Simone Lemaire finished her coffee, and almost reverentially stubbed out her last cigarette in a heavy marble ashtray. She sincerely hoped that in her next incarnation she would not fall prey to cigarette addiction again. Simone rose from her solitary seat at the large mahogany dining table, and arranged the dust cover over the place where she had been. Casting an eye around the house one last time, she reassured herself that everything was in order.
This final inspection was completely unnecessary, she knew full well that everything had been taken care of. But Simone was simply that type of person, never able to leave the house without checking one last time that she had everything she needed. Indeed Simone Lemaire occupied a singular and obscure niche within reality, and she sometimes felt that if she were not vigilant she might inadvertently misplace her very soul.
Large canvas sheets covered every piece of furniture, and anything that was perishable she had removed from the house. All the necessary papers were in order, and she had prepared her will meticulously and left all her instructions in the hands of the lawyers. She had also secured the services of an old and established firm of accountants, to protect her assets during her absence
The caretakers would come every week to maintain the house and keep everything in good order, until she could once again resume her work. The property agent she had engaged had been in business for forty seven years, and she decided to gamble on the probability that they would continue to operate for the next thirteen. Until she could once again return home, until she could return from the grave.
The generous payments she was making would, she hoped stack the odds in favor of her various proxies continued longevity. And even if they didn’t, the lawyers had clear instructions regarding the maintenance of her holdings.
Simone put these thoughts from her mind. She had arranged her affairs as best she was able, and nothing further could be done. She would simply have to trust in fate and good administration that her estate would remain substantially intact. It was a gamble, every time the outcome was always uncertain. And Simone knew full well that much could change in thirteen years, but these periods of absence were always in inescapable necessity when ‘transferring.’
Simone Lemaire had come close to ultimate success this time. She had quickly absorbed the secrets that had been bequeathed to her by the first Nepheth, and had almost unlocked the final secrets of uninterrupted longevity. But the span of a human life was short, and she had simply run out of time once again. Ninety three years this time, and she had come tantalizingly close to the ultimate secret. It had almost been within her reach, but her current incarnation simply had not been long enough. She would have to pass over and begin again once more.
Simone closed and securely locked both the inner and outer doors one last time. She propelled her old and frail body down the road a little way, before dropping her keys in a bin and maneuvering the garbage around them to exclude any possibility of accidental discovery. She paused at the corner briefly before proceeding, it was just a little too soon.
Simone Lemaire had seen the accident unfold in her mind many times, the drunk driver and the child. She knew to the last detail how it would be. It was inevitable, it simply could not be stopped, and she would be there when it happened. One life would fade, and another would come to pass again.
At length the correct moment arrived and she stepped off the curb and proceeded along the street. The streets here were broad and pleasant, largely removed from the criminal activity that thrived in a city in decay. This city where civilization itself was inexorably crumbling, just as she had seen in countless forgotten cities before.
Simone walked happily for some time, enjoying the sunshine and the sound of the wind rustling the leaves in the trees. The joyous colors of autumn and the pleasant afternoon sunshine gave no hint of the drama that was about to unfold. The varied song of metropolitan birds served also to salve her heart, however a tear of genuine sorrow appeared in Simone’s eye when she at last saw the child in reality.
How gaily she played, how oblivious she was that her life was about to be snatched away from her, before it had even begun. Simone’s heart began to pound irregularly, the pain in her chest mounting with every passing second. The grim reaper, that relentless leveler of souls gathered near, she knew its icy presence well enough. Simone knew death more intimately than any soul who had ever walked the earth.
But the reaper would not harvest her soul this day, only one life would fade into eternity today. The child knew that it was forbidden for her to play in the street, but the piles of delightfully colorful autumn leaves had been irresistible to her curious and playful imagination. How happily she played, how carefree she was, never guessing that she would so soon be torn from the world.
As Simone neared the child she could hear the vehicle approaching. The pain in her chest had become excruciating. The drunk driver passed out and the vehicle mounted the curb. It struck the child before crashing into the tree, just as she had foreseen.
Simone fell to her knees beside the child. Her name was Elizabeth, but she liked it when people called her Lizzy.
The little ones face was a mask of horror and shock. Her eyes were startled and her breathing was labored. Her poor broken body was immobilized with trauma, and she gasped in vain to catch her fast fading breath. Simone took the child’s hand and tried her best to offer some comfort in those final seconds before she departed.
Tears streamed from Simone’s eyes, partly with the pain of the aneurism which wrenched the vitality from her body, but more so with the tragedy that one so small would be taken from the world so cruelly. Simone wept at witnessing the distress and confusion that filled the child’s big brown eyes with tears of horror.
Simone knew that the child would not survive long enough to be revived by the ambulance crew, and that her soul would inevitably slip away into oblivion. But she had seen that if she could just hang on long enough, that if she entered the vessel at the right moment, she could keep the body alive long enough to rescue her own essence from death.
Simone knew how the mind of a child worked, she knew that the little one would not understand that she was dying. Simone knew that the foremost anxiety in the girls mind would be the anger of her mother, that she had gone out to play in the street where it had been forbidden to go.
“It’s alright Lizzy….” Simone soothed the child as best she could
“….you’re not in trouble.”
Simone smiled as warmly as the horrendous pain in her chest would allow, and she spoke as soothingly as her stifled lungs would permit.
“Sleep now Lizzy. Don’t be frightened….”
“….you will have the most beautiful dreams forever. And you will never ever be sad….”
“…. or lonely again.”
The last thing that either of the two heard was the wailing of sirens, and the anguished cries of a mother whose heart was torn to shreds by the unspeakable horror that she beheld.
And just as one unique and irreplaceably precious soul departed the world, another much older but no less singular soul took its place.
And Nepheth lived again.
Elizabeth Fraser stood on the sidewalk deep in the darkest heart of the finance district, she checked the address again and confirmed that this was definitely the place. Elliot, Anderson, Stroud and associates. Lizzy was supposed to be at a computational physics lecture today, but the letter from the lawyers had proved a delicious mystery too irresistible to deny. Lizzy had never received a letter hand delivered by a private courier before, and certainly never one so tantalizingly obscure in its content.
She had called the lawyers office to try and find out what the nature of the mystery was, but she couldn’t get even so much as a hint outside of the fact that the matter regarded an inheritance. She had simply been instructed that she could visit during office hours whenever she pleased, no appointment would be necessary. Ms. Margaret Elliot or one of the senior associates would make time for her whenever she cared to arrive.
But Lizzy had made an appointment regardless, it wasn’t her style to simply turn up unannounced. Elizabeth Fraser liked order and predictability, and she always followed what she considered the proper rules of personal conduct. Although her code of ethics did not always necessarily coincide with the rule systems of other’s, and Lizzy sometimes found herself out of step with the herd. And her high and often unmet expectations regarding the integrity of those in authority, often put her at odds with those in positions of control.
Lizzy had done her homework before hand and had discovered that Elliot, Anderson, Stroud was a very old and influential legal firm. They usually handled large scale mergers and acquisitions, matters of constitutional law, and had been involved in a number of significant civil and human rights cases. Indeed Elliot, Anderson, Stroud and associates was the very type of organization, the typical old and powerful edifice whose ethical standards were to her values eminently questionable. Lizzy couldn’t imagine what they wanted with her.
Lizzy had dealt with lawyers on the matter of inheritance before, and she was aware that the level of discretion surrounding this matter was extraordinary.
Lizzy entered the lobby and was immediately struck by the sense of power and tremendous wealth the place exuded. Lizzy knew she didn’t belong here, and that under other circumstances she could likely expect to be escorted from the premises. And so it rather delighted her to march into the place in boots, well worn jeans, much loved but rather shabby plaid shirt, and a haircut that might be described as rather severe or at least alternative. She felt like a barbarian granted free movement within the walls of the imperial city, and she liked it.
Lizzy fearlessly approached a somewhat stern looking woman behind the imposing reception counter.
“May I help you?” The hawkish receptionist enquired.
“Elizabeth Fraser to see Margaret Elliot.”
“Ah, Ms. Fraser” the hawks demeanor softened remarkably at this intelligence
“You’re expected. Please take a seat and one of the associates will be down shortly to escort you to Ms. Elliot’s chambers.”
“That’s Miss Fraser” Lizzy corrected.
“Of course Miss Fraser. Please make yourself comfortable.”
Lizzy did as she was bid and sat cross legged in a huge comfortable armchair, fully aware that her boots would likely leave scuff marks on the soft leather. Ordinarily Lizzy would not act so provocatively or needlessly disrespectfully, but her actions were calculated and most definitely served a purpose.
If these lawyers refused to supply any substantial intelligence on the purpose of her summons, she could at least gauge something of her relative significance to them. These were not the kind of people to suffer wanton or loutish behavior without passing comment, and leaving grazes on their furniture would surely provoke them to action. Unless of course, they needed her far more than she needed them.
But Lizzy’s unconventional posture and reckless disregard for the obviously very expensive furnishings, inspired not the slightest overt reaction. Indeed Lizzy watched the receptionist with the remarkably malleable demeanor closely, as she blatantly adjusted her position. And she was rewarded by the briefest expression of irritation as the heel of her boot scraped against the leather, but the hawk took no action to compel Lizzy to modify her behavior. That much at least told Elizabeth Fraser something.
A few minutes later an immaculately groomed fellow in a gorgeous business suit approached Lizzy as she sat, idly flipping through a magazine. The man looked like a snake, all manicure and polish disguising a poisonous heart.
“Ms. Fraser?” the fellow intoned in a manner so affected and noxiously reptilian, that it quite repelled Lizzy.
“Miss Fraser” Lizzy corrected.
“Of course, Miss Fraser” the fellow simpered unpleasantly.
“Ms. Elliot will see you now, will you come with me please.”
Lizzy forbore to follow the rather stiff and unlikable fellow to a nearby private elevator and rode with him to the top floor. Thankfully he kept his thoughts to himself and they rode in silence until they at last alighted into a rather austere suite of private offices.
The chambers of Elliot Anderson Stroud were all oak paneling, walnut and Moroccan leather furniture and tall bookshelves packed with innumerable leather bound volumes. There was a rather pleasant antique book smell to the place, with a hint of orange oil and furniture polish.
Eventually the fellow led Lizzy to a prominent door at the end of a long hall. Strangely, Lizzy could sense tension rising in the man as they approached. He visibly demurred momentarily before discreetly rapping his knuckles against the lustrous oak. A voice replied sharply.
The snake opened the door and stood aside for Lizzy to proceed.
“Thank you Jeremy….” the voice intoned once more.
“….you can go now.”
“Thank you Ms. Elliot” the snake replied obsequiously as he closed the door.
As Lizzy entered, an immaculately manicured and orderly looking woman rose from her desk to greet her. Her age was rather difficult to gauge, Lizzy guessed probably mid thirties or possibly early forty’s, certainly younger than Lizzy had expected. Although her demeanor and general appearance were rather formal and stiff, Margaret Elliot immediately struck Lizzy as surprisingly interesting and attractive.
“Good morning Ms. Fraser, Margaret Elliot.”
“Um…that guy’s a creep….” Lizzy observed.
“….and it’s Miss Fraser.”
“Yeah….” Margaret grimaced sympathetically.
“….he is a bit slimy, sorry Miss Fraser.”
Lizzy had expected the woman to be stern and austere, she was in fact very pretty and at face value at least, rather warm friendly. The cute button nose and prominent freckles was the last thing Lizzy would have imagined in the senior partner of a large and influential legal firm. There was however an intensity to her large eyes, which suggested that her features might shift from attractive to fierce and formidable all too easily.
Indeed the fellow who had escorted Lizzy thus far seemed all too keen to absent himself from Ms. Elliot’s chambers.
Lizzy obediently took the seat indicated by the woman. Much to her surprise, Lizzy found herself imagining what Margaret would look like with her lustrous copper hair released from its tight up do. The cupric locks framing her pale freckled cheeks and intense, bright and lively green eyes.
The thought slightly surprised her, this was a preference that neither fortune nor opportunity had seen piqued up until now. Older, powerful and successful women apparently tickled her fancy on some level, and Lizzy found that the thought rather thrilled her.
“That man is scared of you.” Lizzy observed in an attempt to break the ice.
Ms. Elliot regarded her for a moment, her expression entirely unreadable. At length she seemed to reach some conclusion, and a discreet smile adorned her face.
“When I took over this practice after my father retired, there was dissent. Some felt rather strongly that an older hand was required at the helm, more specifically an older man’s hand. I disagreed rather more vigorously than those dissenting voices. That particular fellow was somewhat Machiavellian and unhelpful in his objections, and required a certain amount of discipline before he was brought back under harness.”
“Blood in the hallways?” Lizzy replied, somewhat astonished at the open honesty of Ms. Elliot’s disclosure.
“Hardly” Margaret laughed.
“Respect for a woman in this position doesn’t come naturally to some of my colleagues, male and female alike. A measure of assertiveness was required on my part.”
“Actually, no. A little shock and awe, and a few rather public executions did the trick. It was no fun to be sure, but I had no intention of allowing myself to be pushed aside….”
“….especially not by creeps like Jeremy.”
“Good for you.”
Lizzy found herself entirely disarmed by Margaret Elliot. She had prepared herself to deal with some kind of corporate law monster, but the woman before her was clearly something else entirely. Lizzy began quickly to recognize in Margaret Elliot a fearless and eminently capable woman, an exciting and resorceful flame haired warrior, more akin to Queen Boudicca than any contemporary figure she could think of. And although Lizzy was aware that her impression was rather vivid and perhaps fanciful, she did not doubt that her characterization was rooted in fact.
“Well” Margaret began with a surprisingly infectious enthusiasm.
“I suppose you’re wondering what all the mystery is about?”
“Yes.” Lizzy concurred simply.
“Right, I’ll get straight to the point then.”
Margaret put on a pair of reading glasses and began leafing through a rather large file of documents as she spoke.
“My client, Simone Lemaire has identified you, Miss Elizabeth Fraser as the sole beneficiary of practically her entire estate. As per my client’s instructions, this fact was not to be revealed until your maturation to the age of twenty one, and to only be communicated to you face to face.”
“….I know that name.”
“Well, you actually met her briefly, when you were five years old.”
“….Simone Lemaire. There was an accident when I was little, a drunk driver. An old woman died but I survived. My parents told me they think she saved my life that day….”
“….Simone Lemaire, that was her wasn’t it.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense. I’d never met her before that day, and neither had my parents. Why would she make a complete stranger the beneficiary of her will…?”
“….and then to turn up out of the blue….”
“….had she been watching me…?”
“These facts are not revealed to me in the documents as supplied.” Margaret offered.
“There is however, a private letter to be read solely by you. Perhaps my client’s motivations will be disclosed to you there.”
Margaret held up a large heavy envelope and continued.
“The document appears to be rather substantial, perhaps you might read it at your leisure?
“Of course….” Lizzy conceded deferring the mysterious nature of Simone’s relationship to her, at least until she had the time to examine the puzzle at length.
“….so exactly how much of an inheritance are we talking about here?”
“Well, it’s difficult to be entirely precise, my client’s legacy is quite substantial. Her investment portfolio currently sits at a value slightly in excess of twenty million dollars, her property assets consist of houses in London, Berlin and Paris, in addition to her property here in the city of course. And her liquid assets stand at little over eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
“I’m sorry…?” Asked Lizzy in astonishment.
“Indeed.” Margaret smiled.
“Like I said, my client’s legacy is quite substantial….”
“….you’ve just become a very wealthy woman, Ms. Fraser.”
“Miss….” Lizzy corrected in a faraway voice.
“Of course, Miss Fraser.”
“….so….what happens now?”
Margaret slid the large envelope and a set of keys bearing a brass tag with an address engraved upon it, over to Lizzy.
“If it was me” Margaret replied “I’d go and visit my new house, decompress a little, absorb the good news. But of course it’s up to you, money opens many doors.”
“Isn’t there papers to sign or something?”
“Of course. And we can get to work on that right away if you choose, but I thought you might want to catch your breath before wading into a swamp of legal documents.”
“Okay….” Lizzy conceded
“….you’re right, this is rather a lot to take in, and it has caught me a little off balance.”
“Okay. Well, maybe I could come by the house tomorrow and we can start work then. Just telling you what you now own will take some time.”
“You make house calls?” Lizzy asked incredulously.
Margaret laughed “Simone Lemaire offered a rather substantial retaining fee, to secure my services. I am more than willing to discharge my duties in the most agreeable fashion, Miss Fraser.”
“Okay, done….” Lizzy readily agreed
“….your office is beautiful, in its own way but I actually find I hate being here.”
Margaret leaned forward conspiratorially.
“Don’t let on, but so do I….”
“….it’s awful. All this woodwork and leather impresses those with delusions of wealth and grandeur, but I hate it.”
“Really….” Lizzy chuckled at Ms. Elliot’s easy candor.
“Okay….” Lizzy announced, rising from her seat and extending a hand
Thank you for reading
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