I inherited a title handed down through about 8 generations. By the time it reached me it was worn pretty thin. Any money that had been attached to it had been spent. The title was meaningless. It brought no discounts or special deals. Use and misuse had taken their toll. I am broke. Flat broke. Not a dime to my name. My pension arrives on the 2nd of each month. By mid-month I have eaten my way through it. So part of the month I live and eat like a king, and the other part I starve. I live on leftovers. Leftovers are not that terrible until they start turning green. To be left without leftovers is pretty bad. It means you then have to grab the handouts at the back doors of restaurants and get to them ahead of the cats.
Life has been a bit of a struggle. Family legend says that I had an ancestor who was a General or a Count who served with Napoleon. He made his escape after Waterloo and returned to Corsica where he supposedly inherited land and owned peasants and slaves. His son did just as well and kept the family fortune intact. He passed it down to his son who looked after the family fortune and handed it down to his son in one piece. Then came the Great War and something went wrong. My father was born in 1903 and was killed in 1936 when I was 2 years old. He was in the trenches in the Spanish civil war fighting with the Fascists. Why Dad? What were you fighting for? A bullet went through his head before we found out.
Mother took me to England and I grew up there. A titled English gentleman. The title meant nothing to anyone. Especially not to me. I never used it and I never thought about it. Once mother passed on I was the only person who knew about the title. I have nothing that I can show to prove my pedigree. No papers. No scroll with Napoleon’s signature. No sword or oak leaves. Not even the epaulets or medals or ribbons. Nothing.
Mom managed to put me through Cambridge. I am a major in English literature, with no money, no future and little hope. I went to see the English writer, Jeffrey Archer, who had also found himself broke and began writing as a means to turning his life around. He did a great job! He listened to my sad tale and said, ‘Become a writer or a journalist. It’s a great profession’. I decided to become a writer.
I wrote a book. It was a thriller, sheer fiction, and the plot was the assassination of Saddam Hussein. It took more than a year and I learned a lot about writing and everything connected to it. I took the manuscript to an agent and she sold it to a publisher. The great day came when printing was about to start. We were sitting in a conference room. The phone rang, the agent answered, listened, pulled a face and slammed the phone down. “The president has just turned your thriller into a history book. He invaded Iraq. It all happened this morning. Sorry about your book.”
I shrugged and started book number 2. I now knew about numbering pages, building character files, using chapter summaries, the difference between its and it’s and other secrets of the trade. This one went much faster. It was the early days of home computers. I had bought one and was still making monthly payments on it. But I knew all about them. I wrote a book about this guy who buys one and installs it himself. He scratches his arm and a virus escapes from the computer and enters his bloodstream. It was a ghastly book, full of the most horrible things that happened to the poor guy. I abandoned it on page 365.
In the meantime I had thought of a great idea for a thriller. This one was about the terrorism that was going on in Israel. Bombings on buses and restaurants, stabbings in the streets and burning of properties. I took the part of the guy in charge of the killings. I wrote about how he made a bomb to fit underneath a baby carriage. It was perfect. It would pass any scrutiny. He pushed it into the center of town, baby and all, and set the bomb off using a remote device. 20 pages after the explosion they were still scraping bits of people from the trees and off the walls of buildings. I threw up as I started to read what I had written and then and there swore an end to my book-writing career.
Money? Still a major problem interfering with my life. I took a chance and went to see the manager of the bank. He sort of listened to my tale of cashless woe. It must have sounded like ‘the dog ate my homework’ story.
He sat looking at me and said, “Have you an ID number, a passport number, something to identify you?”
“Sure,” I answered and reeled off my ID number. He entered it on the keyboard, looked at me and stood up.
I sat frozen.
“You are the Count Henri de Route of Saint Augustus?” he asked, clicking his heels.
“I am,” I declared, “but no-one knows it. It is my secret.”
“Sir, you have an accumulation of money in a bank. Not this one. But the main branch. Downtown. A considerable amount. You should hurry over. Do you have cash for a cab?”
I sat in the back of the cab. My mind flying along, far ahead of the car. Tears were wetting my cheeks. Only Napoleon himself could have bestowed a title on my ancestor. I am a real Count!
From the bank I went to a signwriter. “This is what I want the sign to read,” I said, writing my title on a scrap of paper. “And I want holes in the four corners so I can screw it onto the front door of my house.”