In this short story by Bo Guthrie, a persistent security system salesman struggles to win over a potential customer who is going through a difficult divorce.
It was mid-August and the sun was beaming in a cloudless sky. The man in the black suit was holding a briefcase and he walked up to the residence. Four four five, read the copper numbers beneath the door-knocker that belonged, according to the mailbox, to a Mr. and Mrs. Lockerby. The man in the black suit placed his briefcase on the ground while he scribbled down something on a piece of paper braced against his knee. He returned his pen and paper to his coat pocket and picked up his briefcase. The man in the black suit knocked three times using the door-knocker, then used his coat-sleeve to wipe beads of sweat forming on his brow. It was but a moment before the door opened.
“May I help you?”
“Mr. Lockerby?” asked the man in the black suit.
“Yes. May I help you?”
“Yes, you may! Beautiful day isn’t it?”
Mr. Lockerby’s face grew taut. “I suppose.”
“Very hot.” The man in the black suit paused to point at the sun. “I’m with RTS Security and I noticed that your home didn’t seem to be protected by any home security system. Do you currently have a home security system that I may have missed?”
“No. And I’m not interested.”
“Well you might be interested to know that the number one target of would be burglars are houses in middle class neighborhoods just like yours and that a home security system is the most effective deterrent. In fact, the Larsons just purchased the complete RTS Security Home Protection Plus system from us.”
“Who are the Larsons?” asked Mr. Lockerby.
“Your neighbors right down the road.” The man in the black suit peered behind Mr. Lockerby into the hallway. “I see you have children. How old are they?”
Mr. Lockerby looked behind him at the pictures hanging on the wall, then back at the man in the black suit. “My oldest is nine. My youngest is four. What did you say your name was?”
“I’m sorry. It’s Harold. Harold Landrick.” Harold stuck out his hand, which Mr. Lockerby took after a second. “Mr. Lockerby would you mind letting me inside a moment? It’s burning up and I’m about to sweat straight through my suit.”
Mr. Lockerby hesitated.
“Please. It will be just a second and then I’ll be on my way.”
“Alright. For just a second.”
Mr. Lockerby stepped aside and Harold Landrick entered, stepping over the threshold into the house. His worn shoes slid a little on the hardwood.
“Whoops. Almost took a tumble there.” He paused, looking around. “You’ve got a very nice house, Mr. Lockerby. Much nicer than my apartment.”
“Mr. Lockerby, how much would you estimate the items in your house are worth? All the china, the furniture, maybe some family heirlooms you have put away?” Harold Landrick swept his hand in a wide arc. “Thirty thousand dollars? Fifty?”
“They’re worth ninety three thousand, seven hundred and forty two dollars,” said Mr. Lockerby.
Harold Landrick exclaimed, “Wow! You’re very knowledgeable.”
“My wife and I are splitting it down the middle. She gets the kids, though.” Mr. Lockerby pointed at the pictures hanging on the wall.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Hardold Landrick shifted his feet. “So you’re keeping the house, then?”
“I am. Look, I have to get back to work.”
“I understand, you must be very busy with everything that’s happening in your life. Let me get to the point then. I think it would be a very smart decision to consider the Basic RTS Security Package. It includes immediate 911 notification if your alarm is triggered, both window and door sensors, as well as free installation. And for only fifty three dollars a month that would be more than enough to cover, let’s see, what’s half of ninety three thousand?” Harold Landrick started figuring in his head.
“What are you doing?” asked Mr. Lockerby, in a way that didn’t seem like a question.
Both men stood in the hallway–Mr. Lockerby in his flip flops, shorts, and white t-shirt, Harold Landrick in his black suit with frayed pant cuffs still holding on to his brief case. Harold was still sweating.
“Oh, I am just figuring out half of ninety three thousand. Sorry–it takes me a minute. I never was much of a math guy. Around forty thousand?”
“I know that. Do you really care?”
“Care about what half of ninety thousand is?” asked Harold Landrick. “Absolutely. Because, you see, if you add it all up you’re only going to be paying fifty three dollars a month to protect forty thousand dollars worth of your belongings. That’s a ton of coverage for such a good price. Now, if you want to take a look at some of our more comprehensive packages I’m sure I could cut a few corners, make you a deal.”
“Stop. Why are you still going? I obviously don’t want to hear about it anymore. I was just trying to be nice by letting you in.”
“I was simply informing you of the potential benefits of RTS Security. Are you certain that you wouldn’t be interested in such a great value? You know, if you sign up for the deluxe package, we throw in a free golf bag!”
“You weren’t, though. I mean, you were. But any other person would have left by now and you know that. You’re pushing and you don’t care.”
“I understand that something is bothering you. Maybe I could come back. Would you like my card?” Harold Landrick placed his brief case on the ground and knelt beside it.
“Damn right something’s bothering me! Stop, don’t do that. I don’t want your card.”
Harold Landrick opened the briefcase anyway and got a card out. He then closed it and stood up.
“God damnit I said I didn’t want it! My wife left me. She took my kids. There is no way I would want to buy a security system and I think that was pretty obvious the minute you barged into my home. I’m a teacher. A middle school teacher and that’s work you can be proud of!”
Harold Landrick withdrew his outstretched hand and put his card in his pocket, “Tell you what. I’ll stop by again in another month or so.” He made to leave.
“You’re young. The people you work for don’t care about you. They care about money, they care about their corporation, and you buy their bullshit. Why do this kind of work, intruding into peoples’ lives?”
Once past the doorway and down the brick pathway that lead up to four four five, Harold Landrick turned once more to Mr. Lockerby, looking past his shoulder into the hallway. “Mine just turned two months.”
Mr. Lockerby watched as the man in the black suit turned back around, pulled a piece of paper and a pen out of his coat pocket and placed his briefcase on the ground. The man in the black suit braced the paper against his knee and marked through something on his list. He put the pen and paper back into his coat pocket and picked up his briefcase. He wiped the sweat off his brow as he walked down the brick pathway to the sidewalk. The man in the black suit then turned and headed to the next house over, numbered four four seven.