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Chapter Three. At the appointed time the next morning, an entire herd of attorneys were gathered in the overstated luxury of a Swain






At the appointed time the next morning, an entire herd of attorneys were gathered in the overstated luxury of a Swain, Buddle & Jessup conference room, all on her account. Her new best friend Jessup, Jr. flashed her a conspiratorial grin and introduced her to his colleagues.

Buddle was short and solid like a pit bull. Annabel could easily imagine him in court reducing some teenage rape victim to tears. Swain was clearly miscast as a lawyera Harvard Med School reject, she decided. Someone called Zimmerman, who looked like Rambo in a suit, mauled his fountain pen as if it were a wrist iron. There were several others whose names she immediately forgot and a complete absence of women.

Jessup, Sr. was a walking advertisement for hair transplants. Were so pleased you could join us, Miss Worth, he began in a voice like glucose.

Ms., Annabel said coolly. Did they all have nothing to do or was there a reason for this over-attended conference?

He recovered quickly. Ms. Worth. A slight bow in her direction. Thank you for coming in at this difficult time.

Everyone stared and Annabel resisted the urge to stretch her skirt further over her knees. She crossed her ankles instead and twisted her heavy gold signet ring.

There are a number of matters we will need to discuss with you pertaining to your late aunts assets, Jessup intoned. Being her principal beneficiaryapart from a handful of legacies to friends and charities He waved a dismissive hand as though these stood for nothing. There will be questions you wish to ask us at this juncture, Im sure.

Annabel frowned. They were acting as if the terms of her aunts will were old news to her. It hadnt even been formally read yet. She had assumed Annie would leave her something. Her mother had mentioned the Russian Hill apartment. But she had no idea she would be left everything.

As you are no doubt aware, your aunts estate is considerablein fact, the largest estate our firm is handling. Walter Jessup coughed politely. The partners nodded and licked their lips. Zimmerman inched forward in his seat and worked his legs as though jogging on the spot.

Annabel raised a hand. Forgive me, Im not really familiar with my aunts business affairs. Its not something we discussed.

At that the room broke up into murmurs and everyone stared again, eyes glinting, like large rats sizing up their next meal.

I dont think she knows, Buddle whispered audibly to Jessup.

You are Miss...Ms. Annabel Worth of Back Bay, Boston? Jessup confirmed belatedly.

Annabel nodded and smoothed a wayward strand of hair back into its French plait.

Then we have very good news for you, he declared with the smug paternalism endemic to his profession.

 

Two hours later Annabel dragged off her clothes and collapsed onto her bed. She still couldnt believe it. Aunt Annie had left her everything; and everything was, as Buddle had so succinctly put it, one helluva lot for a little lady to manage on her own.

Not only did her aunt own the Russian Hill apartment, but her home in the Cook Islands was not just the villa Annabel had so often heard her speak of, but the entire island on which it was located. Annie had also amassed a fortune in stocks and commercial real estate that was almost embarrassing to contemplate. Her bohemian ways had masked a remarkably astute business brain.

Not for the first time Annabel was aware how little she actually knew about her aunt. The details of her life had always seemed vague. Her mothers younger sister, she was invariably spoken of with polite exasperation. Annabel had come to accept that Annie was somehow an embarrassment to the family. That she was a lesbian was one thing. But it seemed Annie also had a pastone that was supposed to remain well buried.

As she had prepared to leave the attorneys that morning, Walter Jessup produced two sealed envelopes.

Your aunt left these, he explained, with an air of ceremony. One is for you. He passed her a pale lavender envelope. The other is for someone called Lucy. He studied Annabels face for a moment. Can you recall a lady who goes by that name, a friend of your aunts, or perhaps a maid?

I dont think so.

It seems your aunt expects this Lucy to present herself here to claim the letter.

Annabel wracked her brain. Im sorry, I cant think of anyone.

In that case we will need to make inquiries. Miss Adams gave us no other information. He slid the envelope back into his breast pocket with a resigned air and escorted Annabel to the elevator. If we are unable to trace this woman we will seek your instructions, Ms. Worth.

Whatever had possessed her aunt to deal with the likes of Jessup and his firm was a mystery. They seemed to have been time warped from the fifties and did not have a single female partner. The thought of leaving everything in their hands was scary, but Annies instructions were very clear. They were to be retained, period.

Baffled, Annabel propped a couple of pillows behind her and tore open the letter Jessup had given her. She read it once quickly then again very slowly. It was dated three months earlier, shortly after Annie had arrived in San Francisco.

My Dear Annabel,

By the time you read this, I will no doubt have met my maker and you will be wondering why you are my sole heir. As I write, my body is exhausted from that wretched chemotherapy and I know I have little time.

For many years I have wanted to discuss with you certain matters of importance, but it now seems I havent the strength.

The answers can be found on Moon Island.

Please go there as soon as you can and you will understand.

I wish you a happy life, my dear girl. Know that I have always loved you.

Annie

 


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