Mrs. Whitcomb set her teacup down and went to answer the door. A smiling young girl stood there. She wore a school T-shirt and held a clipboard.
“Hello, dear,” the older woman said.
“Hello. I’m Jana, and I’m in Ms. Weber’s third-grade class at Harding Elementary School. We’re raising money for playground equipment.”
“What are you selling?” Mrs. Whitcomb asked politely.
“We’re giving away these coupon cards, worth $200 at local restaurants and shops. It’s proofer …” She thought for a couple of seconds and took another run at it. “Proof of purchase. What we’re really selling is insurance.”
“Yeah. Insurance against bad things happening to your house or your car or any pets you might have.”
Mrs. Whitcomb’s mouth dropped open. “Excuse me, young lady?”
“In addition to the coupon card, for a mere $20 a month for the school year, you’ll be insured against ars … arson, or broken windows or slashed tires or anything nasty happening to your pets.”
Mrs. Whitcomb put a hand on the doorpost to steady herself.
“Little girl, I can scarcely believe you understand what you’re saying. But I’m going to call your school – and the police.”
Jana stopped smiling. “That would be worse than not buying any insurance. It would be like neg … neg-a-tive insurance.” She became quite somber. “It would be very bad luck. I wouldn’t want to have to write your address on the page with the black border.” And Jana flipped to the last sheet of paper on her clipboard. It was blank except for some lines and a heavy black border.
Mrs. Whitcomb decided that whether or not the little shakedown artist grasped the meaning of her sales pitch, whoever had taught it to her was quite serious.
“I’ll buy the insurance.”
Jana brightened. “Oh, good! If you pay for the entire school year now, you can get $5 off the total. Or you can spread it out a month at a time.”
“I’ll write a check for the full amount.”
“Make it out to Harding Elementary School, and just write ‘fund-raiser’ on the … the memo line.” Jana became serious again. “Don’t write anything else.”
“No, no, I won’t. Let me just get my purse.”
While she waited, Jana admired the flowerbox next to the door. She didn’t know what kind of flowers were in it, but they were pretty.
Mrs. Whitcomb returned and handed Jana a check.
“There it is, just like you said.”
Jana gave the check a once-over. “Great!” She clipped the check on her clipboard with several others. Then she reached into a pocket. “Here’s your coupon card. And thank you for helping our school. Bye!”
Mrs. Whitcomb closed and locked the door. She sat in her chair and took up her teacup. The tea had cooled, but she didn’t notice.