A Dame with a Past - Part 3

Continued from Part 2

With Bernie clutching my hand for dear life, we followed Worthington out and down the hall a short distance. He led us into a paneled room that, except for the furniture arrangement, looked more like someone’s living room than a meeting room.

Hung along the walls was a gallery of portraits: some of the faces behind the names on the letterhead, I assumed. Dour looking bunch, I must say. There was a desk at one end of the room. Facing it, arranged in rows theatre style along a center aisle, were about two dozen ornate chairs. They looked like Chippendale to me, but what do I know? In a few of those chairs sat the other people I assumed had been named in Marjorie Mitchum’s will.

Worthington led Bernie over to four people sitting together on the right side of the aisle, and introduced her to her half-sisters Elizabeth and Charlotte, and her half-brother Mark and his wife, Midge (Midge?). I took Elizabeth and Charlotte to be about 25 and 20 respectively, and Mark to be about 22. They were all dressed with understated and obviously expensive style. Beside me, I could feel Bernie shrinking into herself. The group greeted Bernie without any genuine warmth, but politely, showing off the social graces I’m sure they’d had drummed into them. But there was no question; there was a definite chill in the room.

Seated a couple of rows behind the family were three people who hadn’t stood, and who looked very uncomfortable. They weren’t introduced, and I had no idea who they were.
From across the short aisle, an elegantly-dressed woman in her mid-forties stepped forward and introduced herself as Louise Fennimore. She startled Bernie with a small hug, and expressed her condolences. Bernie looked totally confused until the woman added that she’d been Marjorie Mitchum’s best friend since childhood.
“I knew all about you, my dear, she said in a kind voice. “In fact, I feel I’ve watched you grow up. Marjorie showed me pictures. She was very proud of you, you know.”

Bernie colored, and clearly didn’t know what to say. Fortunately, she was saved from coming up with something when Worthington took her arm and guided her to a seat in the front row. I tagged along.

We sat down. After the lawyer turned away, Bernie grabbed my hand again and breathed, “Marty, all these people! I feel so alone.” I gave her hand what I hoped was a reassuring squeeze, but I have to admit I was feeling a bit out of my comfort zone myself.  I could feel the daggers hitting our backs. Based on the powerful grip she maintained on my hand, I knew Bernie felt them, too.

The lawyer took his seat behind the desk and looked around the room at the people facing him.

“Thank you for coming, everyone. I believe you all know me now, but for the record, I am Malcolm Worthington. I was Marjorie Mitchum’s attorney all her life.”
I was relieved to hear that he didn't include the "T" when saying his name. I would have been forced to return him to "Pompous Ass" status.
He cleared his throat, and continued, his voice taking on that peculiar stentorian tone lawyers assume in such circumstances.

“As you know, we are gathered here to read the last will and testament of Marjorie Bancroft Mitchum.” He picked up a legal-looking document. You know the kind, one of those with several pages stapled to a blue cover at the top.

He began to read. It was like every legal document I’ve ever read, full of whereas, wherefore, and assorted other legalese. I’ve always thought lawyers use such grandiose language to confuse the rest of us. Job security, you know? I won’t bore you with the jargon, but this is the gist of it.

I’m not sure if this is traditional, but the will laid out the bequeaths in order of smallest to largest. The first went to the three people seated in the back, who turned out to be Mitchum’s housekeeper, cook, and gardener. She had left each what Worthington called a “small token of her appreciation,” though in my world, there was nothing small about it. Each was accompanied by glowing words of thanks for loyal service.

Then there was something for Louise Fennimore. Worthington read, “Thank you, Louise, for being my anchor and my support system, as well as my dearest friend. I have so much to say to you, but I won’t say it here.” At that point, the lawyer picked up an ivory envelope with a name written across its face in large flowing script. He took it over to Fennimore.

“Marjorie requested that this letter be given to you today,” he said as he handed the envelope to the weeping woman.

He returned to his place behind the desk, looked at Bernie with a smile, and resumed his reading.

“And that brings us to the family bequeaths.”

Bernie had my handkerchief clutched in her hands and she began twisting it nervously.

Worthington looked at each of Marjorie Mitchum's other three children, and said, “These are the words of your mother. ‘I know that my children Elizabeth, Mark and Charlotte are shocked to learn that they have a half-sister. I’ve never told them anything about her, and I’m sincerely sorry for that. I saw no other way. It is my hope that they will find it in their hearts to welcome her into our family.

“‘I was barely more than a child myself when Bernice was born, and I was forced to give her up for adoption. But I knew Sarah Lahey, her adoptive mother, was a warm and caring woman, and I am so thankful that Bernice grew up in a loving home. I am especially grateful that I was allowed to share a small part of her life from afar through the photographs and letters Sarah Lahey so generously sent to me. I couldn’t send any letters to you, Bernice, as much as I wanted to, but that doesn’t mean I never wrote any. They are part of my bequest to you, along with photographs of myself, your grandparents, extended family members, and your siblings. I hope they help you to know me, to know us, and maybe to know a little more about yourself.’”

Worthington stopped reading, and swiveled his leather chair around to an ornate wooden chest along the wall behind the desk. From within one of the doors on the front of the credenza, he withdrew a bag. It was about the size of one of those old-fashioned train cases women used to travel with. Made of tooled leather, it was fashioned like a small trunk and was secured with two buckled straps. The lawyer picked it up by its handle and carried it over to Bernie.

Holding the bag on her lap, Bernie ran her hands over the tooling on its side. I can only imagine what she was thinking. In her hands was a portrait of a family she never knew she had. I glanced back at her newly found siblings, and the set of Elizabeth’s and Mark’s mouths as they looked at Bernie made it pretty clear what they were thinking. Displeasure clung to them like a fog. At least Charlotte appeared to have an open mind. She looked at Bernie with more curiosity than anything.

Worthington continued reading, and it turned out that bag Bernie held in her lap wasn’t the extent of her inheritance. I could hear everyone in the room gasp when the lawyer announced that Marjorie Mitchum had left Bernie an apartment building on Nob Hill.

We sat through the remainder of the will’s bequeaths, which didn’t take long. Basically, Marjorie Mitchum had left the remainder of her considerable estate to her other children, but I don’t think Bernie heard a word of that. She was too stunned.

When the meeting broke up, everyone but Bernie and I, the lawyer, and Louise Fennimore were gone in a shot. Charlotte paused on her way out the door to say to Bernie, “I hope we can get acquainted. Call me Charlie.”  Then the disapproving looks from her siblings pulled her into the hallway as if she were tethered. So much for a warm family welcome. I could tell that Bernie was a little hurt, but Louise came right over with more hugs.

“I’m so glad that Marjorie left you a reason to return to San Francisco. I hope you'll come often, and that we can get to know each other. Your mother was a wonderful person, and I’m looking forward to telling you all about her.”

Bernie smiled back at the gracious woman. “Thank you, Ms. Fennimore.”

“Oh, no, no, my dear. You must call me Louise. I know we’re going to be great friends.”

She snapped open her handbag and pulled out a business card. “Here’s my card. Please call me when you return.”

“Thank you. I will.” Bernie replied as she took the card. She looked at it before slipping it in a pocket, and I caught a glimpse. “Louise Fennimore Interior Design.”

“And, oh, Malcolm didn’t mention it, but the building includes an owner’s apartment, so you’ll have a place to stay when you’re in town. I can help you redecorate, if you’d like, but I have a feeling you might like to leave it just as it is. It was a favorite retreat of your mother’s.”

Before leaving, she turned to me. ‘Thank you for accompanying Bernice here, Mr. Tremaine. I know this was hard for her.”

“My pleasure.”

We said our goodbyes, and Louise Fennimore left the meeting room, leaving a small cloud of Chanel No. 5 in her wake

Holding the door open for us, Worthington said, “Please, come back to my office with me. I’ll give you the details of your inheritance.”

We spent another hour with the lawyer. He gave Bernie the business card of the building manager, who also lived on premises, and told her to contact him when she was ready. Worthington told Bernie that Marjorie had been a friend as well as a client and assured her that he was there to help should she need anything. See? I knew he was a nice guy all along.


As we rode down in the elevator, I asked Bernie what she wanted to do. It was a little late for lunch, but we hadn’t eaten since arriving. I was wishing I’d taken advantage of the spread at the law offices.

“I’m not hungry, Marty. Maybe just a cup of coffee?”

There was a Peet’s in the lobby of the building, so we went in. I settled Bernie and the leather bag at a table, and after giving her another shot at some food, went to the counter. In a few minutes, I returned with two coffees and a ham and swiss panini to find her looking through a small stack of photos.

“This is all so unreal, Marty. Last week, I was Sarah Lahey’s daughter, Mike McGraw’s wife, and a graphic artist with a crummy salary. Now look.”

I sat, and took a huge bite of my Panini. “Sure you don’t want half?” I mumbled around the sandwich.

She shook her head, and when I’d swallowed my mouthful and had a drink of coffee, I said, “Bernie, you are still all of those things. Nothing’s really changed.”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, sure, nothing at all, except I have a mother I never knew, a family which doesn’t seem overjoyed to find out about their bastard sister – well except maybe for Charlotte -- and, oh yeah, I own a apartment building. A freaking apartment building! What am I going to do with that?”

OK, I had to admit her newly found siblings could have been a little nicer, but we had to remember that they were as shocked as Bernie was to discover Marjorie’s secret love child. But the apartment building?

“No worries, Bernie. You can keep it as an investment. Worthington said it had a building manager, and he’s there to help too if need be. Besides,” I added before taking the last bite of my sandwich, "it’ll give you a place to stay in Frisco. Nob Hill, kiddo. Pretty nice digs.”

“Yeah, I suppose.”

“Hey, do you want to go over there now and take a look? It’s only a few blocks away, a bit uphill to be sure, but it’s a nice day. Or we could catch a cab.”

She thought a minute, then said, “No, thanks, Marty, but I’m not ready. I need some time to digest all this. Can we just go back to LA?”

“Sure, I understand.”

We finished our coffee and headed to the airport. We were back in LA by 4:30pm. I offered to drive her home, but she said she’d rather take a cab. We said our goodbyes, and headed our separate ways.

Continued in Part 4


Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 5, Muse 3: "Alone Never Felt So Crowded."



  1. Not sure if these are publishing. The comment link has to be opened in a new window. Good stuff so far.

  2. Still building? mmmmm
    just a little thing, but liking the refs to SF.

  3. you are building up the plot nicely, as well as the tension.

  4. Hmm... this slow boil might be a little too slow. Not feeling Tremaine just yet... so far, his participation seems more for convenience than for natural involvement.


Thoughts? I would love to hear from you.