I got off the metro at the King Street station, and walked the four blocks to that lawyer, Mr. Johnson’s, office. It was getting cold out, and the wind was whipping down King Street from the West, gusts carrying bits of paper and fallen leaves and cutting through my coat. I shivered, wishing I had worn a heavier coat. It was already late fall, but it had been warmer in the morning.
Heh. Welcome to Northern Virginia. Summer in the morning, winter in the afternoon.
I found the address. The office was in what must have been an old brick rowhouse that had been converted. There was a little painted wooden sign next to the door that said “Johnson, Johnson, and Speckt. Attorneys at Law.”
I opened the door, which was clearly as old as the house and a little narrow, and stepped into the waiting area. It was annoyingly plush and crowded, with two overstuffed couches with paisley upholstery, a few antique chairs of dark wood with paisley cushions, and an antique coffee table in the middle of the room. The floor was hardwood, which made sense for the age of the house, although there was a huge throw rug covering the middle of the floor. It was paisley too.
They must like that shit.
There were a few paintings, all of them portraits, and one big tapestry on the left wall. A tapestry, for heaven’s sake. Who were these people?
There was a door in the far wall, with a little sign that said “bathroom”, and a hallway next to it, leading deeper into the house. There were portraits lining the hallway too.
I didn’t see anyone, so I walked in and looked around a bit. There were magazines on the coffee table, the usual doctor’s office crap. Or lawyer’s office crap, as the case may be. Maybe it was just a waiting area thing.
I suddenly wondered if there were people whose entire job it was to sell magazine subscriptions to places with waiting areas. How depressing.
One of the paintings caught my eye. I stepped over and looked at it a little closer. It was of a young man with dark hair and eyes, looking somewhat wistful. His clothes were dark, and the background was dark as well, which it almost look like his head was floating without a body. It gave the whole thing an almost foreboding air.
There was something about that face, though, something…familiar. Like I knew the young man. Like he was an old schoolmate that I had not seen in years, and had almost entirely forgotten. But I knew that I had never seen this person before. I have a good memory for faces, and I certainly would have remembered this one. No, it was more that, something deeper…
“Ah, Mr. Cooper.”
I started, and looked. There was an old man standing at entrance to the hall, looking at me. He must have come up the hall without me hearing.
“Mr. Johnson?” I said.
“Yes, we spoke on the phone. I am glad you could make it.” He walked slowly into the room, the floor creaking as he stepped. I took the opportunity to take a good look at him. He was old, at least in his sixties, with silver hair and a clean-shaven face. He was dressed in a dark blue pinstripe suit with a matching tie, which looked expensive, if a little wrinkled. He was smiling slightly, but it did not seem to touch his light blue eyes.
He held out his hand, and I shook it. He had a firm handshake, and his skin was old-man soft.
“I see you like the painting. Do you recognize it?” He was still smiling, but he sounded…sharp. Like he was hinting at something.
“Sorry, no. I’m not really into art.”
“Not the artist. I meant the subject.”
“Uh, what? No, no I don’t. It just looked kind of familiar, is all.”
“I should think so. That is your great uncle, Richard Cooper, when he was a young man. There is certainly a family resemblance.” He stared at the picture for a moment, and so did I. So this was my “great uncle”? I could actually see a little of the resemblance now, in the dark unruly hair and dark eyes. And apparently we had the same mouth, although the picture was almost frowning.
Mr. Johnson shook himself, and looked back at me. There was certainly some emotion in his face, but it disappeared too quickly for me to read it.
“Would you kindly step into my office, Mr. Cooper? As I mentioned on the phone, we have much to discuss.” He gestured toward the hallway, and I went ahead of him.
The hallway turned out to be rather short, and the office at the end was large. There was a lot overstuffed furniture here too. The man really did love faded flower patterns.
I sat on one of the chairs, and Mr. Johnson settled himself behind the huge desk. He leaned forward on his elbows, steepling his fingers and said, “How much do you know about your great uncle?”
“Nothing. I didn’t know he existed until this morning.”
“I have been his lawyer for a long time. In that time I have gotten to know him rather well, and he did mention you on occasion. I find it somewhat curious that you did not know him.”
I was not sure what to say, so I just looked at him.
He sighed. “Well, that is neither here nor there. On to the matter at hand.” He opened a large manila folder on his desk, and pulled out the first set of papers.
“I am not, of course, authorized to tell you the details of his will except for the portions that he expressly intended for you. Fortunately it is a rather simple arrangement.” He handed me a few pages, stapled together, covered in legalese.
I started to read it, but I got lost rather quickly. I have never been good at reading the convoluted wording of legal documents. “Listen, I’m not great with this legal jargon. What’s this mean?”
“Mr. Cooper, your uncle left you his house, and everything in it.”