The phone is hot and leaden in my hands, placing it on the table for the last time tonight. Like my sense of optimism, the phone has aged. No friendly messages in the last few hours, so why would I expect one now. I finish the last sip of whisky from my glass happy to concede defeat to another day.
The empty glass is placed on the kitchen side with the other pots. Along with my procrastination on life, the cleaning is postponed until the morning. Walking past the hall table I spot unopened mail from the morning. I wonder whether now is a good time to get rid of the loan offer crap or statements telling me things I already know. As I consider further postponements of the inevitable, I notice one of the letters has an unfamiliar logo and look more closely.
From the envelope stamp, I can see it’s a solicitor’s letter. Curiosity fires me into opening the envelope, though I pause again before reading. Is this really something I should be doing now? What if it’s more bad news? Spotting the headline overrides my reticence.
I read eagerly wondering where an inheritance could come from. My parents were long gone as and the rest of my family accounted for as far as I knew.
Reading once and read again, I try to comprehend the details. I am due an inheritance or maybe I’m not. I wonder if it’s some kind of con but it seems very real as well as fantastic. If someone has made this up, they’ve gone to quite some lengths to wind me up.
I’m more bemused by the way it’s written, like a riddle I have to solve before I can claim the money.
I, not only, have to prove that I am the Nicholas Bradford named by the Summers and Co advocates, I have to provide evidence of the time I met the deceased. On providing the proof I will inherit the total of the available estate, approximately ten million pounds. As I read again, the sum of money is not what focusses my attention. It is the name.
I have no idea who she is or was to me.
I put the letter down to think. I continue my progress to the bedroom, my mind spinning with lost faces and names. The solicitors are obviously reaching out to any Nicholas Bradford they can find. I wonder about a con, someone taking me for what little money I have left. But doesn’t feel like it.
I go to sleep with rolling flashbacks seeking Jacqueline Homer… she has to be somewhere in my past. How hard can it be to remember someone who thought enough of me to leave me £10million?
As soon as the clock hit’s nine I am on the phone to the solicitor, registering my interest as instructed, therefore hoping for some clue as to where to start. My restless night, has got me nowhere, the name rattling round in my mind so familiar it overwhelms any of the fragile strands of memory. As I fell into a deeper sleep the name merged into faces and fantastical creatures, so today I’m even less sure of my own mind.
I’m forty four years old, twenty years working in five different cities and even a stint abroad. The list of names is a long one. She must be there somewhere.
The solicitor confirms what I already guessed. That I’m not the only one in the race to prove worthy of the cash. He’s a little coy to give too much detail, but the will only mentions the name for whom the money should be left. There is a reference in the will to the connection between her and Nicholas Bradford but he is adamant won’t share it.
‘Please, you must, how can I claim the money, if I don’t know.’ My voice quivers as it rises in sound.
‘Unfortunately, it would be wrong to offer more information as then it makes it more difficult to vet the correct person. I am afraid it is essential.’
His intransigence wins.
It seems typical of his profession to belittle the need of people who rely on legal clarity with firm rebuttals, as if the rule of law is more important than the victim or the benefactor.
At least I can see it’s not a con, but I shake with the sense of frustration. It is for me to prove that a life altering, shockingly ridiculous amount of money is mine to have. Maybe it’s not me, it’s some other lucky Nick Bradford and I’m gambling my last crumb of optimism on a horse with a name I can’t remember.
I’m not ready for defeat yet though. Social media is the best place to start but quickly proves elusive. A number of people of the same name turn up but none that I recognise from the photo or from the employment or CV records. Google offers no clues just a number of random Jackies or Jacquies who come in many different size and shapes. Makes me wonder about the number of alternative versions of ourselves that exist. Whoever Jackie Homer was, she is a complete mystery to me. I’m going to need to dig deeper.
I split my life into segments. Writing it down may help with memory. School days, university and then work.
I then list all the names I can remember from each phase and possibly their friends of friends. I also search through some class lists I can find on the internet. Jacqueline is not an uncommon name and there is enough to make it difficult, but none of them fit this apparently wealthy woman or the name Comey. Maybe she has another name, but if so I’ve no idea.
The walk back from the library is depressing. I figured they could help with birth, deaths and marriage searches but it feels like I need more facts to give me somewhere to search. It’s a bright sunny day as I stroll back home, but all I see is the cloud on the horizon. Since being unemployed the last month, I never had so much time on my hands but at the same time never felt so unable to decide what to do. I have cash for a little while but it will run out before long if I don’t come up with some kind of plan.
This search for Jackie has become a major distraction, like all my eggs have fallen into one basket. I open the front door again, wondering what to do. The letter from Summers is on the hall table still. Closing the door, I read the address of the solicitors again and I decide it’s time for a once and for all strategy. I’m scratching round in the dark and need more information.
I arrive at the solicitor’s office in central London. A posh address but relatively small premises. I head for the reception desk.
A petite twentysomething woman gets up from her desk and walks to the counter.
‘I’m here to see, Cameron Summers,’ anticipating how this was going to go.
‘You have an appointment?’ she asks.
‘I was just in the area,’ I say, with a broad hopeful smile, ‘I thought I will try my luck.’ I didn’t want to call in advance, as I figured I would get the same answer as before.
‘I’m afraid he has a full schedule and…’
‘It’s important. Please.’
She looks at me and is about to resist once more. I try the smile again before she speaks. She pauses and must have decided she doesn’t want to waste time with my pleading. She takes my name and I’m hoping this will be the differentiator. If I’m right this inheritance is a very big pay day for Summers.
A few minutes later she returns.
‘First floor office, 2nd on the right.’ She says quickly, without looking at me. Probably disappointed at my success.
I knock on the door and hear the summons to enter. The office is cluttered with piles of documents and wonder whether they are there for the impression of diligence or legal work is really as dull as it seems.
A smart slim man, in a brown suit, doesn’t rise to meet from behind the untidy desk. He is unshaven and smallish, not as I assumed. I was expecting someone a little more imposing and my rehearsed confidence feels more assured.
‘Mr Bradford, how can I help?’
‘As you know, we spoke last week and you suggested if I can find the proof of my relationship with Ms Homey, then I can receive the inheritance?’
‘I did,’ he replies, with a slow nod.
‘I’m assuming that no-one has come forward to claim the relationship or the money.’
He didn’t respond, but then I knew the answer.
‘How did you find me?’ I ask.
Summers dodges my eye line and looks towards the window. ‘It’s not difficult to track down personal details, if you have a name and know where to look’ he replies eventually.
I go to my next question quickly, trying to be stoic in my speech to match his expected unhelpful responses.
‘Am I the only Nicholas Bradford you’ve contacted?’ This was a try out, but I decided I could ask in all innocence. I had thought about this a lot and wondered how much Summers already knew about me before he sent out the letter.
‘Ofcourse, no’ he says quickly. The speed of response with the earlier caginess makes me believe he’s not telling me everything.
‘But no-one has come forward?’
‘As I said.’ There is impatience in his voice, speaking quietly and firmly.
‘Who stands to benefit if you don’t find the Nicholas Bradford? Let me guess, it goes intestate and then the next of kin inherits what’s left after taxes.’
‘Potentially,’ he says.
‘And you are the family solicitor right? So there’s quite an incentive not to find me?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ he replies. His eyes narrow and I can see I’m testing his patience.
‘I want to see what’s in that will,’ I say, my voice as short and firm as I can say. I’ve rehearsed this all the way down to London, knowing I need to sound unwavering in this.
‘I can’t share it,’ he says. ‘That gives away all the qualification evidence I have.’
‘But if you don’t share it, then how can you fulfil the will. There would be a question of competence. I can ask my solicitor to write to you and make this a formal request.’
‘Our conversation is over,’ he says, standing. He is pretending to be outraged but having his professional judgement questioned must be common in this job. Everyone protests at the unfairness of the law at some point.
I remain seated trying to push this as far as I can go with it.
‘Let’s keep this simple,’ I say. ‘Look I agree, you need some kind of evidence to prove I am that person, but you knew before you wrote to me that I am a viable candidate. You have clearly gone through my history otherwise you wouldn’t waste your time, so really we should not make this too hard.’
‘I’m not going to respond to that.’
‘Then I will be off,’ I say, ‘expect a letter from my solicitor. You see, I might be struggling to understand what Jacqueline Comey is to me, but you know and presumably you knew her before her death. So the way I see it, you’re holding back information of due relevance and I can only assume your motive is profit.’
I stride to the door relieved I got through that confrontation. I am more convinced than ever that I’m being played by him, though I’ve no idea whether I’ve succeeded in getting him to concede. It definitely will not be the end of it.
Jacqueline Comey left me her fortune, of that I am now sure. I just wish I knew what I did to deserve it.
I watch the post every day, disappointing myself with each sound of the letterbox, believing more that it isn’t going to happen. The visit was my one big strategy for success and next I’m going to have to fork out cash for a solicitor who may or may not agree with my instruction to get the will read to me. Once I am in their hands I feel I will be paying out cash to get nowhere.
It takes a week and I am a little taken aback when it arrives. Summers and Co stamped on the front. I’m excited but scared of another rejection or even a threat.
With a deep breath, I open it. A page of document is enclosed. I read it quickly and then once more to get my head around what I was reading.
‘I leave the totality of my estate to the one person who contributed to my success more than any other simple act. I feel no need to reward those around me who have money of their own but rather to value a random act of kindness. These are the moments that shape our lives and our fortune. Without those moments, the balance of life could be tilted to disaster, humiliation and failure. The consequence obvious.
Nicholas Bradford, with little knowledge of me, made an enormous difference. I doubt he even knows my name, but one night he walked me home after a bad night before exams. I was in a poor state and he picked me up before I fell victim to some undesirables. He did nothing but see me home safely and because of that I got to my exams, I got my degree and my success followed. That night was important because I had gone off the rails, the pressures of expectation, higher than I could live with. It reminded me of the humanity of individuals and that the world is not all about predators. Nicholas will not know who I am, but I always knew he was. I was too embarrassed for a while to seek him out and then perhaps it was too late. But now I feel, without regret and with fondness of heart that this is the right thing to do.’
I read the letter again with the hope that somehow I can remember her and the event. I am struggling. Some of my university days a blur of late nights, alcohol and mixed friends. I remember many things but taking her home one night doesn’t ring any bells. I took out many girls but the circumstances are vague. I need to remember.
I go back to the names and the searches from earlier, racking over stories and gossip, the trauma of girlfriends and arguments. The nights when I had too much. I decide to go back through one of my shoeboxes, looking at cards and letters from the time. Something that might jog a memory.
I flick through papers and cards. Enclosed are birthday cards. I look through the multiple signed cards with sweet messages and typically half the names I can’t remember either, class mates and drinking pals who have long since passed me by. If I can’t remember these people, how am I going to remember Jackie.
I find a small card with a picture of pint of beer and a fast car, typical of boy cards and open it.
Happy Birthday Nick,
thanks for saving my life.
Love from Jackie,
I don’t remember this card or the reason behind it, but it gives me a clue. 21st birthday. She must have known who I was, followed me maybe. I started looking through google, there must be a list or a class list. I go back through the Jackies and cross checking records and photographs on facebook and Linked in profiles and any other media I could find. The name fits eventually, Jacqueline Barrett, was a history student, became a novelist, married name is Comey, but that’s why I couldn’t find her. The internet only knows her as Barrett and the name meant as little to me then as it does now. I look at the photograph on her website and the memory comes back. I was out with my mates and there was an argument, I was leaving, and as she described, I spotted her outside the loos. She was in a mess, crying, some guys hanging around watching. I picked her up and asked her where she was staying. I walked her back that night, keeping her talking. I remember she insisted on walking bare feet and swearing every 10 seconds. She was funny, completely wasted, and also very stressed. She was desperate to sleep, even wanting to sleep on the grass verge and in the bus stop. I got her home, put her on the sofa and left. I left her my name on an envelope so would know who took her home, but whilst I knew exactly where she lived. I never went back round. I didn’t feel I needed to. It was good deed and didn’t feel abnormal.
I smile at the memory and now at the prospect of the call I was going to make. Not only do I remember now, I have a story to tell.