Chapter 1 Part 1

I think it all started with the crow.

Until I saw the crow, everything was normal. A normal life, with a normal job. Nothing terribly out of the ordinary.

That all changed when I first saw the crow.

The first time I remember seeing the crow, I was running. I run a lot, at least three times a week. It keeps me in shape, and keeps me sane. I ran in high school, and stopped when I got to college. When I got a little older and started gaining weight for the first time, I decided to start again. It was a lot harder than I remembered it being in school, but it grew on me. It got to the point where it was more than just exercise, to the point where I look forward to it. Running is a release, a time along where I can forget about everything but the trail and my body.

I was on mile five when I first saw it. I try to pay attention to nature when I run, and I saw the crow out of the corner of my eye. It was flying from tree to tree, paralleling me. It seemed a little weird at the time, but I did not pay much attention.

I saw it again that evening, while I was eating dinner. It was sitting on a branch of the scraggly tree that is desperately trying to grow in the tiny planter between the sidewalk and my apartment wall. There were only a few leaves left, and those were red and brown and curled. It tended to give in to winter a little earlier than other trees. I figure that it has such a hard time in general that when the weather starts to get cold it just throws in the towel for the year.

The crow was just sitting there in the fading light, staring at me. Almost like it was judging me. I am a bachelor, I can eat Raisin Bran for dinner, dammit!

The crow blinked at me.

I closed the blinds.

***

It was there when I left for work in the morning.

I walked out the door, pushing the screen door out with my back while I closed the front door. I turned around, and there it was, sitting on the rail of my tiny swoop, only a few feet away.

I jumped, and yelled, and sloshed the coffee around in my travel mug. It splashed a little on my hand.

“Fuck! Dammit bird, what the fuck! That hurt.” It cocked it’s head to the side, just looking at me while I swiped at my tie, making sure I had not gotten coffee on it.

My tie was fine. I stopped, and looked at the bird. It looked at me.

“You’re fucking creepy. Go away!” I gestured at it, trying to startle it. It just looked at me unimpressed.

Then it took off, as if it was waiting just long enough to make it clear that it was leaving because it wanted to, not because it was scared.

“That’s right, you’d better run.”

***

The phone on my desk rang, and I answered.

“Ekhart Consulting, this is Ben.”

“Is this Benjamin Cooper?”  The voice was profession, calm, and a little cold.

“Um…Yes? I mean yes, I’m Benjamin Cooper.”

“Good. Mr. Cooper, I am Mr. Johnson, from Johnson, Johnson, and Speckt. I’m afraid I have bad news.”

Uh oh, I thought.

“Uh oh,” I said.

“I regret to inform you that your great uncle, Richard Cooper, has passed away.”

“Who?”

He paused. “Your great uncle? Richard Cooper. He has passed away, and you are named in his will. My office is the executors.”

“Oh. Um. Okay. Listen, I don’t think I have an Uncle Richard. Maybe you have the wrong person?”

“Is this Benjamin Michael Cooper, of 347 R Street NW, Washington DC?”

“Well, yeah, but I don’t have an Uncle Richard.”

“Perhaps you knew him as Dick. In any case you are named in his will, and as the executor it is my duty to inform you.”

“Oh…okay. So what now?”

“The will is extensive. It would be difficult to discuss it in detail over the phone. Perhaps you could come to our offices in Alexandria?”

“Yeah, I guess I can. When can I come.”

“Sooner would be better, Mr. Cooper.”

“Yeah, I guess so. Okay, I’ll see if I can get out of work early today.”

“Excellent Mr. Cooper. I will be waiting. Let me give you our address.”

I wrote down the address, and hung up. I just sat for a minute, absorbing. I almost felt like this was a joke, like something from a movie. A mysterious uncle I had never heard of put me in his will? That stuff never happens in real life.

Well, one person would certainly know.

I picked the phone up again, and dialed. It rang a few times, and then-

“Ben, honey, how are you?”

“Hi Mom.”

“You know I love to hear from you, but I have class in a few minutes. What going on?”

“Mom, do you know anybody named Richard Cooper?”

“What? No, honey, why?”

“Well, I just got a call from some lawyer, saying he died, and named me in his will as his nephew or something. I just figured if I have an uncle that I never knew about, maybe you would know.”

“No, honey, I’m sorry. But if his name was cooper, he must have been on your father’s side, and you know how he was about his family.”

“Yeah, that’s true. So I guess it could be for real then, huh? The lawyer wants me to stop by his office. I guess I just wanted to know if this was a hoax or something.”

“Sorry, I have no idea.”

“Okay. Thanks anyway Mom.”

“No problem honey. Tell me how it turns out.’

“Will do. Bye.”

“Bye Ben. I love you.”

“Love you too, Mom.”

I hung up. Well, it looked like this could be legit. Huh.

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