The sign on the heavy oak door in front of Shepard read “Marcus L. Talmon, Esq.,” with “Attorney at Law” in smaller gilded letters underneath. Shepard still didn’t know who Clarence Robinson was, just that the poor guy was dead as a doornail. For some reason, that Shepard hoped Mr. Talmon would be able to explain, Shepard was prominently featured in the Clarence guy’s last will and testament.
Shepard realized he’d been standing at the door too long when a dulcet voice behind him softly nudged him back to reality.
“Excuse me,” said the petite redhead in a comfy-looking t-shirt, capris, and flipflops bedecked in fabric flowers to the very edge of wearability.
Shepard took a step back to allow her to enter the lawyer’s office, then followed her inside. She raised an eyebrow, and he sheepishly shrugged.
“Got distracted. Here for a bequeathal. I’m Shepard Strom,” he said, extending his right hand for a shake.
She took his hand in a firmer grasp than her frame implied. “Betty Parks,” she smiled, and her face lit up like a Christmas tree. “I’m sorry for your loss.” Her megawatt smile dimmed a bit in sympathy.
“Actually,” replied Shepard, “I never even met the man, as far as I know So no need for commiseration.”
“Wait a minute, not Mr. Robinson?” Betty asked, astonishment dawning on her face.
“You too?” Shepard grinned back. This was shaping up to be a better day than he’d expected when he’d gotten out of bed this morning.
The pair turned as the office door opened behind them. The small, timid man coming in peered through his Coke bottle glasses to verify that the receptionist was not in her assigned place, then scampered hurriedly to the chair farthest from Shepard and Betty.
As Shepard was opening his mouth to say something he’d surely regret later, the far door, leading deeper into the office, swung open without a sound to reveal a stern-faced, grey-coiffed woman in a severe tweed skirt suit.
“This way please, Miss Parks, Mr. Strom, Mr. Henderson,” she firmly announced. Her voice told of too many cigarettes and not enough soft-spoken words of kindness.
Shepard and Betty glanced to the newly seated man who could only be Mr. Henderson. The look of near-panic on his face caused their gaze to politely slide away, and Shepard held a hand towards the open door and sour receptionist.
“Ladies first,” he nodded to Betty, who tightened the grip on her handbag and marched past the older woman. Shepard followed, then Mr. Henderson, with the nameless receptionist pulling the door closed behind them.
“Last door on the left,” she rasped before disappearing into another office.
The three unexpected musketeers headed down the hall, Betty and Shepard examining door plaques and artwork, Mr. Henderson keeping a close watch on his worn brown leather shoes. Betty took a step past the last door on the left, allowing Shepard to turn the knob and let the three of them inside.
It was a dark office; rosewood and walnut featured predominantly in the furnishings, and the three waiting chairs were upholstered in a burgundy pinstripe.
“Welcome, lady and gents,” boomed the white-haired man behind the massive, yet immaculate, desk. Shepard pulled the middle chair back slightly for Betty, then continued to the far right while Mr. Henderson took the left.
“I’m Marc Talmon, Mr. Robinson’s executor of estate.” He raised his hands, palms out, preemptively precluding mutual introductions. “Now, now, I’m already aware that not one of you recalls meeting Mr. Robinson. As far as he was concerned, he didn’t need to meet you in person to know that you were the right people to include in his will. Wait ’til the end, alright, son?” This was directed at Shepard, who had adjusted in his seat and opened his mouth slightly. He shut it again, curious to know what this was all about.
“Miss Parks,” Talmon continued, lacing his fingers together atop his spotless blotter, “Your uncle served with Mr. Robinson during the Korean War.”
Betty’s confusion drove her to speak up. “My only uncle was a pacifist who spent his entire adult life protesting the war in Vietnam until he was killed by a drunk driver before I was born. He was just a baby during Korea, and–”
Talmon cut her off. “Your other uncle, Miss Parks. Please, let me finish.”
Betty fell back in her chair, the words dying in her mouth. She knit her brow in confusion.
Talmon continued, again, seemingly unfazed by the interruption. “During the Korean War. Though your uncle’s mental faculties did not survive this period, Mr. Robinson’s loyalty never wavered. As his last living relative, Mr. Robinson remembers you in your uncle’s stead.
“Mr. Strom.” Shepard sat up straight, keen eyes on Talmon. “You have lived in the same house since you were a child, and never once failed to cut your elderly neighbor’s grass for as long as she lived, until early last year when she succumbed to pneumonia. Mr. Robinson appreciated your consideration for his nephew’s first love.”
Shepard had always wondered why such a nice old lady had no family, not that he had gotten any kind of real answer from Talmon.
“Mr. Henderson. When you reported your employer’s tax fraud last year, you did so in spite of being well aware of the personal and professional risks you were taking. Mr. Robinson valued integrity above all else, and immediately severed any and all business ties with your former employer, Stockholm Industries, their interests, and subsidiaries. He did not, however, lose track of you, and this is the reason you are alive today.
Shepard was impressed. He craned his neck to look around Betty at the blanched Mr. Henderson with a newfound respect. Mr. Henderson appeared to be trying to sink through the burgundy pinstripes. Talmon continued to continue.
“Now that you each have some inkling of why you, personally, are here today, I will move on to the actual reading of the will.”
Shepard zoned out for the initial legalese, but kept his ears peeled for Talmon to get to the part that concerned Shepard. At last, Talmon got to the magic words–specific bequests.
“To the persons Betty Parks, Shepard Strom, and Benjamin Henderson, if they survive me, the entire contents of the storage unit numbered D-22 located at 1419 Benedict Drive. This rental costs for this unit have been paid in full for another seventeen years from the date this will has been witnessed and notarized, so I have no doubt it will remain in my possession at the time of my death.” Talmon droned on a few more minutes with minor details, such as witnesses, names, and dates, but Betty, Shepard, and even Ben were wide-eyed and chomping at the bit to get the key to their storage unit to explore their fresh, new plunder.
“And that’s that,” said Talmon. He reached into his breast pocked and pulled out a shiny silver key, which he handed to Betty. “As you are listed first, my dear, I will entrust the key to your safekeeping. Are there any questions for me at this time?” Talmon looked from Ben, to Betty, to Shepard, and nodded firmly as each shook their head in turn.
“Then our business here is concluded. As Mr. Robinson specified in his final documents, I will not be available to mediate any concerns regarding the contents of said storage unit. You must agree, or agree to disagree, on your own. Goodbye.” Talmon gestured to his office door, which was open again. The cadaverous receptionist was waiting to guide them from the office, and the trio remained silently, individually contemplative until they exited the building together, into the bright sunshine, a stark contrast from the dimness of the past shared hour of their lives.
Many thanks to LRose at The Blog Propellant for her inspiration!