It has been a little while since my last story was posted here, I have been distracted trying to change my status from 'single' to 'attached'. No luck with that, so I had to write a story to take my mind off my lack of success. Hope you like it. CM
Elizabeth Jacobson re-read the letter in her hand. It was from the law firm of Kauffman, Greenbaum and Schwartz inviting her to attend their offices for a meeting with Mr Schwartz at 11:00 am on Thursday next. She had never heard of them and wondered what it was all about, her mind darting off into ever more bizarre flights of fantasy. Somewhere in there was the thought that it might mean that some long lost and very wealthy relative had passed away and left her with a fortune. She realised, on reflection, that she knew of no relative that was in any way, what could be called wealthy. She suspended thought on the matter until the meeting in three days' time.
Geraldine Browne looked at a similar letter and her thoughts went immediately to that of how much was involved. Her whole life was an endless quest for money. A life that resulted in three marriages to wealthy men and several liaisons with equally wealthy men, all of which resulted in the accumulation of a considerable amount of money. Unfortunately for her, this money slipped through her fingers as easily as it had come to her, and she had to rely on a new relationship to maintain her lifestyle. Age and reputation was a factor in the she now realised that no such relationship was on the immediate horizon. She now pinned her hope and an inherited windfall.
Sophie Foreman had just slit open her letter from Kauffman, Greenbaum and Schwartz and placed it in front of her breakfast, she would read it as she ate her muesli with low fat milk and coffee. Time was precious for Sophie, she had meetings all day and into the night and she could not see herself getting to bed much before midnight, such was the downside of her position as CEO of a large corporation, she had no time for any contacts outside her work, and this included her now departed family, her husband and two adult children were no longer a part of her life. She could think of no reason why she should keep this appointment but would get her PA to check her busy schedule and see if she could fit it in.
Petra Morrison read her letter on the train on her way to work. Today was looking to be pretty much like every other day for her, she would have a steady stream of women coming to her to see if she could help them with their problems that ranged from domestic violence to finding emergency accommodation. She was the manager of a drop-in centre for, in particular, women who, because of their circumstances were unable to find a way out of the trap of poverty, despair and depression. Hers was a hands-on role that reached far beyond what was expected of her and the hours she put into her job were not rewarded financially. She got her reward from the smiles of gratitude from those she was able to help.
Simone LePoidevin did not receive her letter until the next day when she flew in from her regular flight to the Paris fashion shows. Her new range of evening gowns was well received by the fashionistas and she returned with orders from some of the top fashion stores in Europe and North America. Her star was well and truly on the ascendant and she was pleased with her success. But hers was not an overnight success, it was one of hard grind and devotion to her ideals, not forgetting the long hours that meant that she had little time for any meaningful relationships. Her detractors, of which there were several, hinted at her latent lesbianism. She ignored these claims and continued to take advantage of the services of a discreet agency that had a ready supply of suitably attractive young men to cater for her sexual needs, her only stipulation was that she should never have the same man more than once. The agency was only too happy to oblige, given the fees that they charged, and the fact that she tipped generously.
The last person to receive a letter was Jennifer Roberts, a school teacher currently on compassionate leave, leave that she was using to care for her ailing husband of fifteen years. He had been struck down at a young age with Parkinson's and was rapidly approaching the terminal stages of that illness. She would soon have to make the decision of whether to place him in a nursing home, and was taking this time to see him happy before the inevitable day arrived. She felt no guilt at having to make the imminent decision, after all, the years together had been good up until just before it became apparent that everything was not as it should be. Bryan, her husband, had been begging her to place him in a nursing home because he could see the effect that his illness was having on the once vibrant and happy woman that he had married all of those years ago.
Bernard Schwartz sat at his desk pondering the day ahead. He was unsure as to how many, if any, of the women would respond to the letters. It was deliberately vague, just one of the many stipulations that had been placed on this task of executing this Last Will and Testament. It was not his job to understand the reasoning behind these strange stipulations, his job was to see them carried out. He reviewed the file on each of the women, these went some way to explaining the reasons. Some he welcomed the opportunity to meet in person, while others he dreaded that same opportunity.
The previous day he had spent interviewing the men on the recipient list in Mr Walton's Will, they were an eclectic mix of men who he wanted to support in a financial way for what he saw were their good qualities, and there were those he wanted to punish in some way for some indiscretion or other that had either affected him personally, one of his many companies, or a personal friend. Most of the men had no direct contact with Mr Walton and were surprised just how much he was aware of them and their positive or negative contribution to their lives. The women on the list were similarly a mix of those who would be pleasantly surprised and those who would be unhappy at the outcome of the interview. In a way he now understood the dilemma faced by Solomon in deciding which woman should get the child.
At 10:45 his secretary buzzed him." I have a Jennifer Roberts, she has an appointment with you at 11:00."
"Take her to the board room would you please. I am expecting five other women, would you be so kind as to show them all to the board room and tell them I will be with them shortly. You could also ask if they would like tea or coffee please."
He took several deep breaths in preparation for this moment when he would speak to them all before arranging to speak to them individually. This was before he has to make the decision that he was really dreading. He wished his former client could have been a little more specific as to what he was to do.
At 11:00 he stood and took one final deep breath before gathering the files and walking to the board room. Pushing the door open he entered to be met by five pairs of eyes staring at him. He placed the files on the board table and sat down. Clearing his throat, he addressed the five women. "Good morning ladies, my name is Bernard Schwartz and I am the Executor of the estate of the late Mr Henry Walton." He looked from one to the other trying to gauge whether the name meant anything to them. The responses were mixed but they none showed that they had recognised the name. "The name of Mr Walton will mean nothing to you, but the man Mr Walton had a great influence on you in one way or another. I will give you all a brief outline of the basics of Mr Walton's Last Will and Testament and then I will address each of you individually, at which time I will discuss with you the individual stipulations as outlined by Mr Walton. Any questions?"
Before any of them could answer the intercom buzzed and he pressed the button to place it on speaker mode. "Yes Miss Kauffman."
"Mr Schwartz, I have a Simone LePoidevin here, she says that she has an eleven o'clock appointment with you."
"Would you tell Ms LePoidevin that the meeting has already begun and that she will just have to wait until we have finished."
"Listen Schwartz or whatever your name is, I am not going to sit out here while you talk to those other women, I want to hear everything that you have to say. I don't know what this is all about but let me tell you that I will not be left out."
"Then you should have made sure that you got here on time." Her file had already told him that she would, in all probability, be late, punctuality not being one of her priorities.
"How dare you speak to me like that. I'm coming in. Get out of my way sister!" She brushed past Miss Kauffman and stormed to the board room. Flinging the door open she walked into the room, pausing briefly to assess the situation before walking to the end of the table and sat, facing Bernard. "Now what have I missed?"
"Not a great deal as it happened, I was just going through the preliminaries and explaining what was to take place at this meeting." Her file also told him that her life was a series of confrontations, almost all of which she won. "As I was saying, I have the dubious honour to have been chosen to be the Executor of the Last Will and Testament of the late Mr Walton."
"Never heard of him and unless he's left me a shit load of money I don't think that I need to stay here, I have too much to do today to be wasting my time on trifles."
"I assure you that the amount of money involved can hardly be categorised as a trifle." The amount was indeed substantial but how much of it she could expect was very much up to her at this moment.
"I'll stay then. You may proceed."
"Thank you so much." Sarcasm isn't his usual style but something about her rubbed him up the wrong way. "When Mr Walton died he left a fortune of close to fifty million dollars to be distributed as I see fit but following his general guidelines, in other words the disbursement will not be in equal amounts."
"Okay, hold it now, what you're telling us is that there is in fact a shit load of money but how much we each get is up to you? Why can't you just divide it up into equal amounts, he's not going to know."
"It's not as simple as that, you see, some of you have had a negative impact on him and he sees these women as being less deserving than those who had a positive impact, he has decided that you all should get something. To paraphrase George Orwell; 'All of you are equal, some are more equal than others.' What will happen from here is that I will interview each of you in turn, and from that interview I will decide just how much each of you will get. The interviews will be short, just to confirm that the information that he has provided me is accurate, the decision on the amount will, of necessity, take a little longer. You can expect to see the amount in your account within a week. Is that clear?"
"Sure mister, just get on with it, why is it that lawyers take forever to say little?"
"I think I shall begin with you, Ms LePoidevin. If the rest of you would like to make yourselves comfortable, I will speak to each of you momentarily. In the meantime Miss Kauffman will get you tea or coffee and a light repast. Come Ms LePoidevin." He wasn't looking forward to this interview and thought it better to get it over with. He led her to his office and pointed to her chair. "Please, won't you have a seat?"
She sat and crossed her legs, the split in the front of her skirt opened revealing a large amount of a leg, even Bernard had to admit that it was impressive. "When you've quite finished perving on my legs can we get on with this, I have appointments that won't wait."
"Very well," He opened the folder in front of him. "Some time ago you were employed by Sarah Millbank Fashions as a designer, is this correct?"
"You've obviously done your homework, yes I was."
"Then you left to form your own design house."
"Again, yes. Where is this leading?"
"When you left Sarah Millbank you took designs with you."
"They were my designs."
"Legally they were not. Under the terms of your employment contract, the intellectual property of all work produced belonged to your employer. Before you claim that the ideas were yours, let me tell you that you used your employer's facilities to develop your ideas, so they remain the property of your employer. You have proprietorship of those designs produced after you ceased your employment with Sarah Millbank. We have calculated the income generated by the designs from your time with your previous employer and deducted that from the monies that you would have received from the estate, had you not stolen those designs, with interest of course."
"You can't fucking well do this, you can't even prove that I stole anything from Sarah fucking Millbank!"
"Oh yes we can, you see Sarah Millbank was suspicious of you, you were producing a lot of work at the time but showing few results. It was decided to keep track of your work output, so, every evening after you had left work, your portfolio of designs was carefully photocopied and returned. After you had left her employ a check of the designs in the portfolio was made and the missing designs were checked against the designs at your first fashion showing. Almost all of those designs were made while you were working for Sarah Millbank and belonged to her."
"If this was true, and I'm denying that it was, why was nothing done at the time?" She was beginning to get worried, could she be charged with theft as an employee at this late stage?
"That was Mr Walton's decision. He decided on a wait and see approach, you see he saw great potential in you, and would have quite happily forgotten about the whole episode if it were not for the way that you conduct your business. Not to put too fine a point on it, you have turned into a tyrant of a boss, you push your employees hard, and treat them as slaves, yours is not a happy fashion house, successful yes, your designers are good, but you do not give credit to your designers even though they deserve it, they make you a lot of money. The success of your fashion house is as a direct result of the favourable impression made at that first parade, success that was underpinned by those designs that were legally the intellectual property of Sarah Millbank Fashions. Having said that, you have not been able to maintain that initial success, and all is not well at 'Simone Elle', you are in danger of being taken over by an overseas fashion house, 'Henri', who are not interested in keeping you on in your current position. You will soon be out of a job, and let me tell you, few fashion houses will even consider you as a designer, to put it bluntly, you have shat in your own nest."
"How do you know this, it is all supposed to be a secret?"
"Like Sarah Millbank, 'Henri' is owned by a company that was controlled and wholly owned by Mr Walton."
"Yes, fuck. I will take all the facts into consideration when making my decision, but let me tell you, your share will not be enough for you to stave off the takeover, but it will be enough, if used wisely, for you to live on. That will be all."
He had to make the decision of whether the loss of her company and future income was enough, or whether the deductions from her share of the estate should go ahead. He was leaning towards making the deductions based on her attitude to the revelations He had just made. If she had shown that she actually had a conscience and admitted that she had used the designs that were the legal property of her former employer, he would probably have relented. She chose to deny the charges, and now he had to wait for the expected call from her lawyer.
He sat at his desk for several minutes composing his thoughts and making notes in Simone's file. She wasn't going to be happy and he was contemplating allowing his cowardly streak to take hold and leave it to her lawyers to break the bad news to her, she would barely get enough to survive on no matter how frugally she lived, her lifestyle just wouldn't allow it.
Bernard's next choice was Petra Morrison, at least she could look forward to a substantial settlement, but he doubted that she would see much of it, her heart was too big and her passion for those less fortunate too strong. "Take a seat, please." She sat and looked at me, he could see the worry in her face. "Don't worry, I won't keep you any longer than necessary, I know how busy you are."
She said quietly. Her demeanour was that of a woman with some power and authority, but one who didn't wield that power to harm anyone. According to her notes she was almost driven to depression by what she saw in her work, that was until she came to realise that, in order to do her job properly so that she could help the people she cared so much for, she had to draw a line in the sand that separated her private life from her professional life.
"You are worried about funding for your Drop in Centre aren't you?"
"Yes the government has recently announced funding cut-backs. We were only just managing to stay afloat as it was. I've put a lot into this place and don't want to see it disappear. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to burden you with my problems."
"That's okay, we were very much aware of the plight of your centre and Mr Walton has made certain provisions for it in his will."
"But why? How does he know about it?"
"To answer that, I would like you to cast your mind back some five years and a man who went by the name 'Slick'?"
"Yes, I remember him, he was a particularly hard nut to crack, he had an arrogance that made it difficult for me to get to him and lead him to realise that he was doing himself no favours at all with his attitude to other people. It took some time, time spent trying to reach out to him, before he began to see that he could no expect people to help him if he continued to place himself above them, and that to get help he would have to first give help. He started to help out in the centre and before long the people like he had been began to respond to him. He is a changed man and is a great help to me in so many ways. Having his experience he is able to engage with those less fortunate. I like him now." What she didn't say was, 'I love him now'.
"It might surprise you to know that Slick's real name is Benjamin Walton, Ben for short. He is Mr Walton's youngest son. Mr Walton had just about given up on him, he was into drugs in a big way and the only thing that kept him out of gaol was Mr Walton's money. He went to the best school, had a good degree from University and wasted all of that on a life in a drugged haze. That was until you stepped in and saved him."
"I didn't save him, that's not what I'm about, not how I work, I gave him the tools to save himself. You know that adage that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink, well we don't even lead the horse to the well, we give him the support, a nose bag if you will, a survival road map and point him in the general direction of that well, if he wants to drink he has to get there under his own steam. Don't get me wrong, if he stumbles we will help him up, but that's as far as it goes."
"When you leave here you are going back to the centre to pore over your accounts in the faint hope that you can make strategic changes to remain afloat. What I am going to tell you now is separate from the provisions that Mr Walton has made for you in his will, he has arranged for sufficient funds to be placed in an account that would generate enough funds from interest to allow you to keep the Centre in operation for the foreseeable future. There is on further thing, when you get back to the Centre you will be speaking to Ben, won't you?"
"Yes, we are discussing several issues to do with work."