Friday, February 15, 2008

The Beneficiary

--- Where it all started. ---

It was lunch time, and I could almost taste the egg drop soup at the China Palace, but I had one more stop to make first.

I shouldn't have sauntered into the bank like I had nowhere else to go. I shouldn't have made eye contact with the brown-haired woman too old to be in braids, too young to be wearing bifocals, and too cute to be kneading her brow like an overworked teacher. I shouldn't have responded when she said, "Excuse me. Excuse me, sir. Excuse me."

"Yes," I said when I realized she was talking to me.

"I need two witnesses for these papers I want signed or the bank's Notary won't sign them." She sported a pleading look in her blue eyes. "Can you help me?"

"Uh, okay. In a minute."

She smiled. She had a nice smile. Her tanned oval face was pleasing without a hint of makeup. A faint smell of almond cookies accompanied her, but it could have been that I was hungry. She tucked an errant hair behind her ear and sat down next to a tall gaunt man wearing brown work pants covered with blotches of yellow paint. His thinning brown hair protruded from his too-small knit cap and a salt and pepper beard was too many days old too be fashionable. He glanced at her when she sat, and then stared at his hands resting on his knees. Head bowed, the scruffy beard rested on his black sweatshirt potmarked with cigarette burn holes. He must be the other witness, and I wondered if she'd dragged him in off the street.

Barry Manilow sang about Mandy over the intercom while I deposited my checks. I don't care what anyone says, I like that song. Afterwards, I met the woman by the door to the bank official, Mrs. Faraday. The woman wore a loose-fitting red plaid shirt tucked into nondescript baggy blue jeans. She squeaked the damp floor with her throwback sneakers. Her unzipped blue insulated windbreaker looked several times too large. She was about five-six, and the coat could have easily fit the other witness. While ushering me and the other witness into the office, her bright red fingernails that looked recently manicured brushed my elbow. The woman smiled again. The man stood expressionless next to me. Based on his odor, some of the cigarette holes must be new.

She had the nervous energy of a child waiting to use the bathroom and kept her feet nearly tap dancing while we stood in the small office. She handed the papers to Mrs. Faraday. "Sorry that this is all so last minute, but I don't like to fly and I've been in a rush and my mother has Alzheimers and I got delayed and the trip is...."

Mrs. Faraday cut the woman off by exhaling loudly, just short of a cough, as if this transaction interfered with her lunch hour. She stamped the paper three times. "You wrote this will yourself, Beth?"

My glasses slipped down the bridge of my nose when I raised my eyebrows in surprise. I pushed them back up just as Mrs. Faraday scanned me and the other witness.

"Yes, I wrote it." Beth grabbed a pen. She printed her name, signed, and dated the paper.

Mrs. Faraday shook her head. "Witnesses need to print your name and sign below it."

"First spot," Beth said abruptly and handed me the pen. The man cleared his throat.

"Anything else?" I asked while signing.

"No. You're done," Mrs. Faraday answered.

"Thanks a million," Beth whispered without looking in my direction, her face lifted up, and her eyes nearly closed as if in a prayer. Her nervousness seemed to have dissipated with her chore now nearly completed.

I left the bank to eat my soup.

Seven o'clock that evening, I answered my front door to find two policemen and a detective on my doorstep. I invited them to come into my foyer and out of the cold. My assumption was that we'd had more mischief in the neighborhood.

"Are you Miles O'Connor?"

"Yes."

"Do you know Beth Wilkerson?"

I hesitated, drawing a blank on the name. "No."

The cops repositioned their stance. He stared at me. "You witnessed her signing her will." He held up a piece of paper in a plastic baggie.

The blank moment passed. "Oh, the woman in the bank today. Yes, I witnessed, but I don't know her."

"You need to come with us."

"Why? What's up?"

"She's dead, and you've been named her beneficiary."

4 comments:

FARfetched said...

Hey, that's pretty good! Are you going to continue with it?

Rick Bylina said...

Quite possibly.

austere said...

I enjoyed the detailing.
Strong story.

Rick Bylina said...

Thanks...Now on to the next chapter.