In the 21st century, only bills and bad news came from letters. It was what Nadja expected when she receives a letter from the Coopper & Silver law firm. She was quite sure it was another libel charge for her work as a freelance journalist. To her complete surprise, it wasn't. She was asked to participate in the reading of Abdul Muller's will. She had no clue about who the hell this man was.
As a journalist, a proud one, she didn't content with ignorance. A deep search on the internet and four hours of work give her enough intel to build a picture. Millionaire half Turkish, half Germany born in 1925, made a fortune with logistics after the war. He had some controversies in his life with divorces, aggressive acquisitions, and labor charges. Also, many polemics gravitating toward riches entrepreneurs. She didn't find any link between him and her.
The reading would take place next Friday, five days from now, in a city almost five hundred miles from her home. Luckily, the letter said that any travel costs would be repaid, one less worry. Nadja had two reports to submit with a deadline uncomfortable close. Besides, her money only allows her to live in a box-like apartment that she called home and on a diet based on noodles. The next four days go by fast, working overnights to attend to the demands, barely sleeping six hours straight, she didn't have time to think again about the will.
She bought a night flight Thursday from a cheap company, the only one her credit card could afford, and stayed in a hostel. The reading would happen at 11 a.m, but the place was just half an hour from the hostel, which allow her to treat herself to some extra hour of sleep. She woke up at 9, took a quick shower, had a simple breakfast in the closest bakery, and went to the reading.
The address was a law firm, the top floor of a modern building full of glass and people in suits. She arrived fifteen minutes early and went to the counter where this lady with auburn hair was. "Good mourning, I have a meeting with Cooper & Silver firm at 11," said Nadja to the lady, that with just a smile, indicated the elevator. In instants, she arrives on the top floor. A black lady was talking with an old couple when she enters. Everyone stopped when they notice her presence, and the air was full of static and anger.
"Welcome to the Cooper & Silver law firm. How can I help you?" asked the black lady, coming closer with a very professional look.
"I am Nadja Cohen, and I was invited to participate in a will reading today at 11," answered her, reaching out to a greeting.
"We were waiting for you. Please, come in. I am the lead lawyer of this case, Lara Freeman. Did you have a good trip?" The lawyer guided her to a room where another couple was, totally focus on their own cellphones.
"It was ok. Pardon my directness, but I brought my recepts. Who I need to give them to?" Asked her, discretely looking around. The room was a classic waiting room with some magazines, portraits, and a water cooler.
"No apology is necessary, as we are all professionals here. You can give the receipts to me, and, after the reading, I will provide you a refund. Have a seat. Soon we will start the reading." Nadja gave Lara the receipts and choose a chair where she could see all the presents.
Everybody seemed to be rich, not new rich, but from a lineage of millionaires. Everybody, but her and the lawyer, was middle age and talked only with his pairs with quick words. She was the only one that had not brought her own lawyer. Some minutes later, a new couple arrived, not middle age but still old money. It was clear that she stood out like a solitary black hair in a white head.
"Now that everyone arrived, please follow me to the meeting room. I expect a short and crystal clear reading as all the ideas and work of Mr. Abdul Muller," said Lara, guiding the ten people into the room. The meeting room had an oval mahogany table with leather seats, a place comfortable for long meetings and intense discussions. Everybody chooses seats away from each other, creating four groups. Nadja took a seat by the window.
"Welcome again. Before I start reading, let me give some advice. This is an official document with legal power, and only a complex legal charge can deny the desires express here, which I dare to say that won't succeed. I ask you to stay silent during the reading, saving any commentary and doubts to the end. There are people still in grief, so please respect them. Do you have any questions or need something before we start?" Lara has a calm and full of authority voice. The voice of someone used to prove her value and position. Everybody became quiet.
"If everybody agrees, I will start the reading. Here is the will, a sealed document." She opened a briefcase and took a thin package sealed from there. She showed the document to all before continuing. " The will says 'I Abdul Muller Hoff, still endowed with my full mental conditions and the free will declare by this document the destiny of my belongings after I decease. All my share in the Nomad companies should be open to my associates buy at the quotation of the day of my reading will...'"
Nadja's mind drifted from the reading. She didn't have a clue about the reason she was here. Her better guess was that she would be asked to be a testimony or to write something about the business of Mr. Abdul or his life. The people at the table seem to be happy or at least not angry about the will. Maybe all were good actors.
"'Nadja Cohen, as my last heir despite being never acknowledged by my brother as his grandchildren, I leave my shares in the UberWorld Communications and an account where shall be deposit the interest of my investments in the stock market. Nevertheless, her inheritance shall be released after she discovers and studies her heritage. To prove her knowledge, she must write and publish my biography within five months after this reading. All the people cited here should help her in her task, with the penalty to lose all inheritance..." said Lara to the complete surprise of Nadja.
It was a prank. This could not be true, no way she was related to a millionaire who had left her one of the most trustful news networks. The screenwriters of her life got on strike, and an intern took the job. His parents were simple folk, workers from an electronics company that had retired and died, leaving just good memories. She was right about the biography, but never, even in her wildest dreams, she thought about receiving much more than the market pays a ghostwriting.
Waking from her daydreaming, she notices that the reading had ended, and some people had already left. She walks to the lawyer that was delivering some papers to a man sign. " Sorry, Ms. Freeman, I think I got lost in the will. How can I be relative to Mr. Abdul Muller?" She couldn't hide her discomfort.
"I understand your surprise. It was unknown to Mr. Abdul until two years ago. Worried about the end of his lineage, he asked a detective to discover any last relative alive. He was infertile because of a disease in his childhood, so his only chance was his younger brother. The detective found out that besides the official family he had in Turkish, that died in a terrible accident, his brother had an affair with a lady and paid her to don't bother him. This lady was your father's mother, and that was the reason they emigrate here. I have a copy of the case and the will if you need it." Lara appears prepared for this moment. "Mr. Abdul put all his documents, journals, and personal items in a local warehouse. If you prefer, I can send it all for storage closer to your home."
The news still did not sink to Nadja, taking her some time to notice that Lara was waiting for an answer. "Yes, please. I don't know any warehouses, but I can send you a list."
"No need, we have a whole department to deal with these details. The shareholders allow me to create an account for your research costs. They want your full dedication to the book. The sooner you finish, the sooner all heirs have full access to the inheritance." Lara talked as if she had practice every word a thousand times. "Here are the copies of the documents, your check, which I double to compensate for your return, and the credit card." Nadja took all still stunned.
She was confused and hungry. She walked to the first restaurant on the block and asked for sirloin steak and a beer. She would need energy and something to numb the senses to digest the news. She was the heir of a millionaire, future owner of one of the most trustful news network created in the last twenty years, and probably her money issues were over. The key to access all, not only her share but all the inheritance by each heir, was the biography of Mr. Abdul. That credit card was a reminder of all that was at stake and her role in this game. You should never be in the way of a rich man and his money.
On the weekend, she had done better research on the internet, which didn't result in much more information than she already had. She expected to find on the papers something to fill the pages. Monday, everything was in a warehouse two blocks from her home. He had sent some e-mails to plan interviews and had cleaned her agenda. Everything was to allow her to have plenty of time for the project and to do a proper job. Soon they confirmed, she went to the facility, an old place. They have rented the most spacious storage, so she had room to work inside. It was time to dive in.
Mr. Abdul appeared to had been remarkably methodical and careful. There were classified boxes for receipts, tokens, journals, photos, and certificates, all in alphabetic order. It wouldn't lack pictures to enhance the book. She decides to begin with his journals, of which he had many. Since 1935 there were almost one for every three to five years. Everything was handwritten with an embroidered letter. She noticed with a quick peek that some books were written in Turkish and others in German. The last one is mixed with English. She would have to use her cellphone to help with the german words as his parents make sure she learned Turkish and Hebrew. Armed with a thermos full of coffee, she digs on the pile.
She had read books about people that lived the horror of the war but never the first source, and never someone on the other side of the situation. As a child, he had to participate in Hitlerjugend, and soon, the ideals and values were taught to the kid. Mr. Abdul had a strange relationship with his heritage, as he was proud of her Turkish culture but believe in the purity of the race. Soon he chose his side.
He reported jews, gypsies, and other groups to the Gestapo. He worked as a spy to find 'Germany's enemies' inside the country. He kept tokens and archives of each one he had exposed. Everything was in a box label with just a number and the initials of the captured. When the war exploded, he created his first business: routes of escape.
His father was a tradesman who had taught him the best routes in Europe and had some contacts in all big cities. His mother's family in the middle east was a great source of supplies at a better price. He created ways for people to escape the war, profitable ways. A win-win situation, if they have money, they paid him, and they could leave. If they don't, he exposed them, receiving a reasonable reward from the government. He appears to the candidates as just a clever boy, a messenger to the business when, in fact, he was the head.
After his father's death, he won a contract to supply the government. He provided two concentration camps with food and secretly offered special treatment and items to prisoners who could pay for it. Many indicate someone outside who could pay service in return, which improved his network and services. He was smart and sent most of his wealth to a cousin overseas. He was bright and cautious, the most dangerous kind of people.
He noticed the end of the war and fled to Turkey, but before he paid handsomely to someone burn his archives with the government. He knew history is made by the winner, and he would be painted as a villain, which would be terrible to the business. The chaos of the first years of the postwar was the most profitable. He created an import and export company that profited in the scenery. In the first years, the money came from helping survivors to move to better lands and repatriating artworks, that conveniently, he had helped stolen and transported to Germany during the war. In his own words, this know-how reduced the cost of tracking the objects. During the division of Germany, he built a great structure of smuggling, something that seemed small and amateur to everyone outside but was professional, safe, and immense in fact. Name something, and he would have a way to move it. He was a master in working for both sides.
When the cold war had stabilized, he stopped with his side-business, focusing on more legal ones, filth but legal. In the cold war, he was a source for intel agencies. A businessman, owner of a logistics company, fluent in four languages, as he had learned English and Russian during the war, and living in a strategic city was the perfect target to them. He helped but also took advantage of the situation to create opportunities and push away the competition. There was a box full of archives with each case he participated, and another box with each business he had wrecked.
In the middle 80's he noticed a change in the situation and moved to the EUA with his company. He left part of the operation still there, and by this time, he already had operations in many countries. When the conflicts in the middle east happened, he helped evacuate many, also fulfilled the need for weapons. He wanted to be both: the man that sells the disease and the vaccines, and indeed he had done it.
On his lasts days, his life was not so fascinating. Everything that matters was in the past. His late years were calm, and in many moments in his journals, he reflects on his life choices and legacy. He was sure that every step he made was right and honorable. He pictures himself as nearest to perfection a man can be. He was clearly a narcissist and misogynist. The way he described his ex-wifes, his desire for a male heir, his sadness when he finds out Nadja was his last heir made it clear. He changed his will, decreasing what he had planned to leave to his heir when the possibility of a woman to command his company become obvious. He was full of prejudices but was smart enough to never letting anyone be sure about it.
The reading and the research took her weeks. She felt a compulsion to get to the bottom of his story, to understand the meaning of the strange labels and boxes, to have a whole picture of that man, his unknown relative. Based on the words of Mr. Abdul Muller, she could discern his true colors. He was a monster, a greedy man, a misogynist, a racist, and an opportunist that profit from people in need. The great wolf in sheep's clothes she had met.
She had material to make a great story, something Pulitzer worthy, but no the heritage. Always the snake, he added a condition to accessing the inheritance, and it was crystal clear: "my biography should confirm my position as an honorable man with an unmarked life and strong contribution to the improvement of society." There isn't any chance for the stakeholder to let her publish a book that denounces the company founder. A third of the time limit had passed, fast as matches burns, and people were waiting to have full access to the heritage sooner. Powerful people who saw her just as a bug in their windshield, the small obstacle to the golden pot. She was in a dilemma and serious trouble.
She had her integrity and values. But even with the temptation, they couldn't change. She had so much in her head, she needed help, and the best person to give her guidance was her best friend, Jiang. "Right, I think I got your problem. This is a complex situation, and I think I have the best answer. Follow your relative's steps: work for both sides. Write the book they want and the truth, both with pen names. The rest only the time will tell," was the words of Jiang. The most ironic end for this story.