The discovery of David's body uncovers long buried secrets.
|Tracey Williams was thirty-five years old and single. She had a nice life, very ordinary, a little dull now and then, but she was content. Her mother, of course, was hoping she would get married, and settle down, and maybe give her some grandchildren. |
Her mind drifted to thoughts of her older brother, David. He had died five years ago while hiking in the Catskill mountains. David often went hiking alone, enjoying the outdoors and loved the solitude and peace it brought him.
But this one time, he simply never returned. He would never take safety precautions, not even to let friends or family know where he was going, and Tracey was sure this was tempting fate, that sooner or later something would go wrong. This time, sure enough, he didn't let anyone know his intentions, and he took the bus, so there wasn't even a hint of where he might of gone. The ranger explained the area had more than thirty peaks above 3,500 feet, so it was really a lost cause from the start, despite a massive search and resue effort.
David was the reason she was such a strong person. She loved his company, he wasn’t protective so much as simply loving and caring, always seeking to include her in his social activities. Her father had been barely a shadow since the loss of David, feeling lost and alone without him, and probably hastened his own death, through heart failure six months later. Truly a broken heart.
At work, her mind still on David, she had a vague uneasy feeling about the day ahead. Tracey guessed she was still grieving for him and missing him terribly. It was a normal feeling, she knew, even after five long years.
She had often wondered what life would be like if David, and her father, were still alive. There would be birthdays, a family get-together every month, and, perhaps, nieces, nephews and grandchildren. How dull, she thought, feeling a little guilty, yet somehow comforting and nice as well.
Tracey realised she was daydreaming, thinking of times never to return, gone but never forgotten.
The phone rung and it's shrill tone reminded her of an annoying bug that had to be stomped on - something that wouldn’t go away unless some action was taken!
Glancing at the caller id, she was intrigued to find it was an outside line: Tracey received very few outside calls. Anyone outside of work called her on her cell phone, except her mother of course, and she was away in Sydney for the week, attending some fashion show.
It was tempting to simply mute her phone, to stop the ringing, but then all eyes would be on her in the open plan office as it was a big no-no to simply not answer a call. The world might even come to an end, she thought wryly.
“Hello Luton Pharmaceuticals, Tracey Williams speaking,” she answered cheerfully.
“Good morning, Tracey, my name is Lewis Simpson, I’m a solicitor at Barfoot and Simpson,” replied the caller, an elderly gentlemen thought Tracey - and a solicitor! “I don’t want to alarm you unduly, but I’m calling about your late brother David, and there are some matters that concern you that we need to discuss.”
Tracey tried to process what the solicitor was saying. David went missing five years ago and, after an exhaustive search and rescue effort, the family had accetped he had fallen down some gully, broke his leg or something similar and perished in the rugged terrain. He’d always insisted on these solitary adventures and refused to take safety precautions: why bother going in the great outdoors if you make it too safe was his reasoning.
What could possibly concern a solicitor now, five years on? David had no assets, business interests or dependants. He had savings of around $50,000, but that had been placed in a trust account, until he could be declared legally deceased.
“I don’t really understand, David died some five years ago in the Catskills.” Tracey whispered down the phone line. “I didn’t even know he had a solicitor and all his affairs were handled by the public trustee. How can I help you?”.
Tracey was regaining her composure but she didn’t need the old memories resurfacing. She had been grief-stricken at David’s loss and for months she had hid from the world. Only in the last year had she begun to live again, and with her family had begun to recover from the loss. It was so unfair, someone so nice, with so much to live for, and yet one of the things he loved the most, the outdoors, had claimed him.
“Well, Tracey, the fact is, David’s body has been discovered, and there are some issues, well, of a legal nature that need to be addressed.” Simpson's calm manner was somehow reassuring to Tracey, but she still felt as if she was drowning, sinking fast in a sea of confusion and mixed emotions. “I wonder if you could drop by the office, perhaps later today, around 3pm, and we can have a chat?”
Finding David’s remains was something they had often talked about: it could give the family some closure. Todays meeting should be routine, Tracey told herself: some papers to sign to clear up David’s estate perhaps. Feeling a little guilty, she thought about the $50,000 that had been left to her in his will.
Struggling to overcome her natural feelings of curiosity, Trace relented. “That would be fine Lewis. Around 3pm, if you could give me your address, I will see you then.” She wrote down the address and hung up, feeling relief, anxiety and stress all at once. She would need to let her mother know. and soon, before she found out the news from someone else.
But why was a solicitor ringing to inform her that David’s body had been found? She’d watched enough television to know the police came and knocked on your door, breaking the news gently. Frowning, she took a deep breath, and told herself she would find out soon enough, if she could just get through the rest of the day.
Tracey remembered the inquest clearly, the coroner reaching her routine conclusion: "manner of death undetermined". So matter of fact, when all it meant was no-one had a clue as to how, or why David had died. The family walked out of the coroner's office thinking: is that it? That was all David's loss meant to anyone, a two hour hearing, a couple of issues raised which would help search and rescue efforts in the future, but no answers to help a grieving family.
Feeling a slight sense of foreboding, Tracey found the building on Fourth St, and took the elevator to the 18th floor. Entering the offices of Barfoot and Simpson, Tracey felt like she was on a movie set: the offices were so palatial, so typical of how she imagined a solicitors offices might look like.
Yet something was not quite right.
Tracey realised it was the total absence of people: silence, except for the constant humming of the air conditioning. No clicking of computer keyboards, telephones ringing or chatter.
Deep in thought, she didn’t notice an elderly gentleman walking towards her. “Tracey Williams?,” the man said. “What a pleasure to meet with you, I’m Lewis Simpson. Why don’t we step into my office?”
Tracey followed Lewis Simpson into his rather large office which was luxurious and comforting. “Can I get you some coffee Tracey, or would you prefer tea?“ Lewis Simpson was the stereotype of a solicitor thought Tracey, so courteous and charming. But Tracey wondered if something dark was lurking behind that kind and gentle exterior.
Trace declined the offer of hospitality. “Lewis, I don’t mean to rush you at all, but I’m keen to find out what this is all about. If David’s body has been discovered, why am I not talking with the police? As far as I know David didn’t have his own solicitor, all his affairs were handled by the Public Trust attorneys.” Tracey was surprised at her own outburst, but she didn’t like surprises, anywhere, anytime.
“My apologies if this seems a little mysterious Tracey,” replied Lewis. “I’ll try to answer your questions as best I can, and then things may become clearer for you.” Tracey waited, with increasing impatience as things were obviously not as simple as she had thought.
“I know this will come as a shock to you Tracey, but David was actually adopted.” Lewis spoke the words as if reading from a well rehearsed script, so easily did the words flow. But to Tracey, her mind could barely function, taking in this news was almost too much for her.
“It transpires that David was born as a result of an extra-marital affair within one of the more wealthy New York families, the Rochesters,” Lewis continued. ”The mother, who tragically died giving birth, was a devout catholic, and so a quiet adoption was the only solution, or so they thought.” David, adopted? Tracey felt her world dissolving around her. David may not have known, but certainly her own mother and presumably father were well aware of the fact, lying to her, about her own brother.
“Tracey, I informed David of his adoption five years ago, almost to the day, in this office. You will understand now why I have made contact with you, and not the police. I am the Rochester family lawyer, and they are a fairly important family.” Tracey nodded her understanding, not even amused by what she assumed was a massive understatement. The Rochesters! It felt like she was solving a giant jigsaw puzzle, but she suspected there were some pieces missing.
“Paul Rochester, David’s father, had died, and Mrs Rochester decided it was time to invite David to be part of their family.” Lewis stopped for a moment, allowing Tracey time to take it all in.
“Wait,” gasped Tracey. “Are you telling me that David was adopted, from one of America’s wealthiest families? And when he learned about it, he simply disappeared?”
“It seems to have happened something like this.” Lewis took a deep breath before continuing. “Mrs Rochester decided to gift David the sum of fifteen million dollars. It may seem a large amount, but remember the family is worth, well, billions and that’s when the problems started for David I’m afraid.”
“Please go on,” Tracey managed to say, barely in a whisper.
“Well,” Lewis continued, “the Rochester’s eldest son, Tony was understandably unhappy at having to share his inheritance with a sibling and he didn’t appreciate what he thought of as a family scandal either. “
As Lewis spoke Tracey keep wondering where this was leading. Was Tony somehow associated with David’s death? Why can’t he just get to the end of the story, David was still dead after all, and that was all that concerned Tracey. Although, she was conscious of her responsibility now: David had a birthright, a right to be recognized, even after he was gone.
“Mrs Rochester met with David,” Lewis continued, “and apparently wrote a letter to him, advising him of his adoption, and her intention to gift David the money. I'm guessing this won’t surprise you Tracey, but David, while stunned at the news and accepting of the situation, certainly didn’t want any money.”
Tracey had so many questions, and she knew absolutely that David would not want one cent of the Rochester’s money. Other people’s money meant nothing to him, she had never even known him to buy a lotto ticket!
“The thing is Tracey, Mrs Rochester passed away last week, and there is no record anywhere of David’s adoption or the letter she wrote to him.” Lewis paused, and reflected on whether Tracey was taking in the significance of his words: that there was no real evidence of David’s link to the Rochester family and Tony, being the sole beneficiary of the estate, wasn’t interested in admitting to the existence of an illegitimate heir.
Finally Tracey was able to summon her thoughts. “Lewis, why was nothing said to us when David first went missing? Surely we had a right to know then?”
She recalled the day of the funeral only too clearly. A good size group of family and friends: David didn’t have a large network of people that he knew and the close friends he had were probably only five or six. Looking back, David probably had an ordinary life, but one that was surrounded by happiness, love and good times and what more could anyone ask for really? To find out that you were adopted out at birth because you were seen as an embarrassment, thought Tracey, with a touch of bitterness.
“I suspect Tony, the son, had a part to play in that.” replied Lewis. ”Mrs Rochester explained to me that since David had presumably died, no great good would come of breaking that sort of news. Looking back, I strongly feel that Tony deeply resented his parents for the whole situation, and encouraged his mother to effectively bury all traces of David. Tony is an influential person in New York, and I suspect he could have arranged for documentation relating to the adoption to, well, disappear.”
Tracey felt a surge of anger rising up inside her. How dare this person, Tony, pretend that David didn’t even exist when they were in fact blood relatives. How could anyone be so uncaring, she demanded, realising it probably wasn’t even the money that concerned Tony, it was the humiliation every time he walked into one his precious country clubs, or whatever they were called. All eyes would be on him, the subject of gossip and scandal.
And yet, Mrs Rochester seemed a kind and compassionate woman who was torn between the love of her family, and concern for an innocent person caught up in scandal.
Tracey waited for Lewis to continue, and assumed there was more to come. An adopted child, yet with no proof an adoption ever took place, and an heir to a billion dollar estate.
“Tracey, I understand all of this is a shock, but Mrs Rochester’s final wishes were to make contact with David’s family and ensure his families rights were protected. After all, your family are potential heirs to the Rochester family estate.” Tracey took a deep breath, the thought had never really occurred to her. Tracey Williams, heir to a massive fortune?
At last Tracey felt her sense of reasoning return. “But Lewis, you’ve stated that all documentation relating to David’s adoption, and Mrs Rochester’s letter, have all disappeared and that David’s mother died giving birth to him. Surely that means nothing can be done?”
Lewis considered carefully his response to Tracey’s question. The fact was, he represented the late Mrs Rochester’s estate, and the Rochester family. He didn’t represent David, or Tracey, but, he did hold the late Mrs Rochester in very high regard, and he thought he understood her wishes, in an ethical, if not legal sense. She did want David recognised, with all the scandal and embarrassment it might cause.
“I suspect you may be right in your assessment Tracey,” replied Lewis, and Tracey’s heart sunk. “However, Mrs Rochester assured me that David had been given a copy of the documentation, and that he had kept it in a safe place. The question becomes where that safe place may have been.”
Lewis was becoming increasingly fond of this young lady, admiring her courage and self-respect and he had no wish to add to her rekindled grief, so he chose his next words carefully.
“I fear we may never know what happened to David in the Catskills,” Lewis pondered. “Why did he go there, in the middle of winter. He must surely have known the dangers. What was his state of mind, did he intend to return?”
Tracey experienced a moment of rage at Lewis’s suggestion that David may have taken his own life. David would be the last person in the world to even contemplate such an action, so much had he loved life. Such an earth shattering discovery may have upset him so much that anything was possible, but she refused to believe he would have taken such an irreversible action. Perhaps he just wanted time alone, and winter time in the Catskills was not the safest place to fight such a whirlpool of emotions. Yes, that’s what could have happened, she told herself: a mistake, a trip, when he was deep in thought.
“Can you recall your last conversation with David?” Lewis’s question had the intended consequence of shaking Tracey from her self-imposed reflection.
Tracey did recall their last conversation. David invited her to go to lunch at her favourite restaurant, Rafaels, which she had thought a little strange at the time, to her knowledge he had never been there before. She felt sure he was going to be making some grand announcement to her. Had he met someone? Was he moving away?
Could he have been about to tell her of his adoption? She knew how easy it was to construct memories that just weren’t there but her guilt was telling her that if only she had pushed him, asked him what was on his mind, life could have been so different.
What had they talked about? She recalled telling him, again, that he shouldn’t go into the Catskills in the middle of winter. It was too dangerous, and he had laughed, as usual, telling her it wouldn’t be the great outdoors without a little danger. Then they talked about childhood memories. Their growing up together, teachers they had liked and old school friends. David had asked if she could remember the phone number of their childhood home in Mercedes, Texas, and of course she could; it was etched on her memory for some reason, an eight digit number she could always recall. Very useful, she thought wryly.
David's last comment to her was: “Remember sister, if you ever do get lost, all you need to do is head for home.” Tracey remembered being baffled at that one, for she had never been lost in the outdoors, and suspected she never would be, being far too sensible to take part in such dangerous activities.
Lewis frowned at her recollections. “Well, Tracey, I’m not sure if we’re going to achieve anything here, but I did want to honour Mrs Rochester’s last wishes.”
With a sigh of quiet acceptance, Lewis continued. ”The last thing is, she left me with a letter to give to you in the event of her death. Unfortunately, the letter has no legal standing, as it was written after Tony had the court declare her unable to handle her own affairs. I am also obliged to tell you that I was instructed to read the letter myself, which I have done.”
With trembling hands, Tracey opened the letter.
My Dear Tracey
By now the delightful Lewis Simpson would have broken the news to you of your brother David’s adoption. Lewis can be a bit overbearing at times, and awfully pedantic, but your can trust him to look after the affairs of the Rochester family.
Firstly, I want to apologise to you for the effect my husband's indiscretion have had on your brother, and, ultimately on your family. We had no right to involve anyone else in what was, ultimately, the shortcomings of my own husband.
Please, try not to blame your parents for their part in this. Yes, they were paid handsomely for their discretion, and, I assume, were able to give you and your brother a very fine life. But, it was a pact with the devil, and their silence was the price they were prepared to pay.
Tracey, I am adamant that you and your family deserve the truth, and for David’s birthright to be acknowledged, both in legal and a financial sense, if this is your wish.
However, as I’m sure Lewis has explained, there is no evidence of the adoption, or of the formal letter I wrote to David acknowledging him.
The documents do exist, but I have no idea where. The only clue I can give you is one of David’s last conversations with me, when I asked if he had the documents in a safe place. He explained they were in a safe deposit box and only he and one other person close to him knew the number and combination.
I also promised David that, if anything happened to him, I would write this letter to you confirming his adoption as he couldn’t quite bring himself to tell you about it himself.
I know this will be of little comfort Tracey, but please, know that if I could go back and do things differently I would, without hesitation.
Very warm regards, from someone who wished she could have known you.
Her eyes welling up with tears, Tracey put the letter down, not really knowing where to turn. This kind old lady, trying to do the right thing after all these years, wondering, like herself, how different everything could have been.
“Tracey,” said Lewis, breaking the silence. “I can’t help but think you may hold the key to solving this puzzle. Do you know who David may have been referring to, when he mentioned that ‘one other person close to him’ knew about the safe deposit box? I have assumed you are not the person who David was referring to?”
Reflecting on what Lewis had asked, Tracey tried to recall David’s life as it was five years ago. He didn’t have a love interest at that time. He had close friends, but no-one who may have acted as a confidante in such a deep dark secret. She couldn’t imagine he would trust his mother or father, when he may have considered their actions a form of betrayal.
Why couldn’t he have come to me! Trusted me. A light flickered somewhere at the back of Tracey's mind, a missing piece of the puzzle suddenly found.
“Lewis,” replied Tracey. “I’m afraid this may be one puzzle that is never solved. The location of the safe deposit box could be anywhere and I can’t think of who the person might be who was close to David, it certainly isn’t me. To be honest with you, the most important thing on my mind is that at last David’s remains have been discovered, and he can be at peace.”
Tracey said her goodbyes to Lewis and headed for the elevator, not feeling safe until she was on the ground floor. It felt to Tracey like a haze of confusion was gradually clearing, like the sun was attempting to shine through, but not quite there yet.
Six months later, Tracey sat in the Greyhound bus, dozing, after the long trip from New York. Her home town, Mercedes, Texas was probably about an hour away.
It was a long six months, a dark secret kept all to herself. The $50,000 left to her she had shared with her mother and they visited parts of the world they had only read about, went on a cruise to Alaska, a dream her father had always had. They even walked on the Great Wall of China.
In the early days, in New York, she had noticed strangers looking at her, following her. There were strange clicks on the telephone and letters that had been opened but such occurrences became less frequent as time went by. The Rochesters were checking up on her, she knew, just on the off-chance she knew something, so Tracey kept her own counsel and led an ordinary life. She suspected, in the end, the Rochesters got bored with her.
Tracey reflected on the hidden messages, and agendas.
Mary Rochester’s letter stated she could trust Lewis – to look after the Rochester family interests. Not David’s interests, or Tracey’s, or even to look after Mrs Rochester’s interests. Therefore, she was being told she could NOT trust Lewis Simpson.
Why then did he even show her the letter? The Rochester family wanted to quietly forget David’s existence but the existing adoption documents could ruin all their plans. It was even possible they played a part in David’s death, but it was definitely in the family’s interest that those documents be discovered, and then destroyed. So Tracey’s help had to be enlisted and what better person than the friendly solicitor, Lewis Simpson and the deserted office, the genuine concern.
Lewis Simpson, acting the part of family solicitor, was apparently respecting the wishes of an old lady. When in reality, like any lawyer, thought Tracey grimly, he would go where the money was, which was to look after Tony Rochester.
Mary Rochester's letter to Tracey had been manipulated by Lewis, or so he had thought. He used the old lady to entice Tracey to confide in Lewis, to discover the location of the missing adoption documents, and the mystery confidante. But Mary had outsmarted them, her hidden message warning her not to trust Lewis had opened Tracey’s eyes just in time.
David couldn’t bring himself to tell Tracey the truth, and yet he wanted to tell her something. "All you need to do is head for home.”
1707 Pendlebury Avenue, Mercedes, Texas, and David knew she would always be able to recall the phone number of their childhood home. David, in his own way, had told her where the safe deposit box was, the number, and the combination.
A sudden lurch of the Greyhound bus awoke her from her daydream: they had arrived. She knew the bank was straight across the road from the bus depot, and that was where the safe deposit boxes were.
Tracey smiled. Soon she would have everything she required.