(This another fictional piece, a Christmas newsletter from 2007)
It was a brisk Saturday in late November and Larry was leaning up against his garage door, cup of coffee in his hand. In front of him was what was for him a typical project car—an older Lexus that had a whack on the side and an engine issue that no one seemed to be able to remedy. He bought it cheap. With a little body work (he had the all the tools) and his skill as a mechanic (at the local Lexus dealership) he could make at least two grand on it, maybe three.
His wife had come to count on his boundless energy and passion for cars, and the extra couple of thousand of dollars his “hobby” netted the family each month. And he did not do half bad as a mechanic either. He was mechanically gifted.
They lived on the edge of town, almost into the country. The house was larger and nicer than one would expect from a blue-collar worker—the result of years of honing his “hobby”, and from trading up a couple of times. He had observed that people that did well often did so by focusing on what they did best. Mechanics was clearly what he did best.
He liked working at the Lexus place because everything was kept spotless, and he was hired, he felt, because he was a persnickety guy. It was a good fit. A few days earlier the service manager had come out to his bay and told him that there was someone who wanted to see him. He went out into the waiting area somewhat puzzled. Very few people wanted to talk to him at work.
“Lawrence Dewberry?” the man asked.
“Yep”, Larry replied. No one called him Lawrence. No one that knew him.
“May I take a few minutes of your time?” He was a pleasant fellow with a practiced smile and charm.
“Sure”, Larry responded.
“Listen, “ the man said, “I’m not very good at this, but was your mother born in Pocatello around 1940 or so and named Ida Walker?”
“Yep.” He wondered where this was going.
“And she married Thomas Dewberry sometime in the mid-sixties?”
“Yep”. His dad had passed away a few years ago and he had lost his mom a year ago.
“ Were you… adopted?” He nodded–yep, he was. At birth, 1969.
“Now can I ask you a question or two?” Larry inquired. “Why these questions? Is there a problem?”
“Naw. Not at all. Do you have a break room here or somewhere where we can meet privately for just a minute?” Larry led him to an unused salesman’s office, where everything could be seen through the glass but nothing heard, and shut the door.
“Would you allow me to take a swab” he held up something that looked like a long Q-tip—“of the inside of your mouth. DNA. A sample. Please.”
“What for”, Larry asked evenly, although his blood pressure had gone up. Was he in some sort of trouble? It was all he could thing of. He had seen one CSI program too many.
The man proffered his card–his name was there, his company, which he explained was not a detective agency, but that he was a skip-trace expert. He located people that did not want to be located. He found people. Mostly husbands behind on child support, that sort of thing. He went on to explain he had no idea why the DNA sample, just that he had been hired by a law firm and that the firm would be getting in touch with him. He named a high profile, well-known law firm in town.
Larry was curious, and in equal measure apprehensive. “Would you give me a day to think about it? Could I meet you during my lunch break the day after tomorrow at the Starbucks down the street. Say at, oh, 11:30?”
No problem. The man would have done the same if he had been in Larry’s shoes.
After cogitating over it he decided to do it. And he decided not to tell his wife until he knew more. He had the swab thing done. And three weeks later the law firm called him on his cell, a number he had given the man as a contact number. They asked him if he would be so kind as to come in on a matter that they assured him he would find interesting. He asked if he could come during his lunch break. Sure, no problem, they said.
And that is how he found himself seated in the office of one of the senior law partners of the city’s most well known law-firm, along with one of the other partners, and a very young lawyer who looked like he had just graduated from law school and who had been up way too late the night before. Introductions were made.
The brass and glass office, fifty stories up was designed to impress. And it did a good job. The attorney came from behind his desk and the four of them moved to a small seating area near the window. With all the seriousness he could muster, which was plenty, the lawyer gently asked Larry if he knew who his birth mother was. He didn’t. Did he know who his birth father was? No he did not. His parents—the ones who raised him–he explained, never told him much, because they themselves knew nothing. So, no, he did not know anything about them.
“Well then. “ He cleared his throat. “ It might interest you to know that your father was David Heisenbauer. Do you know that name?” He didn’t. “And your birth mother was Penny Petersen. Both have died, Mr. Heisenbauer just recently. Back in the sixties they met, were in a commune for a short time together, and you were born. They gave you up and then went their separate ways. Mr. Heisenbauer always regretted that. He never had any other children. You are his only child. He died several months ago and our firm did all his legal work and are handling the will. Much of it will go to his extended family and charities, but he wanted to leave a little something for you, if you could be found. And the DNA proves we found you.”
He looked over to his partner, who then took over. “Mr. Heisenbauer was an entrepreneur and did very well. Quite a number of different types of businesses, but he made the most in trucking. I am glad you are sitting down, because he left you… $27 million dollars.”
Larry sat there stunned. He knew they were not joking. It was so implausible. So unlikely. So incredible. He looked at each attorney in turn, waiting for them to continue. But they were done. The young attorney was having a hard time keeping his smile tamed. The older two were impassive and inscrutable—it did take practice.
Once he had gathered his wits, Larry’s first reaction was to weep—this somehow touched something deep inside. But that, he felt, would be inappropriate right then, so he consciously decided he would wait on that expression of his inner feelings. Instead, he got up, put his hands in his pockets and asked, “Would you gentlemen give me a minute?” and walked over to the glass wall and looked straight down to the street below. It was surreal, looking straight down like that and he could see that it could make one dizzy, so he looked up. For a full minute he stared at the sky.
He then turned to the three attorneys who sat there waiting for him. “I am not sure how to say this, but this comes as a total, incredible surprise to me. I am sure you have some papers for me to sign and perhaps some suggestions and advice for me. But I have one simple request. I would like total confidentiality in all matters pertaining to all aspects of what you have just told me. And I would like to have a couple of days to think about it before I do anything or sign anything.”
His sense of confidence, his ability to articulate himself, and his decision to delay doing anything impressed all three lawyers. They assured him of confidentiality. It was one of the things they did well. He was given the card of the partner whose office they were in and told to call anytime. He shook hands with each and left.
When he got to his car in the parking garage below he found he was a tangled mix of emotions—but the only one that popped out was tears. He sat behind the wheel of his car and let it all come out. There was no joy, no whooping or hollering. He had not won the lottery. He hadn’t even bought a ticket. Such a strange event.
By the time he was back at work he was all business. He had work to do, work he enjoyed. And by the time he got home he was his normal self. His wife had no idea of what had happened, and (he felt a bit badly about this) he had no intention to tell her. And when he was tucking the kids into bed that night he broke into laughter, long and loud. The kids were laughing too. Something sure was hilarious.
Just days before Christmas, Larry called the law office and made an appointment. It was then he found out that his benefactor, his “real” father, was an astute investor and that the legacy he was to receive was well diversified. He saw no need to change anything. He signed the paper—there was only one, which surprised him. The firm would take care of the rest. He had gone to the post office nearest him and paid for a PO Box, the address of which he now gave them and asked that all mail be delivered there and only there. They gave him an access code and password (which he could change) to his various accounts at several different brokerage houses and the rest he could now do from home on his computer.
Before he left he paused, looked down at his shoes for what seemed like an interminable period of time. When he looked up all three lawyers were leaning forward to hear what he had to say. “What has happened to me changes everything.” He paused. “And it changes nothing.” He went on to explain that it was his observation that “big money” equaled big problems. He had recently read a well-researched article that claimed the average lottery winner was bankrupt and divorced in 3 years. He had few, if any real problems before and he wanted none now. He once again insisted on total and complete confidentiality. “I am not even going to tell my wife. I did not earn this money. I don’t particularly deserve it, and I don’t plan to use a penny on myself. It is my goal to give away every bit of what the accounts make, plus a portion of the principle in such a way as to have a zero balance by the time I am 65. And I want to thank you gentlemen for the professional way in which you have handled everything.”
The two partners looked sober as ever and nodded. The young attorney had a lopsided grin, all his teeth showing.
It was a gift beyond belief. It was a choice beyond reason.
Steve Van Rooy