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Dec 14, 2020

Fiction

Elouise Parker shook her head and said, “I’m sorry, Mr…”

“Wellingford,” Arthur Wellingford said, for the third time. He left the smile out this time. This young woman was clearly having difficulty taking in the news he’d just delivered, but that did not excuse her failure to retain such simple information as his name.

“Mr. Wellingford,” Elouise Parker said. “Yes. I’m sorry. I just. You can understand… I’m…this isn’t…” she raised both hands, palms up and gave a small shake of her head.

“Yes. Well. Shall we proceed?”

“No. We can’t,” Elouise said. “What I mean is, there’s no point in going further. You have the wrong Elouise Parker,” she said again. “As I’ve already explained, I don’t have an Uncle Filmore. Both my parents were only children and the only family we ever had was each other.”

Arthur Wellingford reached into his briefcase and removed a half dozen photographs; the old-fashioned kind that would have come from a roll of film developed in a dark room. He placed the photos on the table and said, “Please identify the individuals in these photos.”

Elouise frowned and leaned forward. She poked at the small pile. The look on her face suggested she feared an attack of some kind. “Where did you get these?” she asked.

Arthur Wellingford cleared his throat and said, “Please identify the individuals in the photos, Ms. Parker.”

Elouise poked at the photos with one finger, taking her time spreading them apart. “The bride is my mother, Katherine and the guy in the suit is my dad, Bishop.” She looked like she had something more to say, but she bit her lip and gazed up at Wellingford.

“And you are their only child, Elouise Irene Parker?”

Elouise sat back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest

She gazed at the stranger who had turned up, unannounced, at her workplace asking to see her. Jeanine Cash, Elouise’s manager frowned on unscheduled breaks and was even less tolerant of personal visits during working hours, but the man introduced himself as an attorney with pressing matters to address, and Jeanine Cash held professionals in high esteem.

Elouise was summoned to her managers office, told she would be allowed to take an early lunch and instructed to use conference room B. A confused Elouise led the stranger to the tiny room that doubled as the company conference room/copy center where she listened with open mouthed incredulity as the attorney explained that her life was to be altered in unimaginable ways. As soon as the man uttered the words, ‘Your uncle Filmore’, Elouise held up a hand and said, “You can stop there. You have the wrong woman.”

Now, though, she was beginning to wonder. The guy had photos, the real deal, not just something printed off the internet, or doctored to look like her mom and dad. Also, the man knew her name, knew where she worked, and knew that her parents were deceased. She could think of no one, friend or foe, who would bother to plan and execute such an elaborate scheme. The whole thing had to be a mistake, or one of those reality T.V. show pranks. She tried to think of whether she’d clicked on a link, on the internet, or filled out one of those cards at the mall that promises a chance to win a free vacation or a car. She couldn’t recall having done any of those things, lately, so she was having trouble working out how she would have been singled out for this strange encounter. Elouise was no stick-in-the-mud, but no one liked being the brunt of a mean joke.

“I don’t understand how I had family I never knew about,” she said, gazing at the photo of her smiling mother. “If I had an uncle Filmore, how come my parents never told me about him? Was he mom’s brother or dad’s? Do I have other relatives? Aunts? Cousins? Grandparents?”

Mr. Wellingford gave a small shake of the head. “The information I am at liberty to provide is limited. When Mr. Parker engaged my services—”

“If his name was Parker, he would have been dad’s brother,” Elinore said, eyes shining with excitement.

“Ms. Parker,” Wellingford said, firmly. “If you will allow me to proceed…”

“Sorry,” Elouise said quickly. She pantomimed zipping her lips and said, “Please, go on.”

Arthur Wellingford reached into his briefcase, extracted a folder and opened it. “Per your request, we will dispense with the reading of the entire document and ‘cut to the chase’.”

Elouise nodded and leaned forward, eyes wide and an ‘I’m listening’ expression tightening her features.

“Filmore Parker believed you to be his last living relative and, as such, instructed me to locate you and inform you that you are heir to his fortune,” Wellingford said.

“You see,” Elouise interrupted, pressing both palms to the table. “That’s the part that’s giving me the shivers. When you say ‘heir’ and ‘fortune’, I’ve got to believe you’ve got the wrong girl. I don’t know anyone with money and I sure don’t know anyone willing to give their money to me.” She raised a hand, gesturing toward the small room. “Look around, Mr. Attorney. I work at a no name insurance company. You’ve met my boss, the wicked witch of Wilmington. I do not make a fortune, here, but it keeps the wolves from my door. So, you can understand why words like ‘fortune’ and ‘heir’ make my head spin. I can’t help thinking someone hired you to prank me. I’m talking to you, but I’m looking for the hidden camera and waiting for you to jump up and yell, ‘Psych!’.”

Arthur closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. He removed his glasses, reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose. He looked like a man struggling with a migraine. After a moment, he settled his glasses back and said, “It appears, Ms. Parker, that you misunderstand my offer to function as advisor. In all candor, I would prefer that you keep the details of your personal life to yourself.”

“Look,” Elouise snapped, her face reddening at the suggestion that she’d overshared. “You’re the one who waltzed in here and interrupted my workday with some bizarre story about a stranger leaving me money. I would think you would be a little more gracious, given that I don’t know you from the man in the moon.”

“I assure you, Ms. Parker, this is not a prank. Filmore Parker has bequeathed you a considerable sum of money,” he said. “And, of course, there is the manor as well.”

“Manor?” Elouise asked, eyes narrowed. “What do you mean, manor?”

Arthur Wellingford placed another photo on the table, this one clearly taken from the internet and printed on good quality copy paper. “This is Filmore Manor,” Arthur said.

Elouise’s eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. She shoved the paper at Arthur and leapt to her feet. Her chair shot out behind her, knocking into the wall. “Joke’s over, Mr. What’s it. Feel free to see yourself out.”

“Please sit down, Ms. Parker,” Wellingford said. "This is not a joke. I must inform you, however, that certain conditions that must be met before the deed to the property is transferred into your name.”

“Of course, there are conditions,” Elouise snarled. She rolled her eyes and folded her arms over her chest again. “I’m guessing this is when you tell me you’ll need the routing number for my bank account and the PIN number for my ATM card. No doubt you’ll want my social security number, for your records. And are you going to need one or two credit card numbers?”

“Your skepticism is noted,” the attorney said. “If you will take your seat, I will lay out the conditions set forth by your uncle. You will want to take some time to mull over a decision of this magnitude. My firm will be available to provide council, should you wish to avail yourself of our services.”

“I don’t know you from Adam,” Elouise said. “I’m not giving you any personal information and I’m not paying you a dime. Still want to chat?”

Arthur Wellingford gestured to a chair. “Please, have a seat, so we may proceed.”

Elouise pulled out a chair and plopped down into it, glaring at the man seated across from her.

“I will retain the original copy of your Uncle’s will and provide you with a copy of your own, so you can study the details at your leisure.” Wellingford said. “All the details of your inheritance are listed here. Feel free to have your attorney review the information if you wish to do so.”

Elouise snorted and waved for him to continue.

“Your uncle Filmore lived in Scotland.”

“Scotland? What state is that in? Arizona?” Elouise asked.

“I am referring to Scotland, the country that is part of Great Britain,” Arthur said.

“Great Britain as in England?” Elouise asked.

“Well…yes,” Arthur Wellingford said.

Elouise swallowed hard. “But, if he lived in Scotland, where is the house?”

“Filmore Manor is located in the southern Scotland,” Wellingford said. “Which brings me to Mr. Parker’s requirements. May I?”

Elouise nodded.

“According to the terms of the will, if you accept the inheritance, you will be required to take up full time residence at Filmore Manor. If you choose to make Filmore Manor your home, you will be allowed to leave Scotland, to travel to locations of your choosing, for a total of 28 days per year. For the remaining 337 days each year, you will live in Scotland. Finally, all members of the existing staff will remain employed, by the Manor, for a period of five years, after which you are free to decide which, if any, of the staff you wish to continue to employ. Failure to comply, with any of these conditions, you will result in--"

“Okay, Mister…Whatsits, you’ve wasted enough of my time. I'm going to ask you to leave now, and take your hidden camera with you."

“I understand that this has come as a bit of a shock. As I said, I will leave you a copy of the will, and my business card. Call my office, in a day or two, when you’ve had a chance to digest this news and—”

“Even if I believed you, which I don’t, I’ve never been outside the state, much less outside the country. I don’t fly. I don’t even like to drive. I suffer from motion sickness and a flight to Scotland would take…hours, right? I don’t have a passport. I don’t speak Scottish. I don’t know anything about Great Britain, except that they treated Princess Di badly. I am an American. What will happen if leave the country? Will the government take away my citizenship? What am I supposed to do for work? What if the staff hate me? What if I hate them? How am I supposed to pay them and what am I supposed to pay them for? I don’t like to plan my life five days ahead, much less five years.”

Arthur Wellingford reached into his briefcase, extracted three business cards, and placed them on the table. “My direct number is on the card,” he said. He gathered the photos of the Parkers, the photocopy of Filmore Manor and the copy of Filmore Parker’s last will and testament. He placed the documents inside the manilla folder. He slid the folder across the table. “My associates are available to help you obtain a passport, assist with travel arrangements and provide support as needed.”

Elenore stared at the folder.

“I will see myself out,” Arthur said.

Elenore nodded.

“And Ms. Parker?”

Elouise Parker looked up at Arthur Wellingford. “English is widely spoken in Scotland," he said.

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