M: So let me see if I have this right. In order to get your own "Reaping Franchise" all you have to do is go to the IRS, fill out a form, take some tests to show you have the stomach for it and that's it? You don't need to pay anything? No start up fees?
TJR: Well for the most part that's correct. But believe me, you do pay.
M: How so?
TJR: You pay on your first client call...
M: Are you okay?
TJR: What? Oh. Yes. I'm sorry. I was just remembering.
You see, after you've turned in your forms and taken the initial tests then it's like any other government activity. They give you what you need to do the job and then you wait for the time to come to do it.
When I applied eight years ago we didn't have these nifty GPS locators. I was given a pager and I was told to always be near a phone. Generally I would have an hour from when the pager went off to give them a call back if I accepted the job, so it didn't really limit my movements much. No long trips through the desert, but otherwise life as normal.
I was also given a kit containing pamphlets that talked about presenting the proper image, putting together a good business identity, why I no longer needed health and dental benefits, how to cope with stress, the credit value of a soul and others. It was quite a package.
They gave me a franchise number and a mail order catalog for an unlisted company that specialized in hard to find reaper gear. It was explained that I would be receiving my Visa Black Card in the mail within the next few weeks and that, based on the size of my franchise I would have a quarterly budget that I needed to remain within. If I had trouble staying within the budget or seemed to be spending money at an excessive rate I could expect to be audited.
I was told as I finished up that I wouldn't be an actual reaper until the pager went off; if I turned down my first client my franchise would be forfeit and I would have to repay the balance on my Black Card; and that it could take anywhere from three months to a year before I was paged. I thanked them and then went home to look over the catalog with my wife.
My wife, Carol, hadn't been terribly supportive of the idea that I was going to be a Grim Reaper. The months since Bill died she and I argued about it quite a bit. But I knew that I could make a positive difference to the act of dying. If only she had seen what he'd gone through. Once I completed the application and the tests she seemed to have resigned herself to it. I can be quite stubborn.
When I got home I showed her the pamphlets and the catalog and I asked her to help me think of a name and image to set me apart from the other reapers. When we first met she was going to college working toward a degree in design. I was a business major. We had a whirlwind romance that ended with us getting married before we graduated and having our first child shortly thereafter. After our second child was born four years later she pretty much gave up on her dreams and settled for her reality. Once she had the catalog in her hand and heard what I was hoping for it was like a switch was thrown. All of her creativity seemed to come flooding back and it was all I could do to keep up with her.
Eventually we settled on the look you see before you. Interesting, but not intimidating. That was the goal. Then it was time for more waiting. Since the day-to-day living expenses were covered under my budget I had a lot of time to just sit and think. Eight months had passed since I left the IRS building and Summer had rolled around. The kids were off from school and everyone wanted to get away for a vacation. I guess all of my sitting around waiting for the beeper to go off had been getting to them. The kids really wanted to go to the Magic Kingdom and Carol thought it would be a lot of fun. Help get me out of the funk I was in. Have you ever been to Disney World?
M: No. I never have. Is it nice?
TJR: Yes, but it's large. The kids loved it though. It got to the point where we couldn't keep up. They were going through the Haunted Mansion for the third time or so and Carol and I were sitting on a bench resting when it happened. The beeper went off. It was an amazing thing. To Carol it sounded like any other beeper. To me it seemed like church bells were going off in my head. Not painful, but impossible to ignore. I looked at the number then looked at Carol. She had a mixed expression on her face. Excitement and concern.
"Are you going to do it?" she asked.
"Yeah," I said, "I'll be right back. I have to call the number for the details."
"I hope it's not too far," she said as I looked for a phone. I was dazed. I had spent so much time waiting for this moment and suddenly it had come. I found a phone, made the call and then went back to Carol. She looked at me with expectant eyes.
"Well?" she asked as I sat down next to her.
"Knock-Knock," I said.
She looked at me puzzled, "Who's there?"
I took her hand, kissed it and said, "Death."
She collapsed in my arms.
That was the final test, and the cost of my franchise. I had to take the soul of someone I loved.
... to be continued ...