you're gonna need a four-seater -- you'd save this much a year on gas, maintenance, and insurance."
He showed Polly the figures; she turned and stared darts at her somewhat-bewildered husband.
"Seems to me, son," said Mr. Grunwald, "that if you traded in your Beemer for a safe, sensible car and spent Sundays at home with your family, why, with that savings alone -- plus an additional hundred dollars a month -- your lovely wife could finally have some peace of mind." A solemn look on his face, the salesman patted Polly's hand.
"Excuse me, fellas," said Polly, getting to her feet, "But I need to use the ladies room."
"Yeah, I remember when my wife was pregnant," said the life-insurance salesman, chuckling. "She had to tinkle all the time, said the baby was pressing on her bladder. But I'll tell you what, we both loved her super-large, super-sensitive breasts, am I right?"
Polly giggled and said, "Now stop it, Glen, you're embarrassing me!" Then she waddled out of the room, leaving her slightly-nauseous husband alone with the former combat instructor.
"Let's go ahead and get this application signed, Norm," said Mr. Grunwald, thrusting a pen and a thick sheaf of papers in Norman's face, "and then I'll just need a check for the down payment."
Norman swallowed hard and said, "I'd like to think this over, sir, er . . . Glen, if you don't mind. After all, I am in excellent health, so there's really no rush."
The salesman's deeply-tanned face clouded up. He placed one of his huge, calloused hands on the back of Norman's neck and said, "I had a good buddy in the first Gulf War, a gunnery sergeant named Sanchez. And one second he was standin' there, talking to me, and the next, he'd stepped on an IED and the whole world went kablooey! When I finally came to, Sanchez's head was on the sidewalk, his nuts were hanging from a balcony, and the rest of him was spread halfway across Kirkuk!"
Grunwald squeezed Norman's neck, none too gently. "Son, you just never know," he whispered.
"Now sign," he said, slowly increasing the pressure on his customer's neck.
"S-sure!" squeaked Norman, haphazardly scrawling his signature on the bottom of each and every page. When he was done, he felt the salesman's grip relax and withdraw. Norman was gingerly rubbing his neck when his wife returned.
Mr. Grunwald helped her to her seat and said, "You needn't worry your pretty little head, Polly, we got all that pesky paperwork taken care of. And once your hubbie writes me a check, I'm outta here and then you can concentrate on more important things, like planning the nursery."
"As a matter of fact, Glen, I just picked up some paint chips and fabric swatches -- " Polly stopped talking and stared at her husband who looked a bit under the weather. "Norman, are you gonna get Mr. Grunwald his check?" she said irritably.
"Yes, sir . . . er, darling!" Norman blathered. "Right away!"
"And while you're up, son, could you see if there's any more of this lady's terrific coffee?" said Mr. Grunwald.
Polly and the salesman both shook their heads as Norman skulked out of the room.
"You know, Polly, by fulfilling his life insurance obligations, it's abundantly clear to me that Norman loves you. But frankly, I'm a little worried about the boy, he strikes me as being a wee bit soft."
"Frankly, he is," said Norman's wife, rolling her eyes. "Not only was Norman an only child, his mother once confided in me that he wet the bed until he was seventeen!"
"I don't doubt that, Ma'am," the salesman said gravely.
Brightening, he cupped Polly's chin with his hand and said, "But don't you worry none, pretty lady. You need me for anything -- anything at all -- and I'll be there for you and your precious li'l baby." He gently rested a hand on Polly's baby bump, as if feeling for the kicking of tiny feet. "And that's a promise."
Mr. Grunwald was handing Polly his card when Norman returned with the down payment. The salesman slipped the check in his pocket, stood up and smoothed his trousers. The creases of his suit pants were razor-sharp.
"It was nice meeting you, son," he said, once again crushing Norman's hand. "And a real pleasure meeting you, Polly," he said, leaning down and giving her a chaste kiss on the cheek. "I'll call you during the week and we can set up a date to talk about your life insurance policy."
"You bet," said Polly, grinning widely.
Norman mumbled something unintelligible as the burly salesman pivoted smartly and strode out of the living room. Moments later, the young couple heard the front door slam shut.
"You know, dear," said Polly, looking out the window as Mr. Grunwald backed his shiny black Mercedes out of their driveway, "I feel a sense of security with Glen, he's got a certain strength about him." Polly rubbed her swollen belly. "I just feel like we're in really good hands."
At this, Norman made an ugly retching sound and sprinted for the bathroom.