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Queen of Swords: a novel

Chapter XVIII – Temperance

As soon as I got in the truck I got the air conditioner blasting. I swear it was ll0º in the shade in this part of Texas. Second thing I did was crank up the music. It wasn’t until I had Muse’s Uprising blasting that I had the nerve to put in a call to Nicholas Rudoff down at the bank. I didn’t expect to actually speak to him. I am way low on Nicholas Rudoff’s list of priorities. “Probably on the “avoid at all costs” list. In my experience it takes ten phone calls to even get a phone call returned. That’s when he finally figure out that you just won’t go away.

I didn’t have a good feeling about it, though. He’s Charmian’s little cat’s-paw. But wouldn’t you think he’d be at least interested to find out Charmian is really Pearleen Purdy? You’d think. But here’s the other thing; he would definitely tell Charmian what was up. He has no special confidentiality deal with me, whereas Charmian takes him out to lunch and lets him look down her blouse. How much would it matter if I lost the element of surprise?

Rudoff’s paralegal, on the other hand, always seems much more helpful. He acts like he actually likes me. And, after all, he’s the guy doing all the work. His name is Max Ignow, but my sisters rudely refer to him as Ignatz. Just never to his face. But I have to work hard not to call him that. Max, Max, Max. Couldn’t I swear him to secrecy? Maybe. I pulled over and pulled out my cell.
“Max Ignow, please. Whitney Quantreau calling.”

He was available. He was always available. Either he has a special thing for me or Max Ignow has no private life whatsoever. With this friendly accessible attitude in life he’ll go nowhere.

“How ya doing, Whitney?” he said. “How’s school?”

Poor Ignatz. His news is always out of date. I turned down Arctic Monkeys’ Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair so I could hear him better.

“I’m taking a breather.” Bravely – after all, he pays the “education” bills so on a need-to-know basis he needs to know – I said, “I’m thinking of transferring. I’ve got an ex-boyfriend I need to get away from.”

“Oh, my God,” said Max with all the sensitivity anyone could require. “I’m so sorry. Did you get the police involved?”

“I want to avoid getting the police involved. That’s why I’m thinking of transferring out of Pueblo to the University of Colorado at Boulder. If they’ll let me in. But it’s interesting that you mentioned the police.”

“It is?” asked Max. “Uh oh. Not what a lawyer – or even a paralegal – likes to hear.”
“Yeah. Put on your lawyer hat. I have a question for you in absolute confidentiality,” I said. “Don’t even tell Nick. I want to figure out how to tell him and maybe we can figure it out together.”

“Hit me,” Max answered evenly, as if he cuts Nick out of the loop a lot. And maybe he does. Nick’s a golfer. Nick’s a partier. Nick hangs out at the club. Nick gets naked with a bunch of other out-of-shape old men in a steam room on a regular basis. Need I say more? Nick is a blabbermouth.
“I just found out Charmian is pretending to be someone she’s not.”

“Really?” he said again, reflexively. Could he hear this a lot, too?

No way! He had that “stop being jealous of Charmian” note in his voice! Max, who likes me! Max, of all people! I turned down the airconditioning so there was no way he could mistake my meaning.

“She seems to have borrowed someone’s identity,” I said heatedly, trying to heat him up. No point telling him she used to be a stripper. Men love that. He probably thinks every man ought to have equal opportunity to marry a stripper.

“Well, has she committed a fraud?”

“Undoubtedly,” I said. “She didn’t use her right name when she married my father. She stole someone’s identity!”

“Are they complaining?” asked poor, innocent, out-of-the-loop Max.

“No,” I said, summoning up all the portent and the foreboding I could manage, “They’ve disappeared. It’s over seven years and no one’s seen them.”

“Interesting,” said Max. “Have they found a body?”

God, he’s annoying. This whole “law” thing is for the birds. I almost have sympathy for Charmian taking a shortcut to get what she wants. Almost.

“They haven’t found a body,” I said through gritted teeth. “Charmian’s probably hidden the body. I mean, duh. If you want to pretend to be a person you can’t have said person turn up dead!”

Max was as calm as if people consult him about murders and impersonations and missing persons every day of the week, instead of spending his time looking up trust documents and making copies for shut-outs and shut-ins.

“If I were you I would go to the missing person’s family and get them to complain. If your stepmother used someone else’s accounts or licensure to perpetuate a fraud, that would definitely be a matter for the police. Otherwise –”

I had a horrible, horrible memory that Charmian persuaded my father she could work for less per hour if she didn’t have to “change” her license to Colorado. God what a sucker my dad was.
“I don’t think she used the other person’s caregiving license,” I muttered. “But she must have used her driver’s license! Maybe passport! Stuff like that!”

“That isn’t necessarily illegal unless she was perpetrating a fraud,” he instructed me in an annoyingly patient way. “It really is a free country. People can call themselves anything they want. Changing your name can be perfectly legal. Some women like to change their names.”

Not me. I’ll be Whitney Quantreau forever. If I ever get married I’ll make my husband change his name. He should be proud to link himself with any family as great as ours.

Max was droning on, “Marriage isn’t the only reason people change their names. Maybe she changed her name when she became this other person’s heir.”

I was so crestfallen I fell forward in my seat. I hadn’t thought of that. It certainly was possible, especially since they were mixed up romantically. Maybe they went to Europe – God knows the real Charmian had a good enough reason to get out of town – and Charmian died overseas and Pearleen – my Charmian – “inherited” everything that used to be the real Charmian’s. I was hungry and I can’t reason when I’m hungry. I could see this was going to be a lot harder than I thought.

“If she’s using a Social Security number she’d not entitled to, you could make a complaint to the Social Security Administration,’ he said. “But they usually take years to look into things. If somebody’s a natural born citizen and paying their taxes and no one’s complaining about their own identity being stolen I’m not sure you could make much of a case.”

He’s lucky I wasn’t talking to him in person. I was beginning to feel a need for violence, which I ordinarily would have satisfied by tipping over something on his desk. Violence. Hunger.

Frustration. It certainly is extra enraging to be actually becoming as bad as the enemy. I need virtue and justice and honor on my side to give me some lift-off here and Max isn’t helping.

“If she wasn’t legally married to my father I don’t see how she can benefit under the trust,” I muttered.

“Unfortunately Colorado recognizes common law marriage,” said Max. “Your father certainly intended to marry Charmian – or whoever she is. We know he did. You know he did.”
Dammit I did know.

“Don’t remind me,” I muttered. “I’d like to think he was out of his mind.” But I was lying to myself. His mind was all he had left. At the end.

Fortunately Max didn’t rub it in my face that my father had the perfect right to sit ringside at a strip club and throw my inheritance into every passing G-string if that’s what he decided he wanted to do. Instead he set up a trust to pay for my healthcare and education and see that I maybe get some money after Charmian’s death. If she doesn’t use it all up first. And am I grateful? Hardly. I’m starting to consider bumping Charmian off myself. I wonder what she would do if she were in my position?

“You’re further out of luck,” Max went on serenely, “Because of the phrasing of this particular trust. She’s not even mentioned by name. She’s just “ux”. Now if you could prove bigamy,” he went on, “That would present a very intriguing little legal problem. They don’t punish bigamy very harshly – she might not even get jail time – but it would certainly freeze the trust till it got sorted out and you could get it up under a judge’s nose. I think an effective litigator could definitely argue that as she had perpetrated a fraud on the trust she should be estopped as a beneficiary.”
Don’t you just want to smack people who use jargon so ruthlessly?

“So I have to find out if Pearleen Purdy made another marriage?” I inquired. “Is that what you think I ought to do?”

“I think you ought to enroll at UColorado Boulder in pre-law,” said Max. “You know the trust will pay for that. Do your own legal work. That’s my personal opinion. If you’re determined to hassle your stepmother, try to find out if she committed bigamy by marrying your father. Maybe she thought it wasn’t bigamy if she used another name.”

Go ahead. Take her side.

“But I’m not a lawyer,” said Max. “Not yet. So don’t quote me.”
“Well, you don’t tell Nick what we talked about. Zip your lip.”
“Consider it zipped.”

“I have a call into him. Cancel it.”
“Consider it canceled.”

After I hung up I had to find a drive through and get the full combo meal. With a whipped cream shake. Because, I mean, really. There’s just so much a person can stand.

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