This story is by Marjory Harris and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Bryan emerged from the stacks with an armload of old files.
“Why are you looking through old files?” I asked. The firm had been paperless for years.
“None of your business,” he said as he dumped the files on a table. He started coughing and wheezing. “I’m having an asthma attack.” He clasped his hand to his chest and fell to the floor.
My little brother almost died from anaphylactic shock, so I knew what to do. “Call an ambulance,” I screamed at the librarian as I began CPR.
After paramedics took Bryan to the hospital, I scooped up the files. I had the hots for the guy, but he was also a competitor. I pored over the files, trying to figure out why he’d risked an asthma attack to retrieve old cases.
Then I found it. A huge trust unclaimed by the only known remaining heir, a woman who joined a cult decades before. The trustees were hoping to use DNA from the trustor’s brain should an alleged heir appear. Bryan had told me he was brought up by a band of hippies after his mother died. I wondered, is Bryan the missing heir?
Bryan and I were in Year Two of big firm associate slavery. We were billing machines, working sixteen hours a day while clawing our way to partnerships. I was drawn to him at first sight because he was built. When he took his jacket off to hang on the back of his chair, I admired his muscles. Interoffice mating was forbidden, so I was restricted to flirting. “You’re the hunkiest guy here,” I would tease him. “Too bad you’re off limits.”
“You’re the smartest one here,” he told me when I figured out how to get around a computer glitch messing up his research.
“You need something hacked? Just call me,” I said. He thought I was joking, but I wasn’t. Hacking paid my way through law school.
A week later, Bryan returned to the office. His face was puffy from the life-saving steroids. He was wheezing. “I know I screwed my partnership chances,” Bryan said. “Associates who miss time from work don’t make it. Remember when John Whatshisname took hours off while his wife gave birth to their first child? He was pushed out and he’s now working at a small firm.”
“At least he’s out of this rat race,” I said. “What would you do if you had endless bucks and didn’t have to work?”
“I would travel around the world and do anything I wanted to. I sure as hell wouldn’t be slaving away here.”
“I feel the same way,” I said. “Maybe we can make our escape plans together.” He thought I was joking, but an idea had formed when I was reading about the unclaimed trust.
“I’m up for that,” he said.
“Why don’t you come over for dinner later?” I asked. “You’ll need your strength.”
That evening we were slurping up strands of spaghetti carbonara and sipping pinot grigio.
“This girl can cook! “Bryan said.
“She cooks up things besides food.” I said.
“So, what’s your escape plan?” Bryan asked as he shoveled another forkful of tangled pasta into his mouth. “Marry a rich guy? Find buried treasure? Invent the new pet rock?”
“Maybe I’ll inherit a trust fund.” I said.
“Maybe I’ll inherit a trust fund,” Bryan said with a satisfied grin as he wiped his plate with a hunk of sourdough bread.
“You look like the Cheshire cat. Do you really think you have a shot at inheriting a trust fund?”
“Maybe, but I gotta get back to work,” Bryan said, eying his watch. “I’ve got a brief due in a few days. Let’s do this again sometime.”
A week later, Bryan took me aside in the library. He was still looking puffy from the steroids. “How ‘bout you make me that carbonara again? I’ll bring the wine.”
Over pasta, I asked Bryan how someone could prove they were the missing heir.
“DNA,” Bryan said, “If the trustor left tissue.”
I said, “If it’s brain tissue, and it’s been frozen, it wouldn’t be usable to prove that a living person is the descendant of the trustor.”
“You looked through those files, didn’t you?” Bryan said.
“Yeah, and I also called the institute where the brain is stored. I pretended to be a researcher. I found out cryogenic brain tissue couldn’t be used in this case to prove someone was the heir. But there’s another way to get the money from the trust fund.”
“How can you prove who the heir is without DNA, if there’s no other way to trace the descendants? If you read the file, you know there’s no paper trail that could be established and DNA was the only prospect.” Bryan stared at me, a frown knitting his eyebrows. I had killed his hopes for an inheritance.
“There’s a way to bypass proving you’re an heir.”
“Like how?” Bryan asked, his fork poised in midair. He stuffed a forkful of pasta into his mouth.
I took a big gulp of wine to give me courage. Then I said, “We embezzle it.”
Bits of partially chewed pasta exploded from Bryan’s mouth. “Say what?”
“You heard me,” I said, looking as serious as I could while suppressing a laugh at the partially chewed strands of spaghetti carbonara hanging from his shirt.
“Sorry about that,” Bryan mumbled as he dabbed his napkin at his chest. He rubbed the egg sauce into the fabric as he tried to remove it.
“Give me your shirt. I’ll wash it for you.”
“I’m not revealing my body until you reveal your plan,” Bryan said, larceny and lechery in his eyes.
I called up a note on my phone listing the steps and anticipated time frame. There were initials next to each step assigning responsibility.
“OK, here we go!” I laid it all out for him, although I glossed over some of the mechanics of moving the money. Bryan was necessary to my plans, but I didn’t trust him enough yet to know whether he would need me if he knew how to do it himself.
Amazement crept over his face. He slammed the heel of his hand on the table. “Let’s do it!”
“Seriously?” Seeing him so passionate made me eager to carry out the plan. Besides freeing us from law firm drudgery, we’d be free to make love.
“Damn right! What do we have to lose? The worst that can happen is we get convicted of white-collar crime and spend a few years in a country club federal prison.”
Was he was being serious or mocking me? I gave him a hurt look. “OK, it was just a suggestion. You’ve had your fun.”
“I mean it. Let’s work on the plan.” He tore off his shirt and waved it overhead like a victory flag. I liked what I saw. I longed for the day we’d be lovers and not just co-conspirators.
Bryan stayed at the firm. His asthma worsened from the fumes emitted by the library’s copy machines. “I can’t wait for the ocean breezes,” he wheezed. “Staying here is killing me!”
“It’s not much longer,” I reassured him as over the course of a year I went through the steps to put me near the money. I left the firm and joined the legal department of the trust company that managed our target fund. Bryan and I got married. The marital privilege would protect us if we got caught. Neither could testify against the other. I always said, If you’re going to commit a crime, don’t leave witnesses. But if you’re in a conspiracy, get married.
We had everything in place: offshore accounts, shell companies, false documents, a condo in a country with no extradition treaty. Untethered from the moral dicta of our childhoods, we were filled with excitement as a new life awaited us. We were enjoying being newlyweds, although Bryan’s asthma hindered strenuous lovemaking. He was getting worse, but he hoped the anticipated ocean breezes would heal him.
There was one task left. On Friday, right before closing time, I made the first of several transfers, then used my hacking skills to cover my trail. The annual audit had just been completed. Missing funds would not be discovered for a year, long after we had settled into our island paradise with new identities.
Our plan worked. Now it was time for my plan. Ensconced in our oceanfront home, a breeze wafting across the veranda, we toasted each other with champagne.
He gulped the champagne, unaware it was laced with fentanyl I was prescribed for a back injury. My back would heal, but Bryan was headed towards emphysema. I wanted him to go in ecstasy. And I wanted to be unbound from a future caring for an invalid. Much as I enjoyed his company, I’d spotted healthier specimens in this tropical paradise. I said silently to myself, We’re both free now.