"There's no method to his madness," Bud said, spitting tobacco onto the dusty ground.  "He's just crazy.  Dumb and crazy."

I remember at the time thinking that Bud was the crazy one.  He lived in a chicken-shed sized house in a neighborhood that amounted to rows and rows of chicken-shed sized houses, most of which held chickens and their eggs.  And their shit.

And part of Bud's job was cleaning chicken shit. And he was in his forties.  And it's two thousand eight AD or whatever they may have changed it to. 

Furthermore, I hadn't asked Bud anything more than where I could find a man named David Allan Pickens and Bud responded with a scene from Law and Order: Special Redneck Unit.   

But my job wasn't to judge.  I was here on a simple matter.  I just had to hand a man a check and get his signature.  The check was for a $100,000 life insurance policy that some old man I never met took out on his farm-boy son.  The name of the son was David Allan Pickens.  And, according to the chicken shit cleaner named Bud, he was both stupid and insane.

"You know where I can find him?" I asked, desperately wanting to get away from the stiff winds full of chicken shit that Bud called home. 

"Probably on the porch, picking the guitar and talking to himself."

"That guy?  In the baseball cap?"

Bud spit, then nodded, then spit again. 

"I passed him on the way in.  He said he never heard of David Allan Pickens."

"Well, like I said partner.  He's crazy."

"And dumb?"

"Mostly dumb, actually." 

"Thanks for your time, Bud."

What else could I do?  I walked back to the porch. 

You know those kind of steps you take on grass when you're trying to wipe chicken shit off your shoes while not looking like you're trying to wipe chicken shit off your shoes?  Good, because I can't adequately describe it.  It's kind of like a shuffle-step with doses of side step.  Basically, you look like you're walking in snowshoes only you're not wearing snowshoes so you look real stupid.  That's how I would have looked walking up to David Allan Pickens, if he hadn't been sloped over, staring at the ground, strumming his guitar bare-chested, his jean shorts covered in some kind of black substance that I didn't feel like investigating, and a St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap on his head. 

"Mr. Pickens," I said.  "I have some money for you."

Mr. Pickens stopped strumming his guitar, opened his eyes, raised his neck to a level more consistent with human than canine and asked me, "How much?"

"One hundred thousand dollars."

"And what do I have to do for that, Mister," he shrugged his shoulders and tugged the neck of the guitar with his left hand.  "Kill someone?"

"Nope, just sign your name."

"And what am I agreeing to, by signing my name?"

"That your name is David Allan Pickens, that your daddy"-I actually said daddy like a damn bumpkin-"that your father's name was Steven Allan Pickens, and that you're accepting a hundred thousand dollars."

"And if I don't accept it?"

"I don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know?" he asked.  "You're the one in the damn suit and tie."

"Six years in this business," I said.  "And I never knew anyone that wouldn't take a check for a large sum of money legally.  It's just one of those things that most people seem to be able to get behind."

"Well, maybe most people give a rat's ass about their daddies."

Christ, was this fucking it?  They warn you about this when you first start doing life insurance claims. And it's true, a lot of time people get emotional when you hand them their life insurance payout.  Most of the time, if they're women, they'll cry all over you.  You get used to that.  But you only get used to things that you see all the time.  So I was having trouble getting used to the idea that the old story really happened. I thought of it as the business equivalent of an urban legend.   

The story goes that sometimes there are people who hate the deceased so much that they don't want the money.  Which probably means a lot more paperwork to me; but to David Allan, it probably means that his dad really screwed him up.

Fortunately though, none of this is my concern.

"You could always give all the money to charity," I said after listening to David Allan Pickens play some bluegrass.  

I couldn't get used to the fact that I was having trouble completing one of the easiest jobs known to man: handing someone a check. 

"I guess," he said. 

"Do some good with it," I said. 

"Couldn't hurt."

"I got a pen right here.  One signature and I'm out of your way."

"I wish my name wasn't David Allan Pickens."

For a hundred grand you could change your stupid name, I thought, because saying that would have been rude and I tend not to insult hillbillies on their property.

"I'm sorry, man."

"Ain't your problem," he said. 

I handed him the pen.  He signed it on my clipboard. 

"That motherfucker did twenty years in jail for what he done to me."

He said it like one would say, "You know, while you're in town, there's a great Catfish place down the way."  I mean casual as T-Shirts.  He even smiled a little.  It was the fist time I saw him smile. 

"Shit," I said.  Because well, I mean what would you have said?

"I'm gonna take his money, blow up his grave, destroy his old house and kill anyone who tries to stop me."

"Well, good luck with that."  And then, after a pause.  "Mr. Pickens I'm sorry for your loss, you know for how you feel but…"

"Ain't your concern… go on.  Go on.  Git."

And I got… or gitted or whatever you call it.  I left.  I stepped into an air-conditioned sedan and I hightailed it the hell out of the sticks. 

On the ninety minute ride back to the office, I used my blackberry to send all the coworkers I even remotely liked the story of the man who didn't want his cash, whose daddy had been put to jail for twenty years for something I'd rather not know about. 

By the time I got back to the office, the office boys had all read my story as well as the stories of some older guys who swore they'd been in similar predicaments (one even involved a shotgun and an insurance check set on fire).  By the time the day ended, I was over it and onto other things. 

A couple days later though, after lunch, I arrived to find an envelope on my chair.  I opened it, in part because I was curious but mainly because my name was on it.  Written in felt pen on the notecard inside: the password is cornhole. 

An unopened email with an encrypted zip file sat in my work inbox.  I opened it with the password and discovered a word document. 

I read:


What could a dead man have done to you that would be so awful that you would not accept his $100,000 life insurance check?

It took me a few days to think of my three.  And I was lucky; I was only the sixth guy to add to the list. 

By the time that list got up to a hundred it was easily, far and away and without a doubt, the most depraved piece of writing I ever read.