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It was a little after five thirty when I turned off my computer and pushed all the papers on my desk into a big pile. I would have to sort through it all tomorrow. I had done enough for today.
I grabbed my heavy jacket out of the closet to ward off the late March freeze. While I waited for my car to warm up, I smiled, remembering I didn’t have to make a car payment this month. It was finally paid off. It was mine. Although the car was well-used and far from a late model—not exactly a rust bucket, but nothing fancy either—it got me back and forth to work, and it wasn’t the bus. Now maybe I could afford to get the shocks fixed.
Snow flurries melted on the windshield as I made my way in light traffic to the hotel to meet Barry, the mystery lawyer. Driving through the darkening night, I thought again how unlikely it could be for me to be involved in a case in Denver. Somebody was going to an awful lot of trouble to convince me otherwise. By the time I pulled into the Marriott parking lot, I was more confused and anxious than ever.
I steeled myself against the blowing wind and snow and trekked into the hotel lobby, on the lookout for the Starlight Lounge. It wasn’t hard to find. Twenty feet to the right of the hotel entrance, with dark wood finishes, it was basically a long bar with four tables haphazardly scattered around a small alcove just off the main lobby.
Only one patron sat at the bar and he sort of matched the description Barry had given me earlier. He left out the fact he was well past middle age, growing a serious paunch, and had the thickest five o’clock shadow I had ever seen on a guy. He looked more like a street thug than a lawyer, but his crumpled Armani suit and fancy Cole Haan shoes didn’t come off a rack at Goodwill. Judging by the look of him now, he must have had a hard day.
The only other person in sight was the bartender, and he was very gentle on the eyes. He was thirty-ish, sporting short dark hair and a sexy smile. His clothes—blue jeans and black t-shirt—fit him like a second skin. I sighed, wishing I was there to meet him and not some strange, rumpled lawyer. My crotch felt a little tighter as I approached.
Barry studied me with bloodshot eyes. Up close, it finally registered I was the person he was waiting for. He got up slowly from his bar stool holding his drink in his left hand while reaching with his right to shake mine. He smiled, showing a lot of coffee-stained teeth underneath his red, bulbous nose.
“I’m assuming you’re Jack?” he said.
“Yes. And you must be Barry,” I said as I shook his wet hand.
“Yeah, have a seat here next to me,” he said, pointing to a vacant stool.
“Uh...Barry? If you wouldn’t mind, can we sit at one of the tables? I prefer to not sit at a bar, if that’s okay.” I hated bars. The last place on earth I wanted to be was sitting at a bar.
“Sure, sure. No problem.”
The bartender looked up and smiled at me while he washed a glass. He was so hot. For him, I might have been willing to lay on top of the bar and do unspeakable things. I smiled back in a way I hoped was not suggestive, since I wouldn’t know how to follow through anyway, and waited for Barry.
Never letting go of the drink in his left hand, he grabbed his briefcase and some money laying on the bar and transferred himself to the table farthest from the bar. We were alone and, other than being a bar, I guess it was an okay place for meeting a client. I sat down opposite him, my back to the lobby, and waited.
“Okay, here’s the scoop. As I told you on the phone, we have an attorney in our Denver office with a client he says has named you in her estate as a beneficiary. I have no idea as to what that means or what it entails, only that there is some level of urgency in contacting you and I was asked to reach out to you right away. Apparently Clyde, he’s this other lawyer, can’t get out here to Chicago this week, or he would have come directly to you himself. Anyway, my job in all this is to set up this meeting, confirm your identity and then give you his telephone number and he’ll take it from there. So, would you mind showing me your driver’s license so I can make sure you are you?”
I blinked at him, not sure I had heard correctly. Some unknown person in Denver had left me something in her will? I had serious doubts this was legitimate. I made sure I had a clear path to leave the lounge.
Clearly, Barry was all business. No chit chat, no soft sell. Just drop the bomb on the table and leave the mess for someone else.
I looked at him. Was he even a real lawyer? “Well, Barry, that’s all very interesting, to say the least. But I don’t feel real good about all this. Why do you need my driver’s license?” I asked, fearing impending identity theft, or worse.
“What? Oh, I get it,” he said, taking a gulp from his drink. “Hey, no worries, it’s simple really. I was given some particulars of your identity from Clyde and he asked if I would verify them against your driver’s license before giving you his phone number. If the info matches, he’ll tell you more over the phone about all this. He said finding a beneficiary who you’ve never met can be challenging, especially if you incorrectly identify the person. Something about avoiding false hopes.” Barry said the last part as if he knew what false hopes felt like.
His explanation made some sense, so I pulled my license from my wallet while he retrieved a letter from his briefcase. I could see even upside down it was written on company letterhead, with the name of the law firm sprawled across the top. It certainly looked legit. Barry compared the data on my license to the contents in the letter and quickly concluded it all matched, including birthdate and address.
“Looks good to me. Everything matches. Okay, I’m now going to call Clyde and let him know we met and I have positively identified you.” He started punching numbers into his cell phone and I sat there, feeling like a pawn in a game I did not understand.
While he waited for someone in Denver to answer his call, Barry motioned to the bartender with his nearly empty glass for a refill. He seemed hell-bent on satisfying an unquenchable thirst.
“Clyde, I’m sitting here with that kid you wanted me to meet—Jack Schaeffer.” Barry paused and listened for a minute, rattling the ice in his empty glass in the direction of the bartender. “Yep, everything matched to a ‘T’. What’s the next step here?” It felt like Barry was trying to get rid of his problem—namely me—so he could get to his next drink. And the ones after that.
After listening a few seconds more, Barry handed me his phone and said, “Here, he wants to talk to you.” I took the phone from him and he stood up to return to the bar.
“Hey, Joe, what’s taking so long with my drink?” So the bartender’s name was Joe. I liked the name Joe. I would probably like any guy named Joe who looked as good as the bartender.
I refocused and put the phone to my ear. “Hello?”
“Is that you, Jack?” The voice on the other end sounded older and muffled, like maybe he had a head cold.
“Yes, this is Jack,” I replied.
“Clyde Watson, Jack, and thank you for agreeing to meet with Barry on such short notice. I apologize for the last minute hoopla, but it couldn’t be helped, which I can explain. But first, let me also apologize for not being able to meet you in person there in Chicago. Unfortunately, I’ve had an extended bout with the flu, which I’ve recovered from, thankfully. But my doctor did not think it was advisable to fly, as sick as I was. So I called our office out there to see if they could help out.”
“No problem for me, Clyde.”
“Good. Now let me tell you a little more of what is going on, and then what the next steps need to be. Do you have a few minutes?”
I looked over to Barry, who was back sitting at the bar, nursing his drink and eating free nuts by the handful, staring at a basketball game on a television over the bar mirror. He was oblivious to us at this point.
“Sure, Clyde. I’m good,” I said.
“Okay. Well, I have represented a family out here in the Denver area for many years. Family friends, really. Anyway, the last member of the family passed away nearly six months ago and it is my job to fully execute her will and act as the managing trustee of the family trust. Shortly before her death, she changed some of the particulars in her affairs, which included adding you as a beneficiary to the estate.”
“Who was this person, if you don’t mind my asking? I really don’t know anyone in Denver, or have any family there that I know of.”
“No, I don’t think you knew her, so you might be a bit confused by this. I know I was. I don’t want to say too much over the phone as there are some legal matters to be finalized first, but I can tell you her name was Amanda Franklin, and she was the widow of Phillip Franklin, who passed away three years ago or so.”
“The names don’t ring any bells,” I said.
“I thought not. So Jack, here’s what I would like to ask you to do. I need you to come here to Denver this week so I can close out the estate. I can’t do it without your signature on several forms. Could you come out here, do you think?”
Was he serious? Drop everything and go to Denver on the word of a total stranger? This week?
I hesitated. “I don’t know, Clyde. That would be tough for me. I have my job, plus I don’t have money or a way to get to Denver on such short notice. Can’t we do the paperwork through the mail—overnight letters or something like that?”
“Unfortunately, no, Jack, it won’t work in this case. The judge who is reviewing the estate and the probate of the will has requested you to appear in person before him to satisfy the legal requirement of positive identification, as you are a beneficiary of an estate for which you are not family or a known acquaintance of the deceased. This is a rare request, but I think he is wanting to avoid any possibility of an issue with the estate later on down the road.”
Odd, but not unreasonable, the way he said it.
“Well, can we do it later then, just not this week?” I was confused by the urgency.
“Ordinarily that would be fine, Jack, and I do apologize again for the suddenness of all this. It took quite a while for my office to locate you—Amanda didn’t provide any way to contact you or any direct information to help locate you. Once we found you, then I had the delay of my illness to contend with. Unfortunately, there is a deadline within the terms of the trust which states all matters must be resolved within six months of the death of the last owner of the trust. The cutoff date is this Saturday, so if I am going to get you the assets she wanted you to have, I have to do it this week. My hands are tied on that score.”
“And you’re positive you have the right guy?”
“Yes, Jack, I am pretty positive you are the guy she named. I can explain why when you get here.”
“Well, Clyde, even if I could get away this week from work, I really have no way to get there. I have no money to buy a plane ticket, and I certainly can’t drive. Is it really going to be worth all this trouble? I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I didn’t even know the woman, and if we are doing all this for a small amount of money or some family trinkets or pictures or something, wouldn’t it be best if we just let it all go? I can’t afford to be out of pocket to make the trip.”
My frustration mounted, both with the time pressure and my never-ending lack of funds to deal with things like this. Though a quick trip to Denver was not something I would have budgeted for, even if I had the extra cash.
“I completely understand, Jack. If you can get the time off work, I can take care of everything else. I promise it will not cost you a single penny to come out here and do this. And while I can’t discuss any more details over the phone as to your bequest, I can tell you it’s more than pictures or trinkets.” He said it with a smile in his voice, so I don’t think he was mad at me for my comment. He seemed amused. I felt bad for being so self-centered.
“I’m sorry, Clyde, if I seemed flippant or selfish about it. I know this woman, Amanda, was your friend. Please forgive me. If you can take care of the expenses somehow, I’ll see if I can get the time off. When would you want me there?”
“I appreciate it, Jack, more than you know. If you can swing it, I’d like to get you on a flight tomorrow evening. We could meet Thursday and get everything taken care by the end of the day Friday, I think. Would that work for you?”
“I can try. It’s short notice though. I have the vacation time saved up. I never go anywhere. But I have to see if my boss will approve the time off. Can I call you tomorrow sometime to confirm?”
“Sure, my boy. Call this same number. My secretary will find me or, more than likely, she will have already made all the arrangements for you. You can trust her, her name is Sharon, and she is my right arm. If she can’t get it done, it can’t be done.”
“Got it. Call and ask for Sharon. Okay, well then, I guess I will be talking to you again soon, Clyde.”
“Thanks, Jack. I hope to see you in a couple of days. Goodbye for now.” The call ended and I sat there staring at another man’s cell phone, wondering what in the world just happened. Barry was into maybe his fifth drink by now, and the lounge was filling up with game watchers. Apparently this basketball game was something important. I had no idea why.
I needed the phone number for Clyde, so I grabbed my cell phone from my pocket and put the last number called from Barry’s phone into my contact list. It wasn’t a Chicago area code, so I assumed it was the Denver office number. Having nothing else to do, I stood up and walked a few steps to the bar and gently touched Barry on the shoulder. He turned and struggled to focus on my face a bit, then smiled when he realized he knew me.
“Hey, kid. Get everything worked out alright?”
“Yeah. All set. Thanks for the help. Here’s your phone,” I said, handing it over. He looked at it like he couldn’t remember giving it to me in the first place.
“I’m leaving now, Barry. Have a good evening.”
“You too, kid. See ya.” He turned back to his game and swallowed the rest of his drink. I’m pretty sure he didn’t remember my name anymore.
The drive home was slow, as it was snowing harder, but not enough to make the roads dangerous. Just slow going, which didn’t bother me, as I had no agenda for the evening. I never did.
I was hungry, so I pulled into a Wendy’s and ate a grilled chicken sandwich, large fries and a Diet Coke. Even though I ate mostly fast food, I was still in okay shape. At least I thought six feet tall and one hundred seventy pounds was okay shape. But how would I know? It’s not like I had anybody in my life who cared what I looked like.
I keyed into my apartment, hung up my jacket in the closet and went through the mail. The usual bills—my student loan payment was due this week. I needed my paycheck on Friday to cover it. The rest was junk, and I put it all where junk is supposed to go. I grabbed a glass of water from the sink—I couldn’t afford bottled water—and turned on the TV. The basketball game Barry had been watching was on. I left it there with the volume turned down and thought about my conversation with Clyde.
Was all this really happening? Was I actually going to drop everything at a moment’s notice and head to Denver to receive who knows what kind of inheritance from a woman I never knew? So surreal. Of course, what if it was real, and she left me some serious coin? It would certainly change things up a bit for me—take some pressure off.
Not that I really had too much to complain about. Sure, I had the usual money shortages everyone not living off a trust fund has, but my bills got paid and I had the basics. I had a job I liked, an apartment I liked, a car that got me where I needed to go and I was healthy. I was free of my dysfunctional family and I had a few friends to hang out with on occasion. Well...I had Fred, and he had friends.
Fred and I still got together every once in a while, usually to hang out with some guys he worked with. Usually we would go to Fred’s house and chill in his parents’ basement—they had a pool table, ping pong table and some video game machines. I was still very much in the closet, so I was careful not to lust openly after any of the guys, which wasn’t hard, as none of them really turned me on. They were nice to me though and included me, even though I was terrible at video games and pool. And ping pong.
The only time it was tough for me was when they wanted to go out drinking. I was okay for a little while if we went to a club where there were tables away from the bar and maybe some nice music to listen to. I would people watch, drink my diet soda and try to not be too obvious leering at the sexy guys walking by. The combination of primal anxiety and sexual excitement made for an interesting mix of chemicals raging through my system.
If they wanted to hang out at a bar, I usually had one Diet Coke and called it a night. I can’t handle sitting at a bar. My father dragged my brother Terry and me to one bar after another when I was a kid. He was an alcoholic and he liked to spend a full Saturday parked at the bar in a country tavern, chatting up the barkeep and talking big about his plans for the future. So much for weekend visitation with the kids.
I spent those long, depressing days begging for quarters for the jukebox, playing one sad song after another. What a pitiful way to spend a weekend, especially for a ten year old boy. I should have been outside playing baseball with my friends, digging in the dirt, swimming or riding a bike. I was never so relieved when he announced near my twelfth birthday he was relocating to Montana for a job. My time in taverns and bars ended with his departure from my life.
I managed to survive my childhood with my sanity and sobriety in check, unlike my brother Terry. And I really did not dislike my life overall. Sure, I was lonely, but that was my normal, so it didn’t interfere with my day to day. I’m sure I was less than I could be in some ways, but what those ways were, I didn’t know.
It was getting late and I was tired. I turned off the TV and the lights, did my thing in the bathroom, stripped off my clothes and jumped into bed.
As was my custom, I grabbed some inexpensive lube from my bedside table, closed my eyes and started thinking about Joe the bartender and what we could be doing to each other on his bar after the lounge closed.