Lincoln never intended to get into finance, let alone abandon his acting career in L.A. But then he needed to help pay his mother’s bills, keep the roof of his childhood home over her head. The days of standing in casting lines were over. His father had died last year from pancreatic cancer, leaving him with nothing more than a ten-by-ten storage unit worth of junk, but he continued the monthly payment to Rocky Mountain Storage so it wouldn’t be auctioned off. There might be a few pictures or some memorabilia of his high school baseball years among the spiders looking for a cool, dark place to live. At least he still had his mother, who remembered him most days, despite her worsening dementia, which left her moods as unpredictable as the Colorado weather. He always announced himself when he came home so he would not startle her. He wore only white or blue Oxford shirts, so she would recognize him, and not reach for his father’s pistol in the living room side table. He had removed the bullets and slipped them into his pocket. The wiring in her brain caused her to be frightened by sudden movements and loud noises. He brought home flowers once a week to replace the ones in a chipped vase, centered on a worn cherry wood dining table. This routine helped his mother not confuse her son for the unscrupulous solar panel salesman who had tried to pressure her into signing a lease before the city’s power grid failed. Lincoln would have to put her in an assisted living center soon—a good one, only the best. So, he did what any former actor would do with a first name that didn’t sound real, he got a nine to five. He played the role well and got hired on as a loan consultant at the Universal Mortgage Company (UMCo).

He showed up for orientation with his suit jacket snug on his shoulders as if his father were giving them a squeeze. He felt optimistic, had a spring in his step, took a sniff of a potted flower in the lobby. He adjusted the striped tie he had inherited, ready to play the responsible part. He wasn’t on a set that would be torn down—this was real. Too real. The three-story brick and black glass building was in an unassuming office park, near a strip of chain restaurants off Main Street, and not far from a regional airport. If you didn’t mind the persistent drone of recreational planes and a procession of commuter jets, it could be a good place to live. RTD light rail took you straight to downtown Denver, whose suburban sprawl made the distant high rises feel like a real city. Condos had popped up while he was away, each with modern angles and bold colors, with balconies as small as shower stalls. He’d never be able to afford one, even with a roommate. Living with his mother would do for now, but it was a second job as her caretaker, and brought back too many memories of things he thought he had forever left behind.

This morning he had waded through more of his mother’s mail: unpaid utilities, forms for prescriptions, glossy AARP magazines with active retirees on the cover. He needed an influx of cash, quickly; his mother’s social security barely covered the mortgage. The life insurance settlement after his father’s death never materialized because the policy’s premium had lapsed. He didn’t blame his mother though; her mind couldn’t keep dates straight, past or present. At least he had the wherewithal to cover his father’s funeral from the income he had earned from an insurance commercial he shot in front of a backdrop of a city he would someday visit.

When the UMCo hiring manager, Carl Bennett, showed him to his desk, the name plate of the former occupant was still affixed to the cube wall. Carl slipped it out of its frame and apologized for the desk being in disarray. “You can dig through the things and keep what can be reused. Any papers should go into the shredding bin.” Carl held up the name. “I’ll get you a new one. Training starts tomorrow.”

Lincoln didn’t get a chance to ask what happened to the last occupant of the desk. It didn’t matter. He’d have a steady paycheck soon, catch up on the utilities, figure out the co-pay on his mother’s Medi-care prescriptions. When his talent agent called the next day, he didn’t pick up. No use getting his hopes up again for another supporting role that wouldn’t pan out, not interested in a walk-on bit for a daytime soap where he was only ever a fleeting love interest. This was his new life; he logged into his training desktop.


“You will have plenty of leads. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel,” the trainer said, hovering over a series of files with his mouse. He had each of the twelve trainees in the room open their files and read them directions, as if administering an exam. “You should work from the top down, reach as many clients as you can. If asked about the interest rate or fees, don’t commit. Ask them instead what they are looking for—lower payments, cashing out—and that you’ll find them the best product: ARMs, interest only—fixed loans are not the only game in town. No matter what the client asks for, insist you can help them. Tell them, our financial partners say rates are looking favorable, but we will need time to put a package together. Can I first confirm your information?

“Every refinance application that becomes a loan means that you,” the trainer pointed at Lincoln, then at other refinance trainees, “and you and you, get a commission. After your tenth refi in a calendar month, you qualify for residuals. He held up a chart of the going rates and incentives for pushing mortgage points. “If you’re good, you won’t miss the minimum wage UMCo is required to pay you while in training.”


Lincoln tried to introduce himself to his fellow refiers settling into their cubes, including one girl named Amanda that he thought was pretty with her freckled nose and thick eyebrows. On her desk, she had a picture of a young boy, a mixed kid that looked like it could belong to him. “I saw you in that insurance commercial,” she said in a discerning manner. All the other new-hires couldn’t care less, they needed to work their leads, make their commission. “I’m an actual member, you know.” She waited for him to get into the roll and repeat the tagline for the commercial: We’re here for you when life happens.

But life was happening to him in a way he never predicted or planned on—and no one was there for him. He indulged her just the same with a take, caught her smile, then asked her to lunch.

“Gotta hit my numbers. No time to eat.” She snapped on her headset, not the least star struck. “Maybe next week. You better log in.”

They huddled in their cubes hoping to be the first to reach a customer who hadn’t refinanced yet. Calls were queued for each specialist by an auto-dialer, one after another, an unending check-out line, a refinance drive through, a mortgage hamster wheel. Most calls were pleasant and didn’t pan out, but an increasing number of customers demanded they be taken off their call list, some got belligerent. Their outrage came across as poor acting to Lincoln and he stepped in calmly to save the scene. But that soon became old.

It became unbearable when a woman said, “I was evicted from my home. Why on God’s green earth would you call me?” He listened to her cry, told her he was sorry and hung up. He wanted to quit right then and there, but a goofy face from Amanda in the next cube kept him going, made him stare at her until she blushed. He’d stay a while longer, force himself not to take things personally, not take “no” for an answer so easily. He thought if he couldn’t talk a client into refinancing, then he wasn’t that good of an actor to begin with. His father would’ve said something like that, not out of spite, but out of pragmatism. Images of his father flashed in his mind, landing like outtakes on a cutting room floor. He should’ve come home during his father’s chemo treatments, regardless of the next casting call that held the potential of a breakthrough role. “Always on the verge of making it is not the same as making it,” his father told him once.  “You’ve got to get a real job. Take care of yourself, start a family. You can’t do that while sleeping on someone’s else couch.”

His father’s assessment seemed doubly ironic, now that he had to take care of his mother, and that despite all of his father’s hard work, he had little more to show for it than him. But he was a caring father, a good role model. “Oil is a staple that the world can’t live without,” his father used to say, “You just have to figure out how to tease it out of the earth.” His father had graduated from The Colorado School of Mines with a Bachelor’s of Science in Petroleum Engineering. Creating drilling and extraction plans consumed him. He seemed like a general on job sites, making battle plans in his white hard hat. But he didn’t want his son to follow in his footsteps. He wanted him to go to law school; that’s why his father had named him Lincoln. Self-taught, humble, a man who served others. He’d never be able to live up to that name, even if he got the part.

Digging through his father’s papers, he found modest donations to his alma mater, a pension statement from Ever-Bright Energy (EBE), whose ownership had changed. EBE had gone through Chapter 11 three times to restructure debt. When it emerged the third time, EBE had managed to divest itself from its pension obligations. The pension his mother had counted on after his father’s death was converted into a lump sum payment, a fraction of its worth. Lincoln hadn’t a clue of what happened to that money. His mother didn’t know either. Sometimes she didn’t even know her husband had died, proclaiming to anyone in earshot, that he was out of town, in an oil field. It was more than sad, but all he could do was cry and laugh with his sister on the phone, reminiscing about their childhood and how his dad mowed the lawn with shorts and black dress socks before Lincoln took over that responsibility. His sister wanted to help more, but with three kids, and two baby daddies not paying child support, she couldn’t do much except listen to Lincoln. He should’ve gone to law school when he had the chance, maybe he could’ve applied some of that legal know-how and kept his family from getting into this financial mess. He had the brains but wanted to be the next Denzel.


Most days, Lincoln got a hold of homeowners who had already locked in a low rate and enthusiastically told him so, as if they had won the lottery. But when the auto-dialer reached them the third or fourth time, they threatened to call the Better Business Bureau. When he apologized, tried to explain that he didn’t actually call them, couldn’t see their number, they hung up. Sadly, he rarely remembered a voice, except for the woman that had been evicted. He pushed her out of his mind, he needed a paycheck.

Four weeks into the position, he complained that nearly all his calls were to customers that had already refinanced. Carl told him, “Rates change constantly, and so do people’s financial situation. If they adjust down a quarter of a point, it may be worth it. They may need cash for tuition, a wedding, a new car, or maybe a deserved vacation. You’re just providing a service. Convince them. Now is the time, now is always the time. We paid lots of money for that list and need to squeeze as much value out of it as we can. Don’t take it personally if they hang up on you.”

When Lincoln got someone interested in refinancing, he took their property address, contact information and social security number. When they wanted to think about it, he emailed them a pdf: Why You Should Refinance Today. In either case he always gave them his name and extension. He didn’t want them to call the general number and have them get one of his work colleagues. They’d unapologetically take his lead and commission. “You snooze, you lose, bro,” he heard one refi-specialist tell another. It was more competitive than a casting call.

One of his prospective leads was a man with a Caribbean accent named Hilo, whose deep, comforting, voice was the perfect talent for a voice-over. Hilo shared that he had run into some financial difficulty and wanted a lower monthly payment. Lincoln didn’t probe into personal matters of his clients; he just filled in the forms, ran the numbers, checked the credit score. Whatever people needed the money for was none of his business. Lincoln offered him an adjustable-rate mortgage (A.R.M.) since the rates were still ticking down and didn’t look like they were going up anytime soon. It was a “no-brainer.” The Federal Reserve had signaled as much.

But then, inflation took hold like a virus and rates shot up like a fever. A financial epidemic ensued as clients scrambled to lock in fixed rates. The days of reliable commissions were over, forget residuals.


Hilo called back and asked what he could do to modify his A.R.M., stop his payment from going up again. Lincoln said, “It adjusts quarterly, and shouldn’t go up much further since there is a cap. Rates should go back down.” But they never did.

Hilo called again after his mortgage payment adjusted up for the third time, cursing nonsensically.

“I’m sorry.” Lincoln paused, then read the script on his screen. “UMCo cannot predict where interest rates will head… our financial product comports to the Fair Lending Act… the agreed upon terms of your loan cannot be modified.

“Why did you sell me this, mon?” Hilo’s voice deepened, then rose. “Yu a bait up di ting. Answer me.”

Hilo’s words were unfamiliar, but he understood them just the same. The script told Lincoln he could disconnect, but he didn’t. “It gave you the payment you wanted.”

“No, No, No. Pasa Pasa, a mix-up. This is not the payment we agreed on.”

When he finally hung up, he threw down his headset.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Amanda had overheard and leaned over his cube. “It really isn’t your problem.”

Hilo kept calling and Lincoln let it go to voicemail. When Carl swung by, he pointed out the flashing red light on his phone. “Follow-up on your leads. Tell them they can buy points at a discount.”

He listened to several voicemails, while Carl loitered with a cup of coffee in hand. Abuses, followed by apologies, followed by more abuses. When Carl left, he listened to his last message. “I’m in the receipt of a foreclosure notice,” Hilo said with a quiver in his voice. “My home, my life. Mi a forward for you—I am coming for you.”

Lincoln felt horrible but didn’t call Hilo back. Many of his co-workers got similar earfuls. There was nothing he or UMCo could do. He dismissed Hilo’s half-threat and deleted all his messages. Hopefully, the rates would go back down and the bank would reconsider. Going forward, he decided not even to mention A.R.M.s unless a potential borrower insisted on it. As rates continued to rise, refinancing got harder, commissions vanished, and UMCo was forced to pay minimum wage again. He went to lunch with Amanda, stared at her eyebrows, then traced one arc with his finger.

“Are you for real? Is this an actor’s move?” she asked, forcing herself not to flinch. “You know I have a kid—I’m a package deal.”


There was no receptionist to sign in Hilo when he showed up in the lobby of UMCo. There was no security guard to confront him either. Just a menu board behind glass that listed all the businesses and their suite numbers. He took the elevator up to the third floor and shook the handle on a locked double door. He eyed the gold name plate of UMCo with disdain and stood next to the doors with his back against the wall, an arm inside his trench coat pocket. When someone stepped out, and turned down the hall, he slipped out a machete and wedged the blade between the door frame and the hinge to prevent it from latching. The person heading in the direction of the elevator didn’t notice the intruder. Hilo grabbed the door handle and freed his machete from the bite of the door.

Hilo confronted the first employee walking down the hall and asked where Lincoln sat.

“Is that a machete?” The employee’s hand trembled and coffee dripped from his cup onto the carpet squares. “You can’t carry a machete in this building.”

Hilo held it up not to strike him, but to explain. “This reminds me where my family has come from—the sugarcane fields. Yu undastan? He pointed at the cup with the tip. Sugar makes coffee better, yeh?”

The man dropped his paper cup and ran out a side exit door.

“Lincoln, my bredren!” Hilo shouted, walking down the aisle, reading name tags on the cubes.

Lincoln was on a call and didn’t hear. But when Hilo called his name in mock friendship again, he stood up like a prairie dog in a field. Hilo’s voice was only the second voice he remembered out of the hundreds, thousands he had called. And now he saw the man, short as a cut tree trunk, with knots of muscles in his shoulders and arms. But Hilo’s smile worried him more than the machete dangling at his side. He would not be able to act his way out of this; he hung up his phone.

Hilo walked down the aisle with coworkers abandoning their cubes. Amanda squeezed by him with her hands up in the air. “I have a child,” she said, but Hilo didn’t acknowledge her.

“Lincoln, there you are my friend, my bredren.”

Lincoln, speechless, stood as if waiting for his queue on a set. Hilo sauntered down the row with his machete in hand, the blade longer than his forearm and nearly as thick at the point.

Hilo pointed with the tip of the blade at his name tag. “Lincoln. A very great man. I learned of him and his burden when I took my U.S. citizenship test. He too had lived in a house with a dirt floor. Have you?”

Lincoln shook his head, stuck to a script he didn’t like and hoped to stall until police arrived. “I got you the best rate. I have no control if they go up. That’s up to the Federal Reserve and the lenders we work with.”

“Lincoln, yu a liad. I’m a yardie who has lost what he cherishes the most.”

“Look, I didn’t lie. I was just doing my job.”

“But you knew that I needed relief, and not for mere months. You neglected to sufficiently explain the risk. Yeh? And you reaped your commission.”

“I provided you with all the required disclosures. There’s risk in all financial products.”

“Cowering behind legal statements—a script the white man has told you to read. Why do you do this to our people? It speaks of how my grandfather’s plot of sugar cane land was stolen from him—with a manufactured deed and false signatures. Not an ounce of sweat surrendered before it was taken. I never dreamed that this would be the case here in this Greatest of the Americas. My American Dream, how do you say, went up in the smoke.” His fingers sprang open. “Poof.”

“I don’t control the mortgage rates.”

Jah, within me,” he dabbed the hilt of the machete against his chest. “Is heart-broken.”

“I’m sorry. Maybe we can find another loan option, something fixed. Waive the fees, along with my commission, put some money back in your pocket.”

“Much too late. They have teken my house, bredren.” He ran a thumb down his blade.”And you ignored my calls, only now wanting to discuss options. No respect. Tell me, where do I go now? The Yard? You are quiet, as if you have seen a ghost.”

“This isn’t going to solve anything.”

“I disagree.” He squared his shoulder. “I am the Duppy Conqueror, you know this? I am fearless. You have been duly rewarded for the financial product you tricked me into and now you must pay the price.” He took a step forward and raised his machete. “A pound of flesh—Shakespeare, eh. I am not an uneducated man you can take advantage of. Extend your arm. Now!”

Lincoln snatched a potted tree by the window and shoved it at Hilo. The machete cut clean through the office sapling. Lincoln threw up his arms as if he could block the blade on its return. It lowered with such speed and precision Lincoln didn’t register that his right forearm had been severed. It fell to the floor with a thud, next to the decapitated canopy of the tree. The blood soaked into the carpet squares; his fingers splayed.

As the blood spurted from his radial and ulnar veins, Lincoln couldn’t tell if it was a special effect; he felt no pain. He had played an ER trauma victim in a crime drama and now struggled for his lines. The blood sprayed the picture glass window and ran down in rivulets, then he passed out. The fabric wall of the cube cushioned his head as he collapsed.


Police were on scene within four minutes. Unit 1286 was parked at one of the neighboring tacoria’s when they got the dispatch. They threw their lunches out the window, hit their lights, and raced out of the parking lot. They knew the building and its layout from other visits for disturbances. They drew their pistols as they came on the floor. “Everybody down,” the male officer commanded, the female giving him cover. But Hilo had already made it to the South stairwell and headed for the roof. The fire alarm sounded as he swung open the door.

When the officers caught up with him, they both told him to drop his weapon. But he shouted that he was the Duppy Conqueror, a ghost with no fear, and threw the machete at them like an axe. It hit an A/C unit with a clang. The female officer shot him in the shoulder, twisting his torso, the male officer bullet shattered Hilo’s jaw. He fell over the side of the building, hurtling into a freshly planted bed of semi-annuals.


When Lincoln woke up in the Parker Adventist Hospital, he felt a tingle in his arm, but couldn’t move his fingers. It was bandaged at the forearm and fixed with two metal rods with collars fastened at the bicep and the wrist. His forearm had been reattached, but he couldn’t bend at the elbow or wiggle his fingers. When the nurse checked on him, she saw he was awake and called for the doctor.

“How are you feeling?” the doctor asked, not to gauge pain, but to preempt sorrow. “Fast thinking by your coworker saved your arm. Good thing it was a clean cut, minimal kerf. Be glad it wasn’t a chainsaw.”

The nurse elaborated that a coworker had thrown his arm in the office ice maker before the EMTs arrived. That they were lucky to have Doctor Kim on staff, as he specializes in reattaching appendages. “You’d be surprised what people cut off.”

“We’ll need to test motor and nerve functions,” the doctor continued, giving the nurse a sidelong glance to be quiet. “Monitor for any bleeders, before we can put it in a hard cast.”

“I can’t feel anything, my hand is asleep.”

The doctor slipped a latexed gloved finger under the wrapped arm. Lincoln glimpsed the Frankenstein stitches poking out around his arm. At least he was alive.

“That’s normal.” The doctor inspected his fingers. “Looks like you have good blood flow to the fingertips. The microscopic sutures are holding.” He tucked the bandage back into place. “No sign of infection, just swelling of the soft tissue. Normal.”

“But I can’t move my fingers. This contraption on my arm feels like a torture device.”

“It’s to make sure your bones stay set and things stay stitched together: tendons, muscles, blood vessels. We’ll remove it in a few days and get you in a hard cast. You’ll need to give your ulnar nerve time to regenerate.” He pointed at his elbow. “Your funny bone.” He raised his eyebrows. “The source of laughter, the best medicine.”

Lincoln smiled. “So how long before I can arm wrestle, snap my fingers?”

The doctor chuckled. “Yes, critical functions. Your ulna and radius bones need to fuse back together; I’ve rejoined them with implanted rods and pins. You’ll get the feeling back gradually.” He looked at a chart, flipped through some pages. “Anyone we should call? Spouse, parents?”

He thought about his sister, then his mother, but shook his head. He wasn’t dying. “What happened to Hilo?” His voice scratchy with concern.

The name didn’t ring a bell for Doctor Kim; but he saw recognition in the nurses’ eyes, who shook her head, but didn’t answer.

“Who dumped my arm in the ice machine?”

The doctor didn’t know either. “I liked your TV commercial, by the way,” he said, and left for his next patient. “Good rates.”


Carl, in his role of UMCo manager, came to visit him with a bouquet of sunflowers and a bottle of bourbon. “How’s the hero? A little something for your rehabilitation.” He set the gifts on the nightstand, admiring the bottle. “It’ll force you to hold onto the crystal cut glass. Regain your grip strength.” But the joke fell flat, and Carl pulled up a chair next to the bed.

“We are all so glad you survived and that no one else was injured. You faced down that crazy and kept him from doing more harm. UMCo thanks you.”

There was an awkward silence. Carl’s visit wasn’t about checking up on him; it was about damage control. Lincoln wanted to tell Carl to fuck off. Hilo wasn’t crazy.

“We’re replacing the ice machine—no one wants to use it anymore.” Carl ignored the tension. “What the hell happened? Did you let HR know about your client’s threats?”

Lincoln wasn’t saying another thing to help Carl. He still couldn’t process what happened, just was grateful he was still breathing. “Who put my arm on ice?”

“Amanda.” Carl shook his head. “You know, she quit the same day, then called me twice about you. But I couldn’t disclose any personal info for legal reasons. You know how it goes.”

Lincoln thought he could feel his fingers suddenly, felt Amanda holding them. He wanted to trace her eyebrows again. He stared at his hand and saw it morph into a claw, dripping with Hilo’s blood. The pain medication was doing a number on him.

“Okay, look, when you’re ready to talk, let me know.” He wrote his cell number on the Get Well Soon! card everyone in the office had signed. Lincoln didn’t see Amanda’s signature and wondered where she was now. “We’re keeping your position open, so when you’re ready, let me know. You’ll get to work the high-end refinances—it’s a real salary, no auto-dialer. Oh, and before I forget. Here’s your commission.” He set an envelope next to the vase of flowers.


Lincoln didn’t return to work after being discharged, didn’t even entertain the thought of calling Carl. Instead, he retained a lawyer on contingency; UMCo had failed him, and its borrowers, especially Hilo. It should have never come to having a man take his own life. Yes, he was complicit, but he would make things right. He knew UMCo would quietly settle out of court—shooting an insurance commercial had taught him something after all. His father would be proud.

Lincoln insisted that his lawyer find out who Hilo was and ensure he had a proper funeral; but the state had already buried Hilo and to his knowledge, no one showed up. The settlement came faster than Lincoln anticipated, conditioned on signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). UMCo didn’t want the bad press. Before he signed, he asked whether his lawyer could buy back Hilo’s house from the bank with the proceeds and find any of his relatives. He’d use the rest of the money to pay his mother’s bills and hire an in-home caretaker.

His lawyer didn’t locate any relatives in Colorado or Jamaica where Hilo was from. That seemed odd but, then, sometimes people didn’t want to be found. So, Lincoln moved into Hilo’s repossessed home, hoping that someone from Hilo’s family would eventually come looking for him. In the meantime, he visited his grave every other Wednesday, along with his dad’s. They were buried at opposite ends of the cemetery. His father had an ornate headstone and his attacker, his charge, had a small marker: Hilo Brown. He took his mother along a few times, who always asked when he would do another commercial. The insurance company had found another pitchman: a dog whose wagging tail could disperse a hurricane and who, with a garden hose in its mouth, doused fires. She asked him who that man was he visited; she held onto his arm, the one that had been severed, that needed physical therapy twice a week. “Someone dad would’ve wanted me to stand up for,” he told her. It was good to feel a squeeze from her.

Lincoln had no animosity, even though he knew he would never get the full feeling of his fingers back and would have impaired tactile functions. He just wished Hilo was still here, wanted to hear how he came to America, learn about his family. He was not what Hilo accused him of—a traitor to his people. He was not raised to succeed at someone else’s expense. He flipped through his lawyer’s updates and noted the progress on connecting the dots to potential relatives. This was his new commission. He would surrender the house to anyone who could tell him Hilo’s social security number, middle name, and the location of the land his family once owned in Jamaica. It was all documented in his former client’s file, along with other personal information that his lawyer had tracked down. It sat beside him with the evidence bag that the police department surrendered, in one of which was the machete, and in another, Hilo’s clothes, shoes, wallet. Maybe he shouldn’t have claimed Hilo’s belongings or bought back the house from the bank. How long would he have to live among Hilo’s things as a caretaker? He gripped a crystal cut glass and sipped the bourbon UMCo had given him, willing his fingers to stop tingling, awaiting to shake the hand of the rightful owner of this house. In the meantime, he would find Amanda. Thank her for saving his arm. Finally go on a real date with her, meet her son. See if he could still make her blush.


Stephen R. Gilmore has a BA in English from San Francisco State University, where he studied creative writing. He holds an MBA from Regis University and has spent most of his professional career in telecommunications as a program manager. His fiction has appeared in The Bangalore Review. He is currently working on a novel about corporate America.