Author's Note: This column is a departure from my usual style. It is not a rant, nor is it even remotely funny. It is depressing. Be forewarned.
Frank Rischcroft was an insurance salesman in Kendrick, Illinois. Kendrick was a small town near the border with Wisconsin, in the green, rolling hill country of northern Illinois - a country dotted with small towns centered around whitewashed Protestant churches. The sort of country idealized as American Heartland.
Frank worked for TransCon, a minor insurance firm specializing in group insurance for mobile employees such as truckers and outside sales representatives. He had worked for AllState for eight years, but had been let go in 1986 for his tendency not to exceed quota. At TransCon, he had subsequently been quite successful. The majority of his policyholders lived in Dubuque, Iowa, where Frank kept his office.
He had met Alice in 1983, and they had gotten married in 1987. Jessica was born in 1992.
In late 1994, Frank was diagnosed with Kasczekian's Syndrome, a very unusual genetic disorder which leads to late-life autism. As a malady, it generally goes unrecognized for years; the primary symptom of Kasczekian's is a growing emotional detachment. People with KS simply become increasingly less able to associate with the emotions of others, or to even attribute other people as having emotions. In short, they lose their ability to care.
Nine times out of ten, this leads to divorce, and total disassociation with family and friends. It can affect one's professional life, but in many cases those afflicted actually become more successful in their careers, as they lose focus on their social lives. Most do die young.
Frank had always been a taciturn man. His friends joked that the last time anyone had seen him show emotion was at a 1985 Super Bowl party; when the Bears won, he jumped to his feet and exclaimed "All-Fucking Yes Me!" His subsequent embarrasment supposedly led to his remarkably even keel thereafter.
On February 19, 1996, Frank Rischcroft's Buick sedan hit a patch of black ice near Thomasville, about halfway between Kendrick and Dubuque. The police later estimated that the car was travelling nearly 90 miles an hour when it slammed into the wall of a derelict grain silo, nearly toppling the structure. Frank was ejected from the car, and killed instantly.
Frank Rischcroft, insurance agent, had not been wearing his seat belt.
Frank also had maintained a $2.3 million dollar life insurance policy. Although he had done so for years, TransCon suspected suicide, and spent nine months investigating the case before agreeing to pay off the policy. Believing that Frank's medical condition had driven him to take his life, a number of medical experts had been called in. However, to a man, they agreed that a person with Kasczekian's Syndrome was, if anything, less likely to kill himself than one without.
Thomas Janssen was never asked for a deposition, and even had he been, he would not have told the TransCon investigators that he himself had wrecked his car after hitting the exact same patch of black ice four years earlier; an accident which had cost him the use of his legs. After his earlier insurance had paid off, Thomas had been unable to obtain any more. In addition to being a parapalegic, he suffered debilitating seizures, and was only just able to feed his family by working as a night janitor. No one would offer him any sort of policy that he had a chance of affording.
No one except Frank.
In 1997, Alice moved to Winnetka. As she was unpacking, she discovered a note inserted into the Bible Frank had habitually kept in his nightstand. It read as follows:
My name is Frank Rischcroft. I am an insurance agent. I live in Kendrick, Illinois, the United States of America. I have a wife and daughter that I love more than anything in the world.
I also have an insurance policy which will pay them two million dollars if I am dead. Frank, I need you to answer this question. If you had just one choice, between being dead and giving your wife and daughter two million dollars, or being alive and not giving them anything ever again, would you choose to die?"
The remainder of the paper consisted of several hundred check marks, in various colors of ink. They continued on to the back of the paper, ending about halfway down, where one small word was printed.
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