A GOOD BEGINNING
By Joan O’Callaghan
At five o’clock on any afternoon, the Chancery Bar is full of lawyers, law clerks and the occasional client. I shifted my padded chair slightly to one side as much to avoid looking at my companion, Harrison Caswell, as to make room for my long legs, and toyed with my glass of Merlot. Meanwhile, Harrison signalled to the waiter to bring him another scotch and more wine for me. I covered my glass with my hand and stifled a yawn.
Harrison leaned across the table, face flushed, eyes gleaming. I was regretting accepting his invitation for a drink. He was the senior partner at Caswells and I didn’t think it politic to say no, seeing as this was my last week there as an articling student and I was desperate for a job. I needed money to pay off the huge student loans I’d racked up. Caswells wouldn’t be hiring any more lawyers, but Harrison had hinted that he might be able to find me something at another firm. And it’s not as though I had anything else to do. With Robbie, my live-in, a Cormorant pilot out of Trenton on exchange flying search-and-rescue, it was nice to get out once in a while.
“What’s the difference between a female lawyer and a shark?” He poked my arm. “The shark doesn’t wear lipstick.” He laughed uproariously. “Lauren, how would you like to make a fast trip to the Bahamas?”
Had I heard him correctly? “Is that supposed to be another joke?”
“This is for real. You know that Seymour Griswald was my client.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “Was?”
“He died in Toronto yesterday.”
“Sorry to hear that,” I murmured, wondering where this was leading.
“He was something of a recluse. He has a house on one of the outer islands. Didn’t want a funeral, just his ashes buried at sea. I’m having the body cremated tomorrow. Then I have to take the ashes and dump them at sea off the island. I want to do it as soon as possible but I need a witness.” He grinned. “Wanna be the witness? Estate will pay for everything. Nice opportunity for a little sun and fun. Just you and me. This is your last week with the firm. People will just think you left a couple of days early.”
“Let me think about it,” I said, gathering up my purse and coat.
“Okay, but don’t take too long. I have to do this as soon as possible.”
I pondered his offer on the subway ride home, and while I heated up some leftover spaghetti. A few days in the Bahamas, all expenses paid by Griswald’s considerable estate. The only fly in the proverbial ointment was Harrison Caswell.
Next morning I was in the office early, before any of the lawyers. I called up Griswald’s will and studied it. Made a fortune in computer software patents. No close relatives and estranged from the others. He’d been a recluse, just as Harrison said. I paused over some of the bequests. Harrison had been Griswald’s lawyer and confidant. They had lots in common – both divorced, no family. After examining the will, I could see why he was anxious to probate it.
When Harrison came in that morning, I asked him. “So when do we leave?”
He was taken aback for a moment, and then said, “I’ll have the body cremated this afternoon. Can you make the travel arrangements? I don’t want anyone to know we’re going.”
“I’ll look after everything.” An hour later everything was in place. I’d booked two seats on Air Canada, business class, to Nassau, arranged for a helicopter to fly us out over the water so Harrison could dump the ashes, and alerted Griswald’s housekeeper that we would be staying at the house.
When I told Harrison about the travel plans, he frowned. “A helicopter?”
“Boats make me seasick.”
He nodded. “OK then, a helicopter.”
I continued. “The helicopter will meet us at Nassau International Airport so we can deal with the ashes immediately. Then it’ll take us to the island where Griswald’s house is. That way, we’ll have the work part of the trip out of the way and we can relax for the rest of our stay.”
He sat back and clasped his hands behind his head. “What do you get when a hooker goes to law school?” He grinned. “A fucking know-it-all. Don’t forget to pack your bikini.”
I forced a smile.
During my lunch hour, I bought a couple of bathing suits and cover-ups at a swimwear and lingerie store that was having a sale on “cruise wear.” I made a few more stops for sunscreen and other items.
Next day was perfect for flying. The airport limo I’d booked picked up Harrison first, then me. Harrison could hardly contain himself. He held my hand in the car. “This is gonna be fun.”
Oh, yeah, I thought to myself.
I’d never flown business class and I liked it. We were able to board first and sit in our wide, comfortable seats watching the economy class passengers file through to the next cabin. The urn in its black velveteen bag was in the overhead compartment. Our fellow travellers eyed us. Easy to guess what they were thinking. A slightly overweight middle-aged man in an expensive suit, thinning red hair, accompanied by a tall leggy blonde in form-fitting designer jeans and tee. I tossed my head. Let them think what they wanted.
The flight was uneventful. I watched a movie on the little monitor built in to the back of the seat in front of me, and managed to stave off Harrison’s attempts to paw me and regale me with his courtroom dramas.
“What’s the difference between a female prosecutor and a terrorist?”
“OK,” I said with a sigh. “I’ll bite.”
“You can negotiate with a terrorist.” And snickered.
I ignored him.
Once we arrived in Nassau, we soon found the hangar where the helicopter, a Huey, was waiting. While the pilot completed the various pre-flight checks, Harrison and I downed a couple of rum punches in the passenger terminal and wandered around. I suggested he buy a bottle of chilled Moet & Chandon. To get into the spirit of the trip, I said.
After a while, the pilot came round to find us. The helicopter was ready and cleared for take-off. We climbed aboard, adjusted our earphones and mics, and strapped ourselves in, the urn at our feet.
The pilot took the bird straight up and out over the water. “How far do you want to go?” he asked, his voice echoing in our earphones over the roar of the motor and the blades.
Before Harrison could say anything, I spoke up. “Quite a way out. We have to do this right.”
The pilot nodded, pushed his cap back on his head and adjusted his mirrored sunglasses. Harrison peered out the glassed-in sides of the helicopter.
After about 15 minutes, the pilot turned to us. “This is a good spot. Deep water, no islands, boats, or other aircraft in the vicinity.”
“Perfect,” I murmured, busying myself with my tote bag. I pulled out the chilled bottle of Moet Harrison had bought, and popped the cork. Champagne spilled over the neck of the bottle as I filled two crystal flutes.
Harrison reached for a glass.
“To Seymour,” I said, raising my glass and clinking it against his.
“To Seymour. Best client I ever had.”
The helicopter hovered over the waves. “Tell me when you’re ready and I’ll open the door,” the pilot said.
“Should I put on a safety harness?” Harrison asked, gulping the bubbly.
“You don’t need one,” I said. “We’re down low and there’s no wind. C’mon hot stuff.”
Harrison drained his glass. “Pour me some more.” He opened the top of the urn and shouted to the pilot. “Okay – now!”
The small door slid open. Harrison lurched over, cradling the urn and fighting to keep his balance. I followed close on his heels. Wind rushed through the open door.
I shouted. “Maybe you should have waited to drink the champagne ‘til after.”
He stopped. “I thought you said there was no wind.”
I pushed him forward. “Let’s get this over.”
He took another step, then hesitated again.
The pilot turned. “I can’t wait here forever. I have to get the bird back to the airport.”
“Stop wasting time,” I said. “I’ll hang on to your belt. You’ll be fine.”
Swaying, he leaned out the doorway to spill the ashes. I stuck my foot between his legs and tripped him. He fell, half in and half out of the helicopter. The urn tumbled from his hands. Harrison fought to gain a handhold and keep from falling all the way out. His legs flailed about as he tried to back into the helicopter. I reached down, grabbed both his feet and shoved him hard. His scream ended abruptly as the water closed over his head.
Robbie closed the helicopter door, took off his mirrored shades and grinned at me. “Good one, babe. Sharks’ll get him in no time.”
“Yeah, and these ones don’t wear lipstick.”
I took out a third clean, champagne flute and filled it with Moet for Robbie “Remember. Your name is Harrison Caswell now. The staff has never met him, so they don’t know what he looks like. Griswald left the place to him along with a pile of money.”
He grinned. “Perfect.”
Later, as we relaxed by the pool with our drinks, I turned to Robbie. “What do you call 100 lawyers at the bottom of the sea?” He looked at me puzzled.“A good beginning.”
Joan O’Callaghan has been a sessional lecturer at both Queens University and since 1996, the University of Toronto (OISE). She was the recipient of the Golden Apple Award from Queen’s University Faculty of Education for Excellence in Teaching, and was named Professor of the Year by the OISE/UT Students Council, as well as Most Engaging English Instructor and Most Inspirational Instructor.In addition to her position at OISE/UT, Joan has an active career in freelance writing, with over 30 educational publications to her credit. She is the author of three books, two published by Scholastic Canada and one by Rubicon (Harcourt). Her short stories have been published in Excerpt Flight Deck (2012) and the crime anthology, Thirteen, published in 2013, and Thirteen O’Clock (2015). In 2014, her short story, “Runaway,” took third prize in the national Bony Pete short story contest and was published in World Enough and Crime (2014). Her Flash Fiction story, “Torch Song for Two Voices” won first prize in Polar Expressions national short story and poetry competition, and was subsequently published in That Golden Summer (Polar Expressions Publishing, 2014).
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