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Unacceptable Risk
About the Author: When not scouring the Gobi for death worms or munching on tarantulas in Siem Reap, Karl Lykken writes both fiction and software in Texas.

“I think Sunny is killing off the people in his dead pool.”

Frankie looks up from his cup of coffee, his bored, narrowed eyes telling me he’s not remotely convinced by my theory. “The pool’s worth five hundred dollars. Sunny’s salary must be six figures.”

Frankie gives his head a slight shake as he lowers his gaze back to his coffee, convinced he’s thoroughly dismissed my ridiculous idea. He’s never quite figured out how to argue politely, but there’s a limit to what I can expect from my fellow actuaries when it comes to social graces. “Hear me out, Frankie. I’m not saying he’s killing them for the money; I think it’s just some kind of sick game to him. I mean, he’s always been kinda off, and I just have trouble believing that three people who all happen to work at the same firm and all happen to be on Sunny’s list—which we all thought was the worst list in the pool, if you recall—would all die in the same year. It doesn’t figure. The odds of that are just so low.”

Frankie stretches the skin between his eyes, exposing the red of his eye-sockets. Gross. He wouldn’t be my go-to lunch companion if I had any other real friends at work. “The odds of that occurring at a given time and place are low.” He pauses as the waitress delivers our burgers. I flash her a smile that she returns, while Frankie keeps his eyes on the food. He continues after she walks away. “However, between the seven billion people on this planet, the odds that some of them will die under seemingly strange but, in reality, entirely coincidental circumstances such as these are quite high.” He takes a bite of his burger and keeps talking as he chews. “This just happens to be the time and place that one of these freak occurrences happened, and you’re just being irrational and paranoid because you just happen to be one of the two remaining names on Sunny’s poorly selected yet nonetheless well performing list.”

“That’s bullshit!” I retort, a little louder than I mean to. Frankie swallows his bite of burger in surprise and finally fixes his gaze on me. I continue on, a little softer. “I may be perturbed about being on the list, but that’s not irrational. Your logic is flawed. The odds that some such coincidence will happen somewhere may be high, but the odds that a psycho will kill people somewhere for little or no reason is even higher, so a given set of mysterious deaths is less likely explainable by coincidence than by foul play.”

Frankie stares at me expressionlessly for a few moments, then takes another bite of his burger so he can reply with his mouth full. “Alright. Are you going to contact the police, then?”

I shake my head as I swallow a sip of coffee. “Why would I do that? So they can find proof Sunny’s a killer like they found my stolen car? I don’t think so. I’m gonna find proof myself before I let those lummoxes tip Sunny off to the investigation so he can destroy all the evidence.”

Frankie’s ketchup-coated lips curl into a smirk. “Now whose logic is flawed? One cop doesn’t solve a case, therefore no cops can solve cases, even the homicide detectives who would tend to be the best officers. That’s quite the extrapolation.”

“Look, maybe the detectives could prove it, but I’m not sure. I am, however, sure that I can, so that’s how I’m gonna proceed.”

“I’m curious what makes you so sure you’re qualified to solve the case,” Frankie says. I feel like smacking that smug smile off of his face.

“Curiosity killed the cat, Frankie.”

“I’m not a cat.”

“No, but you are a pussy.” Frankie scowls. He hates when I call him that.

“I hate when you call me that.”

“And I hate being on the hit list of a serial killer. So, we’re going to break into his house to look for evidence.” Frankie’s scowl morphs into a look of terror.

“We? That’s crazy. I’m not doing that. If you want to break into someone’s house, you’re on your own.”

I take a large swig of coffee. “If you don’t want me to call you a pussy, you should really stop acting like one.”

“I’m not acting like one,” he replies, his scowl returning. I should back off, but I think I can goad him into coming.

“You’re right; my mistake. It’s not an act. You really are a pussy.”

He stares at the uneaten half of his burger in a silence I make no effort to break. I nearly manage to eat my whole burger before he finally replies, “Fine. I’ll come. But you better stop mocking me after this.”

This story appears in our OCT 2016 Issue
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Reader Discussion

Very good story. Well written with a great ending.
By Patricia Della Valle

Good story, Karl.
By Lester

Had me on the edge of me seat! enjoyed this story,
By Denise Johnson

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