It was on a dreary December night that I first stood on the offices of Finch, Sparrow and Rook, gathered on that threadbare carpet with my equally threadbare relatives, waiting to hear what bones the tax man had left of Great Uncle Carter’s estate for us to pick over.
Mr Finch, balding and dry, rustled his papers, no doubt an attempt to summon some mote of import to the proceedings, instead growing our impatience and boredom.
I cast a glance at cousin Audrey, the only relative with which I shared a mutual tolerance. She stared disinterestedly at the books and certificates adorning the walls and shelves. None held any significance or noteworthiness, they merely provided a respite from the chore of our relatives dour countenances.
Speaking of which, I unfortunately locked eyes with Bannicroft, uncle by marriage and unlikable by dint of perseverance and natural talent as he leaned forward from behind Audrey and attempted a smile that started at his teeth and stopped at his gums.
As far as I knew, no one bar his mercifully deceased wife had ever committed his first name to memory. Until his death, my Father regarded his given name to be ‘The Slime, Bannicroft’. It was the kindest of those shared by the extended family.
Suddenly I was thinking of my Father; boastful, cowardly wreck that he was. I missed his resentful hatred of everyone else gathered in this room, me included. He would have love to have been invited simply so that he could haughtily not attend.
Bannicroft shifted uneasily in his seat. My eyes were still locked with his, I realised, yet also focused some five feet behind his head. I looked away, just in time to miss Elliott, brother of Audrey and my childhood nemesis, sneak in, late and unapologetic. The first I noticed of him was his distinctive nasal voice inquire “have we begun?”
“We were waiting for you, I think?” Aunt Minerva looked pathetically at Finch. “We were waiting for ‘liot?”
Finch valiantly attempted to reassert control of the room with a perfunctory cough and a grumble.
“We are ready to begin,” he said.
It seems as though I immediately fell into a fugue state at this point, as I have no recollection of a single word uttered by Finch. Audrey summarised the more salient points to me afterwards.
“It seems,” she said, “that Great Uncle Carter was fabulously rich. The sly bastard. We all get a share of some private house up in the lakes. Eric wants to restore it and set it up as a country hotel. I’m happy stripping it down to the boards and selling it to the first guy with a bulldozer…”
“Right. But ‘Eric’ can’t do anything with it unless we all agree, or he buys us out, or kills us or something? Is that how it works?”
“Something like that. We’re going to see it this weekend. I’m taking bear repellent and bleach.”
It was settled. I had no choice. My only hope of avoiding their prolonged company was either their sudden and violent deaths or abstaining from one fifth of fabulous wealth.
I flipped a coin.