About Six Years Ago
Benjamin Glass uncrossed his legs and leaned forward, his knees almost knocking against the mahogany desk between him and Ira Rattenbury, the attorney in whom he was about to confide a deep secret. The well-tailored dark suit pulled across his broad shoulders, revealing a slim and narrow waist, and his slender hands pressed atop the leather organizer, tapping out an unknown rhythm. With thoughts of this meeting ravaging his mind, he was unsure how to broach a topic that had been troubling him for far too long.
Ira replied, “Do you have any specific instructions on how I should handle the matter?”
“I was hoping you may have a solution. This was not an easy decision to make,” Ben said, as he removed and cleaned a pair of small wire-framed spectacles and replaced them on his pale and furrowed face, noticing the graying hair at his temples in the reflection.
Ira’s mellow voice echoed against the thin, panel-covered walls. “Altering one’s last will and testament is never easy, Mr. Glass. Please tell me, do these envelopes contain a change to the way we discussed dividing the estate among your heirs?”
“No.” Ben inhaled the sandalwood candle Ira’s secretary lit outside the glass door. While it calmed his breathing, the scent was exceedingly pungent and burned in his nose, a distraction he didn’t need at that moment.
Ira, his thirty-something face crinkling at Ben’s fleeting response, continued. “Are there new assets we need to account for?”
“No. Nothing since we spoke last year.”
Ira searched Ben’s deep-set green eyes to unearth what lurked behind his fragile composure. “I certainly want to do anything I can to help. Perhaps you could tell me to whom the envelopes belong. It appears to be a fine and delicate parchment, early twentieth century. I’m assuming the contents are of significance.”
“Yes, the stationery was a gift from my wife years ago. I apologize. I do not mean to be unclear. It is just…” Ben flinched while peering out the window at a mother pushing a baby carriage along the main street, distracted by the grinding whirr of traffic passing her just a few feet away. Ben knew it was time to confess his sin, especially since watching so many people falling around him. His best friend died of a heart attack on the golf course, mid-swing right in front of him, as they were finishing the last hole. And his older sister succumbed to her year-long struggle with lung cancer; she was barely recognizable in the end, prompting Ben to grow afraid of his own mortality. Someone, other than him, needed to know what he had done.
Ira pushed back his leather chair a few feet, wincing at its heavy legs sharply scraping across the wooden floor and the ensuing vibration of the few dozen coins resting in the porcelain bowl on his desk. “Mr. Glass, I understand this is difficult. If this is something of a sensitive nature, I assure you I will personally handle the matter so that no one else in my office knows about our conversation.”
“Yes, I must insist that only you administer my estate from this point forward.” Ben’s long fingers waded into the bowl of coins, the cool metallic surfaces serving as an aide to his desperate need for comfort. “I have watched you over the last few years grow your practice and become a valued and trustworthy advisor. You have a promising future ahead of you, Mr. Rattenbury.”
“I collect foreign currency and display the coins as conversation starters for timid clients. I find the distraction helps them feel… more free to talk about the decisions that haunt them, but I’ve never thought of you as one of those clients. I remember the first day you came to see me three years ago… I was quite nervous when my secretary had informed me you were on the phone that morning. I made her confirm it twice. I had just read an article in the Connecticut Law Journal that week about how you’d set the gold standard for winning high-profile divorce settlements and complex custody battles. I recall thinking… What does Benjamin Glass want to talk to me about? Doesn’t he have his own massive team of attorneys? You’ve only been practicing law for five years, Ira… your small estate planning clients are certainly not of his stature.”
Ben stood and walked toward the window, choosing to lean against a small wooden bookshelf in the corner. He traced his fingers across the crackled spines of the top shelf’s law books as he rested his taut body against the splintered ledge between him and the arched window’s glass panes. “When we initially met, you may have only assembled a small portfolio of clients, but you had been developing quite a name for yourself among some peers of mine. And I knew the day would come when I needed someone I could trust, someone removed from my family and who would not… feel an obligation to… reveal my indiscretion.”
Ira nodded. “I value our relationship, Ben, if I may call you by your first name. After all these years, we should dispense with the formalities.” He handed Ben a glass of aged brandy from the thick crystal decanter sitting on his marble sideboard.
Ben accepted the tumbler and swallowed a healthy pour. The warm liquor soothed his throat as he leaned further back and relaxed, stretching his feet far in front of him. “Yes, please call me Ben.”
Ira nodded, swallowed the remains of his drink and sat in his chair. “I’m glad to finally know what made you choose me. Tell me what’s troubling you, Ben.”
“My father passed away recently, as did Olivia’s mother just last month. We are now the head of this family. I would like to feel certain of my next steps when I place these envelopes in your care, Ira.” Ben’s eyes fell to the floor, focused on a knotty piece of wood near the sideboard, needing a distraction to stave off the persistent guilt. “Now that all my children have become adults, I realize it is time for me to face the consequences of a decision I made many years ago. Perhaps in the future, I will want to be the one to tell them myself, but for now I believe my family will better handle the news if I am already dead and buried.” Or maybe I will feel better if I cannot see the look of disappointment when they learn what I have done.
Ira noted the prominent shaking of Ben’s voice, absent during any of their prior conversations, and offered suggestions only when Ben seemed unable to find the words to continue. Though Ira was no closer to understanding the issue at hand, not ever being given a chance to read the contents of the letters, the dogging remorse and pain were evident in the visible tremors as Ben reached for the chair to steady himself.
By the end of their conversation, Ben felt confident he had chosen the right man to help him with his final wishes. “Ira, I truly appreciate your discretion in this matter. But in addition to delivering these envelopes upon my death, I have one more task which requires your assistance.”
“Certainly, Ben. What is it?”
Ben removed from his coat pocket a piece of paper and thrust it towards Ira, his hand still gently quaking.
“Rowena Hector.” Ira read aloud from the translucent parchment, his concerned eyes barraging Ben to elicit a deeper explanation.
“Please learn everything you can about her upon my death and not beforehand. I expect Olivia will ask you for help based upon what I have revealed to her in the letters. Assist her however you can, and please convey this was not an easy decision… and that I struggled with choosing the coward’s way out.”