There’s no breaking the ties that bind
EVAN WAS THINKING about getting a name badge made up. Or maybe having his name tattooed across his forehead. It would save a lot of time, but he hadn’t got around to it yet.
‘Are you Evan Buckley?’
Evan turned towards the young man standing at the bar next to him. He was thin and fresh-faced with a greasy chin and wire-framed glasses. His new suit was good quality with room for him to grow into it. A shiny leather briefcase hung on the end of his left arm.
The young man stuck out his hand and Evan shook it, the grip impressive for such a skinny guy, but clammy. A fail overall.
‘My name’s Eugene Brooks. I tried calling your office. They said I’d probably find you here. Is there somewhere we can talk?’
Here being the Jerusalem Tavern, Evan’s favorite watering hole. He was expecting Kate Guillory to join him but she was late—as usual.
‘Sure.’ Evan waved his arm at the empty bar stool next to him.
Eugene looked at it, looked along the busy bar.
‘Can we get a table? Somewhere a little more private.’
Evan eased himself off his stool and led them to a table in a quiet corner in the back, carrying his beer with him. A waitress came over and Eugene ordered a coffee.
‘I’m an attorney,’ Eugene said. ‘We specialize in civil work, not criminal‘—his mouth twisted as if he’d swallowed sour milk as he said the word—’mainly probate, that sort of thing.’
Evan nodded, took a sip of his beer, wondering if there was a job offer on its way, tracing down long lost heirs. Maybe some foreign travel involved.
Eugene suddenly smiled.
‘That’s what I’m working on at the moment. I’m very pleased to tell you that you have been left a small legacy.’
‘Somebody left me some money?’
He had no idea who it might be. Apart from the fact that he didn’t know anybody who had any money to leave, he certainly didn’t know anybody who’d want to leave it to him.
‘Four thousand dollars,’ Eugene said.
It wasn’t a fortune, but it was better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
The name meant nothing to him and it wasn’t the sort of name you came across every day or were likely to forget. The only Sinéad he knew was Sinéad O’Connor, the singer.
That was even more surprising. He didn’t know many women.
‘And it’s definitely me she left it to?’
‘Absolutely.’ Eugene Brooks’ smile had diminished, but it was still there, more like amusement in his eyes. ‘You’re listed in the will as Evan Buckley at the Jerusalem Tavern.’
Evan shrugged like that clinched it. He glanced around the bar automatically, as if an alternative Evan Buckley might suddenly appear to put things straight.
‘When’d she die?’
‘A couple of months ago.’
Eugene took a sip of his coffee and pulled a face. Evan could have told him to stick with the beer. But it seemed it wasn’t just the coffee that was twisting Eugene’s features. He cleared his throat politely.
‘Unfortunately, I have to tell you that Mrs. McCoy—’
‘Mrs? She was married?’
Eugene pursed his lips as if to indicate that there would be a time for questions at the end.
‘Separated, actually. Quite some time ago. As I was about to say, Mrs. McCoy was murdered.’
The beer glass that had been en route to Evan’s mouth stalled halfway. He put it back down. They looked at each other for a couple of beats.
‘So a woman I never knew and who was murdered left me some money?’
‘Yes.’ He gave a small shrug. ‘Perhaps you knew her by some other name. I have no idea whether she went by her married name in …here. One would assume that if she knew you as Evan Buckley at the Jerusalem Tavern, this is where she knew you from.’
Great logic but it still didn’t make things any clearer.
‘How was she murdered?’
‘Stabbed. In an alley about two blocks from here.’ The words came out in a rush—as if he wanted to move swiftly past the unpleasant aspects of the matter, get down to the nitty gritty, the paperwork. Back into his comfort zone.
But Eugene’s words had finally started to worm their way into Evan’s consciousness. He vaguely remembered reading about it in the papers, hearing the regulars in the bar talking about it. The murdered woman had herself been a regular in the Jerusalem Tavern—as well as in a lot of other bars too. A bit of a lush, by all accounts. He could almost picture her in his mind but he was damned if he could recall what everybody called her.
‘The thing is,’ Eugene continued, ‘she was a wealthy woman. Not rich, but with more than enough money to support her lifestyle. I believe she had an extremely well paid job, a top executive of some kind, for a number of years. Until she had a serious nervous breakdown and started drinking. Drinking more heavily, I should say. Then she left her husband. There weren’t any children.’
Eugene took off his glasses and wiped them with his tie.
‘Despite all that she left the bulk of her estate to her estranged husband. He’d already got the house when she walked out.’
‘I really don’t know if—’
‘It’s a matter of public record, isn’t it?’
Eugene nodded. ‘About a million dollars.’
‘Enough for somebody to kill her for, that’s for sure.’
Eugene finished his coffee and picked up his briefcase, rested it on his thighs.
‘We drafted the original will some fifteen years ago—’
Evan couldn’t help laughing. ‘While you were in high school, you mean?’
Eugene colored slightly, gave Evan a tight little smile.
‘It’s my father’s firm. When I say we—’
Evan patted the air. ‘Don’t worry about it. You were saying …’
‘The original will was very straightforward. She left everything to her husband, there being no children. However, over the course of the past few years, she has added a number of codicils—you know what they are?’
For a moment Evan wished he’d ribbed him a bit harder about his age and working for Daddy’s firm, but he just nodded instead.
‘And I’m one of those?’
‘You said she added a number of codicils. How many?’
Eugene looked for a split second like he was about to break out in a big grin but he got it under control.
Evan sat up and let out an involuntary snort, banging the table with his knee, slopping his beer.
‘Not fifty-two codicils,’ Eugene corrected, ‘but fifty-two specific bequests. It’s my job to track them all down.’
Evan leaned back in his chair and smiled, saw the grin almost break through Eugene’s desperate attempt to maintain a professional demeanor.
‘That’ll keep you busy.’
‘It’s not as hard as you might imagine. They’re all similar to you. John Smith at the So-and-So Tavern, Jane Doe at Dave’s Bar, that sort of thing. I’ve never been to so many ghastly bars in my life. And the thing is, she’s been getting increasingly more generous. The bequests are getting bigger—or were getting bigger, I mean.’
‘That’d take a big bite out of the husband’s share.’
Eugene didn’t reply but opened his briefcase instead, pulled out some papers. He looked Evan directly in the eye.
‘It would be very easy for Mr. McCoy to contest the will. Easy to make the case that his wife was an old soak, leaving all her money to a lot of other old …casual acquaintances.’
He held up a hand, ready to quell the objections that Evan had no intention of putting up.
‘However, Mr. McCoy has no desire to contest the will. He’s not a well man and he’d like the estate settled as soon as possible. And he feels it’s appropriate that some of the largesse be spread amongst people less fortunate than he is.’
‘Good for him. You could say he’s the real McCoy.’
Eugene pretended he hadn’t heard, ordered his papers.
‘I am therefore authorised to pay all of the specific bequests immediately on the condition that the beneficiaries sign a deed acknowledging that this payment settles in full the estate’s obligation to them.’
He separated a number of forms and passed them across one by one for Evan to sign, careful to keep them out of the spilled beer on the table top. Evan signed where indicated and was given a check for four thousand dollars for his trouble, thinking it was good work if you could get it.
Then Eugene got up, shook hands again and left. He did a little back and forth sideways dance with Guillory, smiling apologetically to each other, as she came in and headed for Evan’s table. After they’d got around each other he stopped to look her up and down, then scuttled out the door. Evan couldn’t blame him, but he’d have to be punching a long way above his weight if he thought he had a chance there.