Errol dropped Carson off at his building a little past eight. Carson looked up as he pulled his bag out of the backseat. The building hadn’t changed but it looked different to him. He noticed the thinning paint and worn screens on the windows of the front units. The grass on the small patch that passed for a front yard was overgrown and had many brown patches.
“I’ll call you later, Carson.” Errol called as the door closed. Carson nodded in confirmation and began walking home.
He walked up the steps to the security door and unlocked the glass door. A quick gust of air blew past him as he stepped into the courtyard. After the palaces of Vegas, the splendor of Emerald Gardens began to seem a bit small.
He walked down the path to the back where his unit was. He could hear the echoes of the evening news on several televisions coming from the other apartments.
He went to the back and stopped at the last door. Door number 9. He tried the knob, just in case Bean was in. His roommate’s name was actually Ben, but for some reason he liked to be called Bean. Carson gave the knob a quick turn but it stopped short. Locked. Carson breathed a sigh of slight relief. He’d have the place to himself.
He whipped out his keys and opened up the door. It was dark inside. It looked as if no one had been living there for some time. Carson shut the door behind him and locked it tight. He strode back to his room and shut the door behind him. He tossed his bag off to the side onto a pile of old clothes that had been waiting for laundry day. His room was still and untouched, as it should have been. He looked over to his desk and next to his computer which hadn’t been operational for several months was his digital answering machine. It was a small, sleek little thing. Its message light was still and the message count was still at zero. A whole week and not even a wrong number.
Carson turned his head from that and over to his bed which was still in the condition he had left it in. With the sheets and bedspread tossed around and ready to receive his body. It was a small twin bed he had gotten nearly ten years earlier. The mattress was even older. He was slightly embarrassed to be nearly thirty and still sleeping in a twin. It certainly presented a challenge on the rare occasions he had intimate company.
He noticed a small pile of mail on the pillow. He scooped up the envelopes and flopped down on the bed. The springs squealed out as he moved into a comfortable posture. His head sank into the pillows and he held the mail over him. He shuffled through the envelopes. First a credit card application promising he couldn’t be turned down then a few subscription offers for magazines he didn’t even read and a rather thick envelope that piqued his interest until he saw, in small print, ‘sexually oriented material’. He tossed that one aside for later viewing.
Just as he was about to give up hope of anything interesting, he came upon the last envelope. It was white and there were no distinguishing marks. He checked the postage and it wasn’t bulk rate. He turned it over and slid his finger under the glued flap and stripped it open. He pulled out a thickly folded form. It looked more official than anything he had ever seen.
The letter head was from the law house of McKenzie, Sugar, and Venris. Carson scanned the first page and he didn’t see anything about a lawsuit or charges. He began reading through more carefully. The letter had been sent due to the death of Carson’s Uncle Victor. Carson wasn’t even aware he had an uncle at all. Carson took another look at the envelope and noticed the post mark was a week old. It must have arrived the day after he left with Errol. He returned to the letter. It continued on with endless legalese that was beginning to give Carson a headache. Line after line of party of the first part and so on. A sudden inspiration dawned on him and he put the letter down and picked up the phone. He dialed. A few rings it picked up on the other end.
“Hello?” A gentle voice asked.
“Mom, it’s me. Carson.”
“Hello sweety. Did you have a nice trip?”
“Yeah, it was great.”
“Find a job yet?” She asked in a slightly stern tone. Carson knew all too well that was her best attempt at restraining her need to nag.
“No, mom, but I did get something interesting in the mail. Who’s Uncle Victor?” The other side of the line went silent. “Mom? You still there?”
“Yes. Yes, I’m here. I’m just a little surprised. No one’s asked about him in a long time.”
“I just got a letter from some lawyers about him. I think he died.”
“Well, if he did, it’s news to me. Victor never was good at keeping in touch with the family.”
“So, what’s his story? Was he your brother?”
“Actually, he’s your father’s brother. We didn’t talk about him much because he was something of the black sheep. A loner really. He came to visit a few times when you were a baby but I always found him quite unsettling. After a while he stopped coming by and that was fine with your father and I. We figured you were too young to remember him. We thought it was for the best.”
“Well, what was so wrong with him?”
“It was just a feeling I always got from him. His eyes were a bit crazy. It was like he could just see through you sometimes. I remember one time he came over the day after we brought you home from the hospital. We were in the kitchen drinking coffee and talking about this and that. I excused myself to go to the bathroom for a moment and when I came out, your father and Victor had gone to see you. I walked into the nursery and I saw your father standing by your crib and your uncle was holding you up. The sun was shining in from the window so I couldn’t see too clearly, but I saw his eyes. I’ll never forget it. His eyes seemed to be fixed on you, but not like an uncle looking down at his nephew, but like a wolf smelling raw meat. I felt my stomach just churn at the sight. Maternal instinct I suppose. I saw his hands tightening around your little body and I ran up to him and snatched you away and then he looked back at me with some kind of mix of hate and disappointment. Like you were a prize I just stole out from under him. After that I told your father that Victor was to be kept from you at all times. A few months after that, he just disappeared and frankly, I think we’re all better off for it. I’d advise you to just throw whatever that thing is you got into the trash and be done with it.”
“I’ve been reading through it a little and it sounds like a will or something. Was he rich?”
“Not when I knew him. Although, I suppose anything is possible. What he got rich doing, I hesitate to guess.”
“Money is money.”
“Just take my advice and throw that letter away. Trust your mother.”
“I’ll think about it.” Carson held his gaze on the letter. Studying each letter carefully. His imagination had already kicked in and he was seeing the buffet of riches that awaited him from the recluse relative no one knew anything about.
“Anything for an easy buck, right?”
“Hey! Who cares if the guy was a little off center? I’m an adult now and I can take care of myself. Contrary to your opinion.”
“I just wish you would get your head out of the clouds and get serious! You dropped out of college and now look at yourself! Unemployed.”
“So what do you propose I do?”
“Our door is always open. You could come back home and give school another try. It’s not too late. A lot of people go back to school later in life.”
“I’m twenty nine!”
“You know what I mean.”
“Look, mom, thank you for the offer, but I’ll be fine. I made a good living at my old job, and once I find more work, I’ll be okay.”
“Your old job. You mean that car thing you were doing? Manual labor.” She said with a twinge of disgust.
“I’m sorry if that’s not up to your standards, but I liked it and I made good money.”
“But you could do so much more with your life. You always had so much potential. You were always so smart. You just never applied yourself.”
“Okay! You said the magic words. This is where our conversation ends. I’ll call you later.”
“I love you.”
“Love you too.” Carson said as he hung up the phone. He turned back over and returned to the letter. He poured over it again and again, trying to extract something logical from all the legal double talk. One word ran up to him on the second page though: deceased. It was a will. Carson scanned through the pages. It was like a jigsaw puzzle of words. He just kept looking for a dollar amount or a phone number to call but there was nothing. He flipped to the last page and at the bottom in italic letters there was a friendly little message.
‘If you have any inquiries concerning this communication, please don’t hesitate to call the law offices of McKenzie, Sugar, and Venris. We will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have. Sincerely, Archibald Venris.’
Carson folded the letter and put it down on the table next to his bed. It then dawned on him that he must have been the only one to receive the letter. His mother had seemed to be totally in the dark about it. It seemed that they had not even been made aware of Uncle Victor’s death at all. Carson looked back down at the letter and below the friendly message was a toll free number. Carson’s mind began to bubble over with trepidation. It all seemed too good to be true. A dead relative just in time to make rent. Carson had learned a long time ago to be wary of such coincidences.
‘It could be a scam.’ Carson thought. ‘Some sleazy con guy who just did his homework. A simple con. Find an obscure relative no one’s heard from in years, claim he’s died and then for a modest fee they could help secure the inheritance.’
Carson had heard of such things. They mostly operated through email though. Few would go to the trouble of sending first class mail, although there really was an Uncle Victor and if it was a scam, they had somehow gotten to Carson’s mother and gotten her to play along, which she would never do. As weird and unreal as the whole scenario began to feel, it also felt sincere and genuine. Carson began to believe it, despite himself. He turned to the phone and as he was about to pick up the receiver, he stopped himself.
“No,” He said to himself. “I’ll call in the morning. Clear my head.” Just then, the phone began to ring.
“Hello?” Carson asked as he held up the phone.
“Carson Barnes?” An older man’s voice asked.
“Very good. This is Archibald Venris.”
“As in McKenzie, Sugar, and Venris?”
“The very same. I assume then you received our correspondence?”
“Uh, yeah. I did.”
“Excellent. I’m, of course, sorry for the loss of your dear Uncle Victor.”
“I really didn’t know him.”
“You didn’t? How odd.”
“How is that odd?”
“It just strikes me odd as you were the sole heir in his will.”
“You were the only one named. By that, I had thought you were close.”
“Sorry to disappoint you. I never even heard of him until today.”
“Oh, no matter. Must have been something special about you then.”
“I guess. Not to sound too money grubbing, but what exactly did I inherit?”
“Uh, that I am not at liberty to speak of on the phone. We were hoping you would be able to come and see us.”
“Come to you? Where are you?”
“Graveston? Never heard of it.”
“Few have. We’re a humble little town. It’s lovely this time of year. There are lush forests and green hills and just about the friendliest people you’ll ever hope to meet. It’s just a slab of heaven on Earth. You’ll love it!”
“Oh, gee. I’d love to do that, but I really just kind of got back from a trip. I can’t really afford..”
“Don’t even think about it! As executor of your Uncle’s will, I am duly obligated to extend this invitation to you at any cost. I will messenger tickets on the earliest possible flight that I can find and reservations will be made at Graveston’s finest hotel all courtesy of McKenzie, Sugar, and Venris.”
Carson was stumped at Venris’ offer.
“Okay. A free trip’s a free trip, I guess.” Carson said.
“Wonderful! You should receive the ticket tomorrow. I look forward to meeting you, Mr. Barnes, sir.”
“Yeah. It’s going to be fun.” Carson said. He hung up the phone and lied back down on the bed trying to mentally plan what he was going to pack. This trip he felt he needed to pack and then suddenly he looked over to the now silent phone. He began to wonder how exactly Archibald had gotten his phone number.